Umberto P. Fedeli Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

As a child, Umberto P. Fedeli saw how compassionate people were when someone lost a loved one or faced a difficult situation. That unselfish mindset of giving — combined with the examples set by Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa — today inspires Fedeli to continue in those philanthropic footsteps as president and CEO of The Fedeli Group, an insurance brokerage and consulting service. He often receives more than 100 requests a month for help, and while he can’t assist with every cause, he and his 125 employees choose as many as they are able. Smart Business spoke with Fedeli about why service is important in business and how companies can make more philanthropic efforts.

Love mankind. If you study what the word ‘philanthropy’ means, the Greek word means lover of mankind. Philanthropy is how you can help, in a small way, make someone’s life better.

It stems off the concept of servant leadership, and if you’re in leadership, your job is to serve. The higher up the ladder of leadership you are, the more service is expected and required.

Lead by example. You have to promote that by setting an example. People watch what you do, so do it by living it, not so much about talking about it, but by actually doing it and trying to make that part of what you’re about.

We have something called the toothpaste and deodorant theory. Somebody said, ‘Well, what does that mean?’ I asked them if they brushed their teeth this morning. They said yes. Did you put your deodorant on? They said yes. It becomes part of your routine, part of what you’re about — not just something you try to do occasionally.

It’s something that you need to embrace as part of a lifelong commitment. It’s getting involved, setting an example and doing it, and not only doing it outwardly but making sure you have that same attitude of how you treat your associates.

Have guidelines for choosing causes. We have to balance between what’s important to our clients, what’s important to our community, and then getting involved with some things where we can make a difference in the cause.

That’s a challenge because the needs tend to be so great. Some things we do are tied to things that are important to our clients and our business. Then there are others that we say, this is important for our community from a civic standpoint and helps our greater community.

Then there’s another segment of things that maybe our help can be a catalyst or an area where some help can make a significant difference.

We also like to get involved with things where the people that are providing those services to others are doing it in a very compassionate and cost-effective manner. Some of these organizations may have very little payrolls because they have so many volunteers, or they have people that are doing it as a vocation more than an occupation. They’ve given their life to a certain cause.

For us to help raise some money or contribute is a lot easier than the amount of time they put into it.

Reap the benefits. If your intent is to do good and do things for the right reason, somehow, some way, they seem to eventually work. If people are looking for a quid pro quo, that’s the wrong approach, and they may be disappointed.

That doesn’t work, but if you take a macro approach by saying if our community is in good shape and the people in our community are doing better, and we’re doing our small part to participate, it’s ultimately good for everyone.

Take much more of a macro or altruistic approach. It would be like someone having an advertising program, and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to advertise for three weeks in a row, and hey, it didn’t work — stop the advertising.’

Have a long-term approach. If you do it altruistically, the more you give, the more you ultimately receive.

Balance service and business. (Employees) are able to participate, but on the same token, we have to be sensitive that we are running a business, and we do have to serve our customers and clients and our business.

We can’t be in a situation where we’re doing everything to support charities and ignoring the needs of our clients. If our business isn’t healthy and we’re not taking care of customers, we aren’t going to be in a position to do good for others.

It’s very difficult if you’re not in the position to help. You may want to help, but if you’re not in the position to financially or timewise, then you can’t. Businesses are successful if they’re in a position to do more.

Don’t forget your potential impact. As a child, we’re like sponges. You just see so many things, and you just observe. Sometimes we forget the major impact we all can have on somebody’s life.

We are called to do things for others. You have to balance that with having a successful business and a successful family life and personal life, as well. Everybody wants a piece of you, and in my case, that’s an awfully big piece because of my physical size, but it gets to a point where there are [only] so many hours in the day.

I find it difficult to say no. If you’re not healthy, if you’re not in a business that is succeeding or prosperous, then you’re not going to have the time, the resources and the ability.

Whatever business you’re in, you have customers — the idea of serving your customers, serving your associates and serving your community. It’s like a three- or four-ring pretzel. If we all got involved and used whatever talents and abilities we have, we could make our community a much better, stronger place.

Cleveland is an extremely generous and giving community. There’s nothing better than setting the example.

HOW TO REACH: The Fedeli Group, www.thefedeligroup.com