A highlight from The value of kindness at work | James Rhee

TED Talks Daily


Of that company's net assets. So this unexplained differential is named goodwill. And with it, accountants actually can make balance sheets balance. Now, of course, this isn't how most of us think of goodwill. We experience the more human definition of goodwill. And I remember very clearly when that definition first entered my life. It was 1976, and I was 5 years old. And I was sitting there one morning in kindergarten class when in walk the father and older siblings, one of my friends. And they handed me a present. They gave me a little toy, red helicopter. And in the moment, I didn't really understand why they were giving it to me. I just remember sensing that they were happy and sad at the same time. And it wasn't only until much later that I had my aha moment. That my friend had lost his mom recently, and that this gift, it was a thank you. Because I would often share my lunch with my friend on the many days that he would come to school without anyone of his own. In an over time, as things happen, I lost the toy. But I never forgot the lesson, especially how it made me feel. My friend's father had rewarded kindness without cheapening it. And he made it tangible with an object, and he made it human in that exchange. And he made it shareable with the story. And in doing all of this, he created real value out of thin air. By turning kindness into a scalable, collectively owned asset called goodwill. You know, and then for us for many of us, my life, the years just passed at a dizzying pace. And I collected a couple of fancy degrees. I became a dad myself three times over. And I found myself wheeling and dealing as an investment banker and a private equity investor for many years. And the lessons from that red helicopter, they seemed incredibly childish. And weirdly misguided in the world of business and finance. Because let's face it, non revenue generating investments in people that generally not measured, let alone rewarded. But something happened in the summer of 2013 that would forever change the way I thought about kindness. Goodwill. And their roles in reshaping business. I was on a series of just deflating board calls. Involving a failed investment in a company called Ashley Stewart. Ashley Stewart is a clothing retail that has served and employed primarily plus sized moderate income, black women, in neighborhoods across America since 1991. And I felt accountable to my former employer to my former investors to the 1000 plus employees at Ashley Stewart and frankly to myself because I had saved this company from a near death bankruptcy filing. Just three years prior and so this time I did something I took an action. I made a choice. I resigned as chairman of the board. And I agreed to serve as a first time CEO of this broken company. But I agreed to do it just for 6 months. I just wanted to avert a nasty liquidation. And then I wanted to come home and get on with my life. I had immediate pains of regret during those first few weeks that actually Stuart. The corporate headquarters was a converted warehouse. I just remember there being a lot of bugs. There was no Wi-Fi at the headquarters. And the stores didn't have computers. And because there was a lack of trust, there were vendors in the lobby demanding to be paid in cash upfront. And because of them, a lot of my employees were scared. And so I ended up having to hire an armed security guard to protect them. And I felt alone, like on every dimension you can think of.

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