Carl Hohnbaum, senior vice president and head of Legg Mason's Pittsburgh office
The United Way is all about raising money for charity, but it's also about getting everyday people involved in charitable work-sharing the ideals and struggles of agency workers and understanding the value of good works from the viewpoint of the beneficiaries themselves.
From either perspective, the Pittsburgh office of Carl Hohnbaum, senior vice president and head of investment firm Legg Mason's Pittsburgh office, is a winner, and he's being saluted as the first Exceptional Leader in SBN's yearlong campaign to acknowledge those who put the community high on their list of corporate priorities.
Hohnbaum explains the firm's dedication to the United Way rather simply. "We do it because it's the right thing to do," he says. "This is our opportunity to share our resources with those less fortunate."
The Pittsburgh office of Legg Mason, with 36 employees, is one of 105 locations in the giant Baltimore-based Legg Mason organization. Hohnbaum says more than 70 percent of his staff support the United Way via lump sum donations and payroll deductions.
"Much more important," he says, "is the fact that our people routinely donate their time and expertise to serve on various boards and committees of the United Way-helping to raise and manage money and distribute funds where they do the most good in our community.
"On a more symbolic level, many of our people turn out for United Way's annual Day of Caring," he adds. "This year, we had folks doing painting and repair work for the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania."
Hohnbaum says he was surprised that Legg Mason should be singled out and celebrated as an Exceptional Leader. "There's nothing exceptional about United Way leadership at Legg Mason," he says. "Our people have always done it. You might say our firm is permeated by dedication to the United Way.
It starts at the top. For example, Raymond Mason, chairman, president and CEO of Legg Mason, long has been a major figure in the United Way in Baltimore, site of the company's headquarters. And James Brinkley, senior vice president of the firm, currently is president of the United Way in Baltimore.
It's unfortunate, then, that many local observers, Hohnbaum included, say they believe the United Way may be in for a bumpy ride in the near future with the continuing loss of jobs by the region's largest corporate headquarters. Companies such as Westinghouse and U.S. Steel, Hohnbaum says, once had the internal resources to organize and carry through comprehensive and innovative annual United Way campaigns, as well as the wherewithal to provide generous match grants for employees. Not anymore.
"When most of our new jobs are being created in lower-paying service industries, the spirit of philanthropy sags," he says. "It's difficult for people to be generous when they're working at two jobs and living at or near a subsistence level themselves."
To some extent, Hohnbaum blames politics for the current environment. "It's very unfortunate," he says, "that the political environment here is so unfriendly to business. That starts at the level of state government and carries all the way down to municipalities. What will it take, you have to wonder, for our politicians to recognize the need for more business-friendly policies and programs?
"How many of our large employers will have to be sold or relocated?" Hohnbaum continues. "How many of our brightest students will have to emigrate elsewhere before the politicians awaken to reality? Pittsburgh's situation is a disgrace, in my opinion. I've lived in many cities, and I can tell you quite objectively that this is a wonderful community. Look at our assets-a pleasant and temperate climate, major sports, outstanding cultural and educational institutions, health care and medical research the equal of any in the world, marvelous ethnic neighborhoods and inexpensive real estate."
At a time when the United Way spends more than 88 cents of every dollar raised directly on human services to thousands of local residents who depend on the generosity and well-being of the community at large, he says, that level of philanthropy may no longer be possible if the region's economic and demographic profile continues in its current direction. And with the elderly population growing, ironically, more residents will find themselves in need of charitable services.
So, in the pivotal years ahead, what will it take to enable the Pittsburgh region-as well as the local United Way-to prosper? Perhaps the answer is exceptional leadership by people with the vision and candor exemplified by Carl Hohnbaum.
William McCloskey is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh.
In search of Exceptional Leaders
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