An inside look at creating a legacy of impact

In 2014, the Cleveland Foundation celebrated a century of improving the lives of Greater Clevelanders. Many people ask me how we’ve sustained success across the decades and generations. Like many century-old institutions — the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Metroparks, the Cleveland Museum of Art — we’ve endured because of our deep connection to community.

We’ve worked with partners of all sizes in the business sector, new and old, to reinvigorate tried-and-true industries, spark growth in new sectors and help small businesses get up and running. In my time as CEO of the foundation, and my 13 years at Panasonic, one of the largest companies in the world, I’ve gained some insight about how businesses can last.

Build and maintain strong relationships
The needs of your clients, customers and the people you serve can change quickly. Stay close to them, listen and be willing to pivot when necessary, even if it means partnering with unlikely allies and taking on roles outside your comfort zone.

Work together to accomplish what you can’t do alone. At the Cleveland Foundation, our most groundbreaking accomplishments have been the result of cross-collaboration.

When we launched the Greater University Circle Initiative in 2005, we brought institutions to the table who under other circumstances would consider themselves competitors, and fostered collaboration between the public, private and independent sectors. The outcome? Thriving local businesses, new development and millions invested in the neighborhoods surrounding University Circle.

Know what you stand for as an organization and stay true to your mission, but don’t become mired in tradition. The best companies embrace rapid innovation, remain nimble and take risks. Xerox jeopardized its future by giving away computer technology developed at its Palo Alto, California, research center because top management thought of Xerox as only a copy machine company. Apple picked up the fumble and ran with it. We know what came next. Don’t become the victim of your past success.

Invest in people and community
Find diverse and talented employees who bring a new point of view to your operations. This only makes a difference if you give them responsibility and freedom to operate at an early stage in their careers. It’s essential to build the next generation of leaders so a pipeline of talent is ready to infuse your organization and keep you apprised of the latest trends.

It’s also important to give back to your community. For example, many business leaders are volunteering with Cleveland Public Schools as True2U mentors, guiding eighth graders as they navigate high school and beyond. These relationships will surely help young students, and shape them into people you’ll want to hire down the road. Most importantly, the whole community will benefit from a skilled, productive workforce.

Corporate philanthropy can improve your bottom line, increase employee and customer satisfaction, and enhance your standing in the community. Our region’s strongest businesses know they have a stake in a better, brighter Cleveland and world.

Ronn Richard is president and CEO at The Cleveland Foundation