David Williams — the Bauer MBA graduate who now serves as president and CEO of Make-A-Wish America — will bring a challenge to students when he visits the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business on Jan. 22.
Kicking off the college’s “Inspiring Minds” lecture series, Williams says he will challenge students to base their career decisions on passion, not money.
“Don’t choose something because it’s a safe bet,” says Williams, who has been a leader in the non-profit world for more than three decades. “Don’t choose something because it’s going to make you a lot of money. But choose something you feel passion about, that you get excited about, that you are curious about. If you have those attributes, there’s a better chance you are going to be good at it. And if you are good at it, I think the money takes care of itself.”
Williams knows what he’s talking about.
He made the transition to the non-profit sector while still in his early 20s, leaving Shell Oil Company after just two years to become executive director of the Houston Food Bank, where he had been a volunteer. He has held the top job at Make-A-Wish Foundation’s national headquarters in Phoenix since 2005. The 35-year-old Make-A-Wish organization, which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions, is one of America’s most admired charities.
Williams (MBA ’92) says he is excited about returning to Bauer for the first time since graduating. During his visit, he will tour the college; meet with Dean Latha Ramchand, Bauer College Board members and faculty; and hold a “fireside chat” with a selected group of Bauer students.
He’ll give the inaugural “Inspiring Minds” talk at 5:30 p.m. in Cemo Hall’s Stubblefield Auditorium. The event is free, but seating is limited. Online registration closes Jan. 19 and a sign-in table for remaining available seats will be outside the auditorium during the event.
Some of the topics Williams may discuss are the importance of giving and volunteering; the role and scale of non-profits in the American economy; job opportunities in the field; and how his Bauer experience helped launch his career on the national and international levels.
“What people don’t realize is that the size and the scope of the non-profit sector in the United States alone is huge,” he says. “There are 1.5 million charities in the United States. So it’s a very competitive area.”
Williams believes many students don’t see the non-profit sector as a “viable career path.” He’d like to change that. “The non-profit sector needs smart, dedicated, passionate people who want to make a difference in the world,” he says.
With an accounting degree from Bloomsburg University, the Pennsylvania native moved to Houston in the early ’80s to work for Shell. But he found that he was “more energized” by his volunteer work than his day job. When the Houston Food Bank asked him to serve as executive director, he says it was “the easiest decision” of his life.
After stabilizing the financially troubled organization, Williams looked for ways to continue to grow professionally.
When the Food Bank board chair suggested he consider an MBA, Williams enrolled at Bauer College. He credits Bauer with preparing him to move up the non-profit ladder. After 11 years with the Houston Food Bank, he worked another 11 years at Habitat for Humanity International, where he was chief operating officer.
“There is no doubt about it. I would not have received an offer from Habitat for Humanity International if I didn’t have that MBA,” Williams says.
The executive says running Make-A-Wish is very similar to being in charge of a large corporation. Make-A-Wish has 61 chapters across the country, more than 800 employees and raises $300 million annually.
The difference, he says, is in the stakeholders — volunteers, individual donors and corporations who invest for different reasons.
The key to success, he says, is focus.
“I have always felt that whether it was the Houston Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity or Make-A-Wish that focus was extremely important. You need to have alignment around the mission, the vision and the values. If you have alignment around mission, vision and values, then you stand a chance at being successful.”
By Wendell Brock