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Why an Angry CEO Is the Best CEO


Choose a leader who's never satisfied with the status quo.

When I announced my retirement earlier this year, I had one main suggestion for the committee looking for my replacement: Find someone who's "angry."

"Angry?" they said. "What do you mean?"

I mean that to lead one of the country's largest child-focused charitable organizations, you have to have a fire inside you. You don't want to hire the person who eases too comfortably into the leather seat, who likes gazing out the corner-office window. You want the person who sees the suffering of so many children, and is angry because it's not getting fixed quickly enough.

I'm happy to say we've found that person. Richard R. Buery Jr. has committed his career to helping poor children, and therefore is no stranger to the statistics: 29 percent of New York City's children are living in poverty. Half of them don't graduate high school within four years. The neighborhoods with the highest rates of (juvenile) detention also have the highest levels of poverty and under-performing schools. Detention costs almost $200,000 a year for one youth, while a year in public high school costs less than $12,000 per pupil.

But to him, these aren't just numbers on a page. They are the stories lived everyday by real people. Buery grew up in one of the city's most impoverished neighborhoods. He went to Harvard, earned a law degree from Yale, and quickly decided to move back to his East New York neighborhood to start Groundwork, Inc., which works to better the lives of people living in Brooklyn's public housing projects.

His unwillingness to turn a blind eye to the problems of our city's youth proves to me that he has the commitment and motivation we need to find cutting-edge solutions to problems confronting our children.

So when looking for a CEO, don't be afraid to hire a driven one. Just look at today's Yahoo (YHOO)/ Microsoft (MSFT) news.

And don't be afraid to hire a young one. Buery is 37 years old. This is a young man whose entire career has been fueled by energy and a willingness to hear new ideas and try out novel concepts. Innovation is born in that kind of mindset.

Buery also has another asset I admire: He understands that we have a dual bottom line. Yes, maintaining and growing our endowment is crucial. We can't do what we do without those numbers on the spreadsheet.

But Buery understands that Children's Aid's real success is measured by how many youngsters' lives were improved because of our efforts. Did a child sleep in his own warm bed, instead of a city shelter? Did he find the mentor to show him the world beyond his drug-infested street corner? Did she find the inner strength to say no to the sex and drugs that will derail her future? Every time we can say yes to that question, we have improved our success rate and therefore our bottom line.

I will leave this office at the end of October knowing that we have accomplished so much while there is still so much more to do. The work will never end. There will always be a new wave of immigrants who could use a hand at their back as they tug at those bootstraps.

There will always be children who are unloved and improperly cared for. These are sad but true facts. But I am glad to know that there are young people like Buery who feel the responsibility to be stewards for the next generation.

And that is all any outgoing CEO wants: To know that the work he has done was not in vain, but rather created the foundation for the work ahead.
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