Community DNA Featured

1:45pm EDT February 28, 2011
Tom Keckeis, president and CEO, Messer Construction Co. Tom Keckeis, president and CEO, Messer Construction Co.

David Ginsburg, president and CEO of DowntownCincinnati Inc., knows he could be doing something more lucrative with his time than working at a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the community of Cincinnati, but he wouldn’t get as much satisfaction out of his efforts if he did. Ginsburg loves to devote his time to the many areas of the Cincinnati community. It’s that type of attitude and drive that make a person or a business a Pillar Award recipient.

The inaugural Cincinnati Medical Mutual Pillar Awards for Community Service were held on January 25. Smart Business honored businesses and organizations that go above and beyond in their community service efforts. The joy that giving back can create was evident as business leaders shared stories of how their companies make a difference in the region and the ways they make community service part of the fabric of their companies.

These business leaders know that community service is something you do because it’s the right thing to do, not because you feel obligated. Today, that is often easier said than done.

“One of the things that I’ve found very interesting is that people have less time,” Ginsburg says. “There was a time when people who were doing community service were just the CEOs and the top people. Now, you have fewer hometown CEOs and fewer people and they have lots and lots of demands on their time. You really have to make sure the time and the resources that people give you are treated with a tremendous amount of respect and value.”

It is that frame of mind that gets employees at Messer Construction Co. involved in the community. Employees at Messer are driven by the examples of their senior leadership.

“We have senior managers that are required to be on a nonprofit board or committee, so we start with the leadership,” says Tom Keckeis, president and CEO of Messer. “We have 180 senior executives and they all get involved in the community through boards and committees.”

Employees at Messer, an employee-owned company, make sure they give back to the community that has given so much back to them.

“We are an employee-owned company and so the employees get to decide what we do with the profits of the company, and we give back a considerable amount to the community because it’s what they want to do,” Keckeis says. “They own the company. We can do what we want to do with the dollars.”

Messer uses those dollars to give back in numerous ways. Whether it’s leading the efforts on boards or committees, helping teach classes, mentoring or coaching kids at Bond Hill, every Messer employee gets involved in community service.

“All you have to do is start it,” Keckeis says. “You will start to realize that you get more back than what you give. You end up building an organization that has a deep value system that’s tied to the community.

“You have to be a model for community service. You have to also recognize the people that are contributing their time. Recognize them in a newsletter and in their performance evaluation. Those are the types of things a CEO or a leader should be doing to make sure that people realize the value there.”

Much like Messer’s employees have figured out, community service is something that should be a part of a company’s culture. Getting employees involved and giving them the power to make decisions about where, why and how to give back helps imbed that drive into your company culture.

That is exactly what Stuart Aitken, CEO of dunnhumbyUSA, told his employees to do. Each year the employees of dunnhumby discuss what causes and charities they should donate time and money to. Every employee can make their own suggestions.

“The foundation of what we do is really different than many others,” Aitken says. “We allow our employees to decide which charities we contribute to, both in terms of time as well as in terms of money. Every year we select seven organizations we will support in both those ways throughout the year. It is very much employee-led and what matters most to the employees is what we will support as an organization.”

Aitken found that the stories people shared about various causes and charities became contagious, and employee involvement in the programs grew.

“We have people share stories, we have message boards all over the place talking about the things we do and it truly is contagious,” Aitken says. “It’s a viral thing. People feel very good about it and good about being a part of a company that encourages and drives it.

“Don’t drive it as a company, let the employees drive it and then support what it is they are looking to do. Let it be employee-led and facilitate it as an organization every which way you can.”

How to reach: Downtown Cincinnati Inc., (513) 421-4440 or

Messer Construction Co., (513)242-1541 or

dunnhumby USA, (513) 632-1020 or