Bernie Marcus: Businesses Have Done and Given A Lot, We Can’t Stop Now

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

There’s a word in Hebrew, tzedakah — it directly translates to righteousness, but the principle is less a moral threshold than an urgent and unequivocal call to charity.

My parents, an immigrant couple struggling to make ends meet in Newark, taught me that generosity was a universal imperative no matter one’s station in life. You gave — if not from your wallet then your time and talent. It’s why I was serving on boards of nonprofits when I couldn’t find two nickels to rub together.

Now, people know me these days as a philanthropist, as a supporter of veterans and medical research into autism and brain health, but understand that you don’t need to build a $200 million aquarium to affect positive change.

From the largest of Fortune 100s to the smallest mom and pops, Georgia businesses understand that lesson and the results are evident in our communities. But new research shared with me this week by goBeyondProfit suggests the public thinks business can — and should — be doing more.

The report, part of a broader business leader-led initiative to encourage creative corporate generosity across the state, found a significant divide between what workers, especially those early in their careers, believe their employers are doing to give back to local communities with the perception of senior leadership.

Eight in 10 executives told goBeyondProfit that their companies work to create a culture that includes and appreciates giving back, but less than half of employees said the same. At the same time, 57 percent of business leaders said their operations facilitate or encourage opportunities to volunteer when only 43 percent of workers agreed.

Even though Georgians rated local businesses as more generous than their peers nationally, it was their judgement that enough isn’t being done. At the same time, a huge majority of young Georgians said a company’s community generosity factors tremendously into their decision to work or remain there.


That’s a problem, and not just for the communities who would be uplifted, but for talent acquisition and retention in this increasingly competitive and global job market.

But like my parents, businesses needn’t give away money they don’t have. Indeed, some of the business community’s most profound and lasting contributions weren’t borne of the monetary donations but of the courage to fix problems for their employees or customers.

Take for example Arke, a local technology and strategy firm and goBeyondProfit member, which leverages its workforce’s unique skillset to teach coding at a local prison, or consider instead the example of Jackson Healthcare, which donates its unused office space to nonprofits.

Being financially charitable is wonderful, critical even, but it represents only one mode of a diverse continuum of generosity. I understood that personally at a young age, but its application in the board room was a lesson I learned much later. 

It must have been 30 years ago now when a frail, elderly woman entered her local Home Depot to say her roof had collapsed but she couldn’t possibly afford to repair it. Understand that this was at a time where, if the company failed, my wife and I were going to go bankrupt. Despite our own resource limitations as a young company, we donated all the supplies and the store associates donated their labor.

A few years later, a federal building exploded in Oklahoma City. We still weren’t cash rich in those days, but we realized what we did have—a lot of hard workers, axes and wheelbarrows—were exactly what was needed in that moment, so we ransacked our shelves and hit the scene to assist the recovery effort. Two decades later The Home Depot continues that tradition and has been on the scene of every major natural disaster or emergency, including the September 11, 2001 terror attacks


Our experience proves even some shovels can make a difference in this world. Your shovel will be different—it could be the small wealth management firm that teaches financial literacy to kids and low-income families, or landscaping company that devotes its time and equipment to maintain a veteran’s cemetery—but no less impact.

We can all do more.