Q&A With Give Something Back

September 16, 2010

In 1991, inspired by Newman’s Own spaghetti sauce, Sean Marx and Mike Hannigan pulled together their savings to start Give Something Back (GSB), a company that sells quality business supply products for less and gives the profits back to the community. “By being leaner, smarter, and nicer” they are able to keep their prices low, and for over 19 years Give Something Back has donated almost $5 million dollars to amazing nonprofits across the Western region — including HopeLab.

We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask Sean and Mike a few questions about GSB. Read on for our Q&A.

From Sean Marx, CEO:

If Give Something Back could be any superhero, which one would it be?
A company that performs super human acts of kindness both for customers and our commnity every single day? It’s obvious — we are Superman or Superwoman! But it’s really the nonprofits like HopeLab that are the superheroes, because they’re doing the hard work for those most vulnerable who need the most support, and sometimes just some fun to get their minds off their problems!

What are you looking forward to in 2011?
I am looking forward to friendships with our incredible customers, suppliers and employees, and all working together to improve the world we live in. I’m also looking forward to our 20th anniversary. We’ve raised almost $5 million for nonprofits – more than a million in the past five years – and we hope to increase that by at least 50% in the coming year.

What is the culture/values of the GSB team?
Our self-appointed nickname says it all: We are the GPOGSB. That stands for “Good People of Give Something Back.” We are a fun-loving, fanatical group of do-gooders and go-getters who believe in integrity, diversity, teamwork, passion and preserving our environment. We have fun working together to deliver fabulous customer service and great karma to our customers.

From Mike Hannigan, President:

What has been your biggest hurdle?
We are a multi-stakeholder business. First and obviously, our customers are stakeholders and need to be completely satisfied. Our central stakeholder is the community served by the nonprofits that get our donations. Other stakeholders include our employees and the environment. Meeting the needs of all those stakeholders is a challenge that requires time, commitment of resources and focus, all of which are in limited supply. So our biggest and ever-present hurdle is striking the right balance. The fact that we have been successful for almost 20 years with all of our multiple bottom lines – profit, people, planet and community – can be attributed to the fact that we have learned how to strike that balance. But we still have to be vigilant and constantly pay attention to ensure that we stay balanced. That’s why we have a tightrope reaching across our building, so we can practice every day. Not really, but it sounds like fun.

Who/what do you look to for inspiration?
We exist to support the nonprofit organizations that make our communities healthier, safer and more prosperous. Part of my job at GSB is to spend a lot of time in that nonprofit world. The dedication, sacrifice, commitment and service I see there inspires and motivates me to do more and do my best to give more and inspire others to give more. (What’s great about our company, though, is that we don’t ask people to pay more money to give something back. They get value AND get to live their values.) Another huge inspiration is the late Paul Newman, who used his fame to create tasty affordable food products that have resulted in $300 million going to nonprofits.

What is your biggest accomplishment with Give Something Back?
I consider the biggest accomplishment to be our longevity as a successful, competitive business. To have survived and prospered in an industry that has undergone such dramatic changes over the past 19 years while at the same time maintained our focus and commitment to our community stakeholder is important not just to us at GSB, but also, and perhaps more important, as an integral part of a larger parallel movement harnessing the power of business to promote community well-being.  We also thought it was pretty cool when we got to spend an evening with Paul Newman, our inspiration, when he named us one of the most generous companies in America!