Rev. Don Roberts, the longtime CEO of Goodwill Manasota, has a penchant for pairing punch lines with poignancy.
It’s a stock in trade that has served Roberts well in a distinguished career that began locally in 1977. That career, at least the one for which he leads day-to-day activities of Goodwill Manasota, a $37.2 million nonprofit organization, will end Dec. 31, when he retires. Bob Rosinsky, Roberts’ second in command for more than a decade, will take over the CEO role Jan. 1.
Roberts and Rosinsky realize the transition of a prominent CEO from leadership into retirement often trips up organizations — both the nonprofit and for-profit world. That’s a key reason Goodwill Manasota officials and board members have worked on the transition for two years.
Roberts, meanwhile, in his typical style, treats the changeover with a smile and some seriousness.
“Death is my retirement plan,” he says. “Like everyone else who lives here, you learn that you never really retire. You have to have something to get out of bed for.”
Roberts’ motivation to carry on will come from the ability to spend time with his family, especially his wife, Peggy. Roberts also intends to remain active on the board that advises Goodwills across Florida.
The legacy Roberts leaves, however, is why more than 600 people, including dozens of local politicians and business leaders, attended a Goodwill Manasota tribute luncheon Nov. 16. Held at Dolphin Aviation, near Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, the event also commemorated the group’s 30-year anniversary under the Goodwill Manasota name.
“I had no concept of this 35 years ago,” says Roberts. “All we really had is just a bunch of old underwear. Most of the place stunk. We moved a lot of stuff, but there was a marginal business operation.”
That certainly has changed.
Under Roberts’ leadership, Goodwill Manasota has gone from three locations in Sarasota to 45 locations spread through Manatee, Sarasota, DeSoto and Hardee counties. Moreover, Goodwill Manasota has gone on a significant growth spurt in the last five years. The organization’s revenues are up nearly 100% since 2006, when it posted $21.2 million, according to its IRS Form 990, which nonprofits are required to file.
The number of employees — the crux of the Goodwill mission — has also grown substantially over the last five years, from 580 in 2008 to 1,190 in 2012. That includes local stores and subsidiaries Goodwill Manasota operates in Nevada and Mississippi.
“The bad news is that we are doing fine,” says Roberts. “The worse news is that there is still more we can do.”
Founded by a Methodist minister in Boston in 1902, Goodwill Industries is one of the first charitable organizations to use the “hand up, not out” theory of giving. The idea at Goodwill is to collect and then resell donated goods for the purpose of putting people to work who might otherwise be unemployed. So, the more stuff a Goodwill takes in, the more it sells and, ultimately, the more people it employs.
That concept was a tough sell locally when Roberts arrived in 1977 from Texas. He was named CEO of Goodwill of the Suncoast, the predecessor to Goodwill Manasota. He recalls he developed the organization’s strategy on the back of a napkin, where it mirrored a bank’s branch growth strategy plan: There was a main branch, and then little sister branches all over town. The big difference, of course, is banks take in people’s money, while Goodwill sought donations.
Roberts then delivered the Goodwill gospel. He used his unique, and mostly fearless, wit to generate interest, donations and even recruit board members. Although he clearly enjoys the approach, Roberts also says it was a necessity in the early days, when Goodwill was virtually unknown.
“We needed someone to take out the trash and someone to go to the Rotary,” he says. “To sell the program, you had to sell your personality.”
Roberts soon began to use the phrase “donation acquisition business” to define Goodwill and its growth strategy. That strategy, in fact, to treat the business like real estate development, worked so well locally that Roberts and Rosinsky have since brought it to dozens of other Goodwills.
That side of the business began informally in 1982, when Rosinsky and Roberts drove to Goodwills nationwide, sometimes going to 10 a week. They coached other Goodwill leaders on how to think big and focus on donation acquisition and real estate. They slept in Motel 6s. Says Rosinsky: “It was an interesting journey.”
The journey also gave birth to Mission Development Services, a Goodwill Manasota side business that consults with other Goodwills.
“It’s simply exporting what we have to other communities,” Rosinsky says. “It’s really business development services, but the only reason for us to be in business development is to support mission development.”
Hope and pay
Rosinsky and Roberts met each other at a Goodwill executive training session in 1977. A 40-year veteran of Goodwills nationwide, Rosinsky says he has the knowledge part of the promotion down. But, even Rosinsky concedes Roberts’ legacy of imparting wisdom through humor, be it while officiating a wedding or in a keynote speech, will be tough to match.
“I’ve been a part of everything that has gone on here since 1991,” says Rosinsky. “The difference is I don’t have a personality like Don, and I will never have that kind of personality.”
Roberts, though, says a less charismatic personality at the helm of Goodwill Manasota can also be for the good. The need to charm everyone in the early days was for sheer survival, but Rosinsky, says Roberts, is the right man to lead Goodwill into new areas and continue the growth.
And, although Roberts has no issues with the leadership transition, he has one outstanding regret with his tenure: That early on he closed down a program that found disabled people jobs. Looking back, he says he should have given the program more of a chance. One like it exists at Goodwill today.
That one stings, but, overall, Roberts beams with pride about his Goodwill leadership days. He says the most lasting memory will be the faces of the individual people Goodwill has touched in a profound way.
“We have provided them a paycheck, human dignity and a sense of hope when no one else would give it to them,” Roberts says. “We have provided hope for the hopelessness.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Revenues: $37.2 million (2010)
Employees: 1,190, total, with 750 in Florida. Total figure includes subsidiaries in Nevada and Mississippi.
Locations: 18 spread through Manatee, Sarasota, DeSoto and Hardee counties. Includes eight Goodwill GoodNeighbor Centers; three clearance centers; three bookstores; two bargain bins; one boutique/art store; and one car lot.
Donations: Average weight of donations per year total 33,617,832 pounds. At least 87% of that is sold or reused.