Perry runs BBBS like a business

Wednesday, August 3, 2005 at 1:00am

What is your main challenge at BBBSMT?

One of the main challenges will be the smooth transition away from the stereotypical nonprofit culture to a more professional corporate culture with clearly defined roles, goals and performance metrics that will allow the agency to better track our effectiveness and efficiency.

Lowell Perry, CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee
Hometown: Franklin
Education: B.A., administrative sciences from Yale University
Age: 49

First conventional job: NuTone Division Scovill (a consumer products manufacturer)
Hypothetical dream job: Caddie for Tiger Woods
Working from the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee offices in the Nashville House complex in MetroCenter, Lowell Perry oversees a staff of 19 full-time and six part-time employees. Only seven weeks on the job, Perry came to Nashville from his native Detroit, and has owned four businesses in the past. As president and managing partner, he led start-up Detroit Technologies Inc. to $33 million in booked business after only three years. His goals for BBBSMT are numerous.

What is the financial status of the nonprofit and how will you improve it?

BBBSMT is solid financially for the number of matches we currently serve. We are actually building capacity in order to meet our growth objectives. The more children we match, the requisite funding has to follow. Our product, the match, costs us money as opposed to the for-profit world where you get money back in for services rendered. By becoming a more efficient performance-driven operation, our cost per match will drop, thereby improving our financial position. Together with a solid fund-development strategy, and the continuing support of people who believe in the mission of this organization, we will be better off tomorrow than we are today, God willing.

You have a strong background in for-profit business. How will you apply these skills at BBBSMT?

There are certainly some subtle differences between the two sectors; however, business is business. I am confident that applying the sound business practices I have learned through the years will have a very positive effect with BBBSMT. One major difference that I alluded to earlier is the difference in corporate cultures. We have instituted some changes in the office to give it a more professional flare and create the type of environment that will allow the team to flourish. It is becoming more common to see nonprofits trying to attract high-level business talent to their ranks in an effort to raise the bar.

What is your philosophy regarding leadership?

Responsibility with accountability. Work smarter, not harder. Lead by example. Let the mission drive the decision-making process. I personally cannot stand micro-management. I believe that it stymies creativity and professional growth, creates employees who are afraid to make decisions, inhibits loyalty because workers have no ownership in the process, and is just plain bad for morale. Human beings need to feel wanted and valuable.

What local business sectors and individuals have done the best job of supporting BBBSMT?

Many businesses and individuals have contributed to this agency - too many to be named in this article. The beautiful thing about BBBS is that people step up to the plate because they believe in the mission. They are not in it for the recognition and personal aggrandizement. It is so refreshing to see such passion in this community. Perhaps the greatest gift of all is the gift of our time. So I say a special "thank you" to the many people who give so generously of their time.

In terms of business operations, what is BBBSMT's greatest weakness and how can that be improved?

We are working on the greatest weakness, which is probably the lack of directional clarity given the number of personnel changes here over the past year. By instituting the new service delivery system, getting a very talented staff re-energized and in the right positions to win, strong board support, and creating a positive professional atmosphere, BBBSMT is poised to reach new levels of excellence.

What does BBBS do best regarding its business model?

For over 100 years, BBBS has provided professionally supported one-to-one mentoring geared to help children reach their full potential. We do this safely with measurable results. We are the standard in mentoring. The organization nationally and locally is committed to continuous improvement. The service delivery system and a new agency information management system will allow us to serve more children more efficiently. The stakes are high for us as a society, and we owe it to the people we serve to be the very best we can be.

What are your fund-raising goals for BBBSMT?

In order to serve more kids, we have to raise more money - plain and simple. It costs roughly $1,000 per match. The national goal is to reach 1 million kids matched by 2010. During that same period, our goal locally is to match 4,000 adults with an equal number of children. Currently, we are on track to work with only 700 kids. There is no shortage of kids to be served, so funding will be the issue. We are also in the middle of a $1.5 million capital campaign to raise money to fund a new building to support the staff growth and increased services to Middle Tennessee. We are two-thirds of the way there. I invite any caring adult who believes in the mission of this organization to answer the call and get involved in some fashion.

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