Alex Machaskee is one of them.
On any given day, the publisher, president and CEO of The Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper, is apt to call leaders such as Sam Miller, A. Malachi Mixon, Bishop Anthony Pilla, even Sen. George Voinovich, and ask them to support projects that benefit the Greater Cleveland community.
Just as often, Machaskee is on the receiving end of such calls, being asked to do what he can to help launch a project or move it along.
"His profession allows him to know virtually everything going on in the city," says Mixon, chairman, president and CEO of Elyria-based Invacare. "If it's important to Alex, it's probably worth supporting. He's gotten me involved in a number of different things, such as the International Children's Games and the Cleveland Foodbank."
Machaskee says simply that getting involved is something he was taught to do early in his life.
"What drives me, and in turn drives The Plain Dealer, is the fact that I feel, on a personal basis, if you've been blessed to have a relatively good life, then you have a responsibility to try to elevate human existence for others," he says. "It's the same way I feel about the newspaper. It's not just enough for us to report the news; we have to be involved in the community."
Accordingly, the newspaper and its employees last year helped more than 600 institutions and nonprofit agencies across Northeast Ohio by offering time, talent and other resources, such as advertising space, to promote organizations and further their missions.
"Some people call it advocacy journalism," says Machaskee. "Our news department covers the news, but corporately, we have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens. We can only be as good as this community is.
"You don't get into blind boosterism, but you find ways to help the community as you can."
An accomplished musician, Machaskee has taken a personal interest in the performing arts. He is vice president of the Musical Arts Association, which runs The Cleveland Orchestra, and the PD is a corporate sponsor of the Cleveland School of the Arts.
"The arts give you creative thinking and problem-solving skills," he says. "They are a mark of a civilized society and should be admired for what they do for a child's self-esteem."
A few years ago, Machaskee chaired the United Way Services 2000 Millennium Campaign. He not only utilized the vast resources of the PD to publicize the cause, he also personally called upon business leaders and encouraged friends and colleagues to donate time and money.
The campaign's $46.2 million result was $1.1 million more than the previous year's campaign netted, a 2.5 percent increase during a difficult period.
With the muscle of The Plain Dealer to flex behind him, Machaskee is perhaps the most powerful man in Cleveland. And with great power comes great responsibility.
Machaskee is well aware of that, and doesn't take it lightly when determining which projects to back personally or on behalf of the PD.
"We (the PD) don't operate strictly on a budget (for philanthropic projects)," he says. "We watch money carefully, but a budget inhibits the process. When something comes up, there is just a good feeling that comes from being able to help. Obviously, there are limits to the totality of what we're able to do. Sometimes, they need cash. Sometimes, they need visibility in our paper. And sometimes, they just need your ideas."
One of Machaskee's causes is the Cleveland Foodbank, and in September 2003, ground was broken on the Foodbank's new headquarters. The goal was to consolidate the nonprofit's scattered warehouse and distribution centers under one roof and provide more operational space. Executive Director Anne Goodman says space limitations had forced her group to turn food away.
A new $10 million building is slated to open later this month. For Machaskee, getting the project moving was just one example that reflects his corporate philanthropy. But what makes it so representative of his largesse is that the Foodbank is not among the 10 or so nonprofit boards on which Machaskee serves. It wasn't even on his radar screen until Goodman, at the suggestion of Giant Eagle executive Anthony Rego, called him.
"He came very willingly," she says. "He took a look around and very quickly and thoughtfully came up with some ideas that the Foodbank could implement to further progress on our lofty goal of raising $10 million. He then set out very deliberately over the course of the next several months to act on each of those ideas."
One of those ideas was to energize the corporate community -- a task at which Machaskee is adept. Mixon, along with others, didn't hesitate to accept Machaskee's invitation to visit the Foodbank.
"Alex showed me where the food was coming from and what they were doing with it," Mixon says. "He's a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-work kind of philanthropist. Honestly, I haven't met anyone more civic-minded than he is in terms of wanting our community to prosper."
Another of Machaskee's ideas was to hold a media day. He invited colleagues from all branches of the media to join him and PD Editor Doug Clifton for an evening at the Foodbank.
"I called Brooke Spectorsky (president and general manager) at Channel 3 and Bob Conrad (president of WCLV)," says Machaskee. "They, along with me and Doug, were out there peeling carrots and shelling peas. We made it a fun night and helped create awareness about the Foodbank."
For Goodman, the exposure was invaluable.
"We knew we needed to educate the community," she says. "We had not been a very well-known charity in the Cleveland area. Alex helped bring people to the Foodbank who would otherwise have never come. When he invited those folks to peel carrots, he meant it. He didn't just come and peel carrots for 20 minutes; he peeled carrots for two-and-a-half hours.
"He really came to help. Alex put his own influence and the power of the Plain Dealer behind us, and it's really helped."
None of this seems extraordinary to Machaskee.
Born in Warren "on a kitchen table," and of Serbian descent, he views his work as a natural outgrowth of his professional and personal background.
"I came from very modest means," he says. "So I'm not really enthralled with the so-called trappings of the office."
Prior to being named publisher, president and CEO in 1990, Machaskee spent time as vice president and general manager, director of labor relations and personnel, assistant to the publisher and promotion director. He also worked as a general assignment and sports reporter for his hometown newspaper, The Warren Tribune, before joining the PD in 1960.
"He is a man who's never forgotten his roots," says Sam Miller, co-chairman of Forest City Enterprises. "The projects I've seen him take on over the years, like health and coming to the aid of the poor in Serbia, that's the type of thing that characterizes Alex."
Miller says that when you attend a party for Machaskee or an event at which he's being honored, beyond finding the who's who of Northeast Ohio society, power and business, you'll also find an abundance of his friends from his early days in Warren.
"He's from the old neighborhood," Miller says. "And he's proud of it."
A matter of faith, culture and action
Machaskee's involvement in the church also helps define his philanthropic nature and drives his decisions. He and his wife, Carol, were married at St. Theodosuis Orthodox Cathedral and regularly attend services there. Machaskee is also a member of St. Sava Cathedral, a Serbian Orthodox church in Parma.
And, he serves on the national board of the International Orthodox Christian Charities.
"Giving to the church has always been a part of my life," he says. "It started there."
Machaskee is reluctant to say whether there was one defining moment in his philanthropic life, but he does point to a project at "St. Theo" that is near and dear to his heart.
"They wisely tapped my wife to head up a $500,000 renovation of the historic church," he says. "My wife became chair of the campaign, and guess who she turns to for help?
"I took pleasure out of that because we were able to put together a group of people, most of them from outside the church, to drive the project. At one dinner that I hosted, we raised about $250,000. That was personally satisfying ... helping my wife do something good."
Miller, who's supported Machaskee's causes for years, puts it another way.
"Alex, in doing what he does, actually is serving God, directly and indirectly, by doing this type of work," he says.
Part of Machaskee's faith-based involvement includes supporting an increase in diversity awareness across the region.
"He's been very instrumental in making people aware of the importance of various cultures that are represented in our community," says Bishop Anthony Pilla. "Being of an ethnic background himself, he has a special sensitivity and awareness. That has helped inform people to have a more enlightened perspective of diversity in our community -- that it's something we should cherish."
Pilla points to Machaskee's involvement in events such as the International Children's Games, which was held in Cleveland last summer, and his use of the PD to bridge the gaps among the various groups through the creation of Mosaic, a monthly section that celebrates ethnic diversity in Northeast Ohio.
"We've got 117 international groups here," says Machaskee. "And we, at the Plain Dealer, take seriously our role as a bridge-builder. My executives meet regularly with educators, civic leaders, businesspeople and representatives from the various international groups."
With that underlying belief, it is little surprise that Machaskee took a personal interest in the Children's Games, hosted in the United States for the first time this year, which attracted approximately 2,200 youth athletes from more than 50 countries.
Machaskee visited the games the year before in Greece to get a feel for them and their impact on the children. He then co-chaired this year's event with Dr. Floyd Loop, the recently retired chairman, president and CEO of The Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
"Having someone like Alex as the chair was essential to the event's success," says David Gilbert, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. "Because it was an event that did not have a brand name, it was important for us to brand it in the community. Alex was very instrumental in making sure the folks at his newspaper were aware of what was going on.
"They were only going to write stories if it was news, but he opened up the access and made them (the reporters) available for us to tell the stories."
Machaskee says he creates a culture of philanthropy at the PD by example, not words or top-down mandates.
"We encourage it in the reporters at the paper," he says. "And that helps. But there's another point you have to consider. You may have a corporate citizen who writes a check and feels they've done their thing. I don't think it ends there. I think that you make a personal commitment in time, or any combination of resources, to create some positive end result.
"If you never gave a sum of money to any institution but you took time to mentor a young person that otherwise would have become a wayward person, then you've accomplished a lot."
How to reach: The Plain Dealer, (216) 999-4217