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Goodwill CEO has made a career out of helping others

Before leading the group's Southland branch, Doug Barr's posts included heading the Children's Aid Society of Toronto, Canada's largest child welfare agency, and the Canadian Cancer Society.

January 09, 2011|By Nate Jackson, Los Angeles Times

The gig: As chief executive of Goodwill Southern California, Doug Barr runs the fourth-largest branch of the national nonprofit organization, responsible for 65 retail stores, 42 donation centers and 24 service locations in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Sales of donated clothes and household goods provide the bulk of the organization's revenue, enabling it to provide opportunities for disadvantaged and disabled local residents in employment, job training and education.

"When people give used goods, when they give money or give us a contract, they are making the economy better," Barr said. "We have a significant economic and fiscal impact."

The MAD gene: Mentorship and social work have long been part of Barr's resume. Barr earned a bachelor's degree at Toronto's Victoria University with the desire to become a teacher. He went on to pursue a master's of divinity degree in 1968. While studying theology, Barr worked at a social service agency and in child welfare, which foretold his future career path at the Children's Aid Society of Toronto, Canada's largest child welfare agency, which he headed from 1978 to 1984. He changed paths again in 1984, taking a job as head of the Canadian Cancer Society until 1992, during which time he helped the society successfully campaign to ban smoking on airline flights in Canada.

When his wife, a cancer survivor, got a job offer as an interior designer in L.A., Barr — who'd earned a master's degree in social work at USC in 1970 — permanently relocated to the Southland, eventually taking a job as CEO of Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership. He joined Goodwill in 1995.

"People have always been my interest," Barr said. "I think the thing that motivates me is that I'm one of these guys with what they call the 'MAD' gene, 'make a difference.' Most of the people in Goodwill fall into that category."

Measuring progress: In 2010, Goodwill Southern California helped 7,059 people find jobs, most hired by companies in the community with an average wage of $11.42 an hour, exceeding the branch's annual goal by 27%. The organization also runs profitable paper shredding and computer recycling operations contracted by local businesses and government agencies. Adhering to a strategy updated every three years, executive salary increases are gauged by the branch's success in meeting its goals.

"You know exactly how many people bought things in your stores, you know how many people you served in terms of workforce development, you know how many people you placed in jobs and what their starting salary was. All these things are very measurable, so it's very gratifying."

Helping hands: When it comes to promoting unity within the ranks of his staff, Barr's strategy is typically to promote efficient workers who above all know how to respect their co-workers. "Even though we hold people accountable for output and meeting goals and quotas, we do not permit an overly aggressive management style," Barr said. "You can hold people accountable without embarrassing them in front of their peers."

Building up by spreading out: Under Barr, the local Goodwill decentralized portions of its manufacturing and thrift store operations and the agency's budget grew to $110 million in 2010 from $22 million in 1995. When Barr was appointed in 1995, there were four service locations where residents could look for jobs. Now there are 29. Full-service agencies operated by Goodwill enable the organization to spread out and build more relationships with local businesses. "We have some people and businesses that use us as their personnel department, which is perfect," Barr said. "That's what we want to be."

Pushing nonprofits: Barr has always been adamant about challenging young people to consider nonprofit work as a way of using their skill and creativity to help communities around them. He says the tenets of running a major for-profit business and a large nonprofit aren't all that different.

"The difference is that the margins in business go to the shareholders and people that own the company," Barr said. "In nonprofits, the margins go to the mission and help more people. And that can ultimately be very gratifying work."

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