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|Archives - October 2009|
|Thursday, October 01, 2009|
As CEO of Portland-based Mercy Corps, Neal Keny-Guyer has seen enough rickety elevators in Third World countries to think of them as likely death boxes, and takes the stairs even in the organization’s shiny new global headquarters in Old Town.
The congenial 55-year-old sees a lot of failing infrastructure as Mercy Corps’ globe-trotting top ambassador — a fitting role for a Tennessee-born, North Carolina-educated gentleman who has retained his Southern graciousness as well as a slight twang. Keny-Guyer might fly one week to Zimbabwe, where Mercy Corps, an international aid nonprofit, pays for school improvements and medical supplies for orphans, and the next week to a Denver event sponsored by Western Union, which has partnered with Mercy Corps on programs that improve financial literacy. But he wasn’t always the agency’s public face.
“When I first came here, Mercy Corps was very different,” Keny-Guyer says. “I was involved much more in operations… I can remember the days when I read every single proposal.” He adds, laughing, “Now I’m lucky to even know what we’re doing half the time.” When he joined as CEO 15 years ago, Mercy Corps was in about 15 countries with a budget of $30 million. Today Mercy Corps is in 40 countries with a budget of $278 million.
The most recent growth spurt happened virtually overnight. Revenue quadrupled from 2004 to 2005 because the agency happened to have staff in Indonesia when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit. Mercy Corps workers were on the ground in the Sumatran city of Banda Aceh, ground zero of the disaster, within 24 hours. Donations rolled in thanks to an aggressive Web fundraising campaign and the agency’s reputation as a tight ship. Keny-Guyer, who was a director at the behemoth international aid agency Save the Children before joining Mercy Corps, refuses to take credit for Mercy Corps’ growth spurt. “I wouldn’t underestimate the importance of being in the right place at the right time,” he says.
But luck can’t explain how Mercy Corps scaled up so quickly without major growing pains. There were a few bumps, most notably the end of one of Mercy Corps’ proudest claims to fame: its unusually low overhead.
Non-program costs ballooned from 5% to between 11% and 13% as Mercy Corps expanded its internal auditing department and improved employee benefits. The increase made some of Mercy Corps’ staff and board members wonder if the organization was growing too fast, but Keny-Guyer says it’s necessary in order to remain accountable to donors and the government. “As long as we can stay roughly between 10% and 15%, we’ll feel like we’re meeting all the best standards out there,” he says.
But there is no sign that Mercy Corps has overextended itself. The organization seems poised for steady growth with its solid corporate partnerships, high marks from ratings agencies and the opening of its global headquarters this month. Keny-Guyer says Mercy Corps has the edge in what he calls “Web-based storytelling” — using Web and social media to explain aid efforts to donors using videos, pictures and blog posts from the field.
Catastrophic change is routine for Mercy Corps, which adapted smoothly to its new size and scope. Revenue fluctuates wildly due to world events, so much that the agency calculates two budgets: a core budget that includes unrestricted private donations that don’t vary much, and a restricted budget of donations made to programs. (In 2007, when there were no major disasters, revenue was $26 million; it jumped to $49 million in 2008 after the Chinese earthquake.) Keny-Guyer says Mercy Corps’ greatest long-term challenge is climate change, which causes migration, conflicts over resources and freak natural disasters.
Mercy Corps’ greatest short-term challenge is another disaster, the recession. Lehman Brothers collapsed a month before the grand opening of the first Mercy Corps Action Center, an open lobby designed to educate high school students in Manhattan about Mercy Corps’ efforts, and patrons abruptly pulled or reduced their pledges. Other donors didn’t cut back as much as Keny-Guyer expected, but the agency had to cut costs everywhere but field operations. Travel and consultants were reduced, almost all the executives took voluntary salary freezes, and 22 employees were laid off in January.
The ability to mobilize and demobilize efficiently is one of the arts of international aid, Keny-Guyer says. Mercy Corps’ disaster training seems to have translated to its business strategy. The same flexibility and levelheadedness it uses in emergencies has kept the young organization on its feet and moving forward.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Seven tidbits of information from an agency partner and co-founder of Waggener Edstrom in Lake Oswego.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:
The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace.
Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.
This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay.
Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.
New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”
That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY OREGON BUSINESS STAFF
An SEC rule targets the disparity between executive and employee compensation, reigniting a long-standing debate about corporate social responsibility.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY
Most smartphones come equipped with speech recognition systems like Siri or Cortana that are capable of understanding the human voice and putting words into actions. But what if smartphones could do more? What if smartphones could register feeling?
Thursday, December 18, 2014
BY JASON NORRIS | OB CONTRIBUTOR
The implosion of the energy complex: The best thing for low oil prices is low oil prices.
Tuesday, December 09, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER
On the eve of the Portland Ad Federation's Rosey Awards, Matt Anderson, CEO of Struck, talks about the transition from creative director to CEO, the Portland talent pool and whether data is the new black in the creative services sector.
Friday, October 31, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
Why are there so few transportation startups in Portland? The city’s leadership in bike, transit and pedestrian transportation has been well-documented. But that was then — when government and nonprofits paved the way for a new, less auto centric way of life.
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How sports tourism is driving economic growth and making cities across Oregon a better place to live.
Port of Morrow's business-ready attitude has a surprising global impact.
Through its support of the arts, the Cultural Trust is strengthening the business community.
Heed the morals of these seminal holiday stories in your everyday life.
Amy will practice in the firm's Business, Real Estate, and Tax practice groups.
While the Bend City Council ultimately upheld the approval which enables OSU-Cascades to move forward with the 10 acre site, it did also thoughtfully consider the nature of its code requirements, resident concerns and OSU-Cascade’s efforts and suggestions and crafted conditions of approval to address potential impacts of the site in the area.