I went with SAP co- chief executive, Bill McDermott, to the Frederick Douglass Center in Harlem yesterday afternoon. This Children’s Aid Society (CAS) Facility, built in the 1950s, has a gym and classrooms that offer after-school programs and community services to the underprivileged in the neighborhood. McDermott had been one of the two honorees at the Children’s Aid Society annual dinner just after Thanksgiving and wanted to see what he was supporting.
McDermott, a born communicator and networker, strode into the center to a welcoming committee of CAS employees and one special young man, a small energetic youngster named Armani, who said that he wanted to be a big success in business after a career in sports. McDermott was challenged to a game of HORSE by the 10 year old and was immediately down 2-0 before recovering for a 3-2 victory. After a half-hour tour of the classrooms used for science experiments and computer lab, it was back to the hardwood. McDermott changed into gym clothes and went into the layup line with his new 10-year-old teammates, under the tutelage of former U.S. Olympic hoops team member Marvin ‘Hammer’ Stevens. Coach Stevens and McDermott then divided the kids into two teams for a spirited scrimmage. McDermott urged the point guards to bounce pass the ball into the post and to share the ball instead of driving on their own to the hole.
Practice over, McDermott and Stevens gathered the kids in the center of the court for a quick discussion of what went well and less well. The word team was used over and over again, with both coaches making it clear that individual achievement must take a back seat. McDermott also said that while the letters J and A are both important, the A grade earned in school lasts much longer than the two or three points made on the J (jumper).
This was no ordinary visit by an executive to a non-profit. McDermott grew up in suburban Long Island and worked his way through high school and college by working at a deli. He played basketball in every spare moment; he probably hustled the unsuspecting in much the same way Woody Harrelson did in White Men Can’t Jump. McDermott related to the kids by becoming one of them; taking a chance by playing one of them in HORSE. He offered them a chance to play the “oldies,” as he so charmingly referred to yours truly, Coach Stevens and his friend, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, in a charity game in February. He gave the kids specific instructions on how to make an entry pass into the post and how to play trap defense. I guess it helps to have a grandfather in the Basketball Hall of Fame (Bill McDermott Sr. played for the Boston Celtics in the 1950s)! SAP has also committed to building a data base that allows CAS employees to have a full picture of the children under their care, from grades in school to parental status to living situation to health updates, all of which are now in 47 different data files as verticals while the need is for a horizontal overview.
The relationship between corporation and non-profit should deepen, to replace the traditional role of government now in retreat. The skills of business, including technology, speed, marketing know-how and passionate employees, combined with the credibility, reach and commitment of NGOs seems a perfect marriage. It takes a CEO as socially conscious and decent as McDermott, and a non-profit leader as open as CAS director Rich Buery to make it happen.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO