Assume and act with good intention — Especially as it relates to CSR management, leaders must always act with good intentions. Of course, this helps towards the goal of doing good things, but it also helps to set an example for the rest of a company’s employees. A company’s culture, attitude, and workflow all start at the top. Setting the right example and leading with compassion will set positive motion throughout an entire organization.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Layden.
Mark has successful executive leadership tenures with some of the world’s top technology brands, such as SAP, Applied Systems, and FICO, including international stints in Germany and France. Mark joined CyberGrants in 2015 and has spearheaded tremendous growth in company revenue, clients, and product development. Mark is a Cum Laude graduate of Harvard University where he played football and acquired an Economics degree. Mark’s mission is “to help our customers make extraordinary and incredibly good things happen.”
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career path started as a traditional one — working with software and private equity companies and quite honestly, I wasn’t really aware the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) industry existed in the capacity that it does. Once the opportunity to begin working at CyberGrants presented itself it opened my eyes to not only the size of this industry, but the legitimate opportunity available to provoke and create positive change for so many important causes.
I find what CyberGrants does, and other companies that work in the space of giving, wildly motivational. Compared to my background in software development, the mission of the CSR industry is easy to understand and relates to everyone at some level. Once you begin working within this space you get infected, and the work gets ingrained in your DNA. Realizing we can help a company achieve their ultimate destiny, it became clear that our work is a responsibility, not an opportunity.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
My very first day at CyberGrants I attended an invite-only event at one of the lots at Disney. Walking into the event, there was leadership from some of the biggest companies in the world like Disney, Walmart, Bank of America, and JPMorgan. What was even more interesting was how excited they were to speak to me so they can learn more about how we can help their organizations drive positive change through employee giving programs. During the meeting, I began speaking to the head of one of the foundations and she clearly relayed how much they need help. She went on to discuss how they were planning to give away $700M but had no way to measure the impact of their donations. It really set the tone for me as CEO to understand what issues are top-of-mind for our customers, and how we can move our solutions forward to meet those needs.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Not necessarily about starting at CyberGrants, but when I was attending Harvard, I walked into a literary discussion a proctor was holding at one of the dorms. I was looking like a mess coming from football practice, but they had advertised cookies and milk, so I was interested. I sit down and hear them say something about Tolstoy, so I say out loud ‘Tolstoy, I love the Hobbit!’. I quickly realize that I was thinking of Tolkien, the writer of the Hobbit, rather than Tolstoy. Although a minor moment, I learned an important lesson; Listen first, the cookies can come later. Listening and understanding the context of the conversation, whether, with my team, a customer or in my daily life has remained a personal focus for me since this experience. Not only can it save you from personal embarrassment, but it makes you a better leader and more capable human being.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
What CyberGrants does is really simple but has a profound impact on our customers and the space of giving. CSR technology allows our customers to track different levels of analytics and insights ranging from simple location data all the way to highly specific demographics. By enabling organizations big and small to create a giving ecosystem, they’re able to track how much impact their giving efforts make, which is invaluable. Businesses can easily identify the causes most important to their organization, employees, and customers, and dictate their choices around that information to make sure everyone feels represented. With around $400B of giving done in the US each year, this number will continue to grow and organizations need to be sure funds are going to the right place while generating measurable impact.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Early on into becoming CEO of CyberGrants, I wanted to better understand how the greater operation works so I spent a day in one of our contact centers. I took a call from a mother whose son was selected by Make-A-Wish for an opportunity to go to the greatest place on earth, Disney, but they were having trouble getting their tickets for the trip. Since CyberGrants works with Disney and Southwest, we were able to get the issue resolved for them, but I remember it being such a wonderful conversation that has stuck with me. What I quickly found is if you ever lose faith in humanity, take a walk around our contact center and hear all of the people calling in with plans to make the world better. At CyberGrants we’re aware we play a small role in the grand scheme of making these positive things happen, but just to be a part of it in some capacity is so rewarding.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Our core mission is for participation in giving to be on a broader scale by making it safer, efficient, and more impactful. Global data privacy is a key challenge to this mission as privacy laws and regulations vary so drastically across regions, countries, and states. Collecting and distributing millions of dollars around the world continues to be a challenge because standards are so different everywhere. Figuring out a way to standardize data privacy laws on a global scale, or at least for the sake of corporate giving, would be wildly helpful and would allow for funds to be distributed more efficiently.
Another issue is the notion that all not-for-profit organizations are in the business of doing good which simply isn’t true. There’s a decent number of organizations that label themselves as not-for-profits as a way to pay lower taxes and they might not actually be doing anything in terms of charity or grants. Similar to data privacy, this is a complicated issue around tax laws that needs to be figured out.
Another issue to solve is the difficulty in transferring money around the world. Especially for less developed countries, funds can easily be laundered and fall into the hands of the wrong people. There are so many risks involved and there should be more government intervention, as well as technology resources to minimize any chance for wrongful distribution to occur.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I see leadership as setting the right example and backing it up by doing the right thing which is critical because as a leader you need to back up your words with actions. Leaders need to also create a safe environment to contribute thoughts, opinions and to make things happen. As CEO, people often ask what CyberGrants does, and it’s up to leaders like myself and others working within philanthropy to educate on the importance of these initiatives. The education piece is key because there are so many loose ends when it comes to the industry we work in. Making sure people understand what’s available allows them to make their own choices, rather than us telling them what to do.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- God is in the details — I learned this one over time. Usually, it’s said the devil is in the details, but I say God because it’s important to follow the design of a plan and not be solely focused on the execution of its end result. The message here is to deeply understand what you’re doing and follow the details. Business leaders can often fall into only looking towards the big picture when it comes to making business decisions. While that’s important from a future-looking perspective, you absolutely must understand the details or strategy before you can realize the big picture. Following this idea has enabled me to become a better leader.
- Assume and act with good intention — Especially as it relates to CSR management, leaders must always act with good intentions. Of course, this helps towards the goal of doing good things, but it also helps to set an example for the rest of a company’s employees. A company’s culture, attitude, and workflow all start at the top. Setting the right example and leading with compassion will set positive motion throughout an entire organization.
- Go bigger — No matter how big you’re thinking or how grand your vision is, always go bigger. Look far ahead to think where you want to see yourself or your company in three years, ten years, twenty years. I also like to relate this to thinking outside the box but thinking so far out of the box you can’t even see the box anymore. Always set out with big ambitions and then get the details to make it happen.
- Don’t sweat it — Often people are terrified which creates tension and anxiety. This has largely been the experience over the past year and a half for so many people netting from pandemic fears, stress of remote work, and a slurry of other issues we experienced. Especially as it relates to work, nothing in business is important enough to make you overly stressed. Regardless of what happens, you’ll always be alright. It’s been proven that anxiety and stress often lower performance and our ability to work efficiently. Of course, it’s important to put forth your best effort, but we need to not be sweating it if something doesn’t quite come to pass or we have to switch gears on something or our initial conjectures were off. Don’t sweat it, reboot and move on.
- Have fun — There are two reasons for this. First, we spend a lot of our lives on our work and we work for a long time. This is a marathon, not a sprint. If you are not having fun while you are doing it, you won’t do your best. Or, frankly, you won’t make it. Second, people often are at their best when they are having fun — effortless fun. If you are not in that state it makes sense to stop, analyze why not, and fix it. It could be you or your circumstances, but you should correct it. This way even if you hit a roadblock or have a streak of bad luck, you’re still having fun!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Something I believe we do have the ability as people to solve is the amount of misinformation available. It’s easy to blame on social media but these issues go far deeper than that. Growing up my father was a newspaper guy so early on I was very involved with reading and understanding the news. Years ago, we used to argue over the implications of facts and the truth, rather than argue about the truth itself. We’ve seen how this has had massive impact over the last few years from a political, scientific and health perspective which can only get worse if we don’t do something now. We need to come together and begin agreeing in some facet of truth instead of arguing about the legitimacy of simple facts. Once we overcome this hurdle, we’ll be able to progress in a positive direction much more effectively.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is ‘The truth is self-evident’. This resonates with me because I don’t actually find the statement to be true. My entire life I’ve been searching for the ultimate truth, as have so many others. Looking for the truth in business and understanding what people want has been one of the hardest things for me over the course of my career. I know others are on a similar mission, and this continues to be a relevant point of thought in my life.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I find the recent advancements in the healthcare space fascinating. Based on that, I’d want to meet with Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, the two women that developed the CRISPR technology for gene splicing. I’m absolutely blown away by how that works and to get even the smallest bit of wisdom from them would be an amazing opportunity. I’d also be interested in having a meal with Luigi Warren, the creator of MRNA technology. Coming from a software development background, seeing this new wave of biological programmers and how much profound impact the technology is making, especially in the fight against COVID-19, is astounding. My daughter is also interested in bioengineering and being able to share this experience with her would be such a positive for me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Mark Layden of CyberGrants Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.