Stay connected to the people that matter most to you and that help light your fire rather than blow it out. There are always people out there who feel better when they make you feel worse. Stay away from them. Find your people, the ones who care and will help bring you up and never put you down. You will know that they are the right friends when they tell you honestly what you need to hear and not nicely what you want to hear.
As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Phil Yagoda.
Phil Yagoda is a finance entrepreneur and the founder of Ian’s Friends Foundation, a successful nonprofit that is dedicated to overcoming and abating pediatric brain cancer, and The Exit, a new platform is designed to simplify the process and offers expert advice to help navigate the difficult issues associated with uncoupling. Yagoda, who spent more than two decades on Wall Street, including a stint as a managing director at Deutsche Bank, launched The Exit in December with content focused on what couples can expect to encounter emotionally and financially during a divorce and how to navigate the often painful twists and turns. Visitors to the site can find articles on everything from making a breakup plan to managing finances in the aftermath of a split to embracing newfound singledom.
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?
With involvement in many nonprofit and for-profit ventures over the years, it seemed so logical to focus my attention after retirement on ventures that would try helping communities that were often overlooked but in need of major help. Focusing on pediatric brain tumor research to help find a cure for the number one cause of death from disease in children under the age of 20 has been a true passion for me, which is how I founded Ian’s Friends Foundation. Additionally- starting TheExit.com, a digital platform aimed at helping people who are going through breakups, uncoupling, separations and divorce situations that affect over 50 percent of the population but an area with very little on-line resourceful information available seemed pretty important for me to do.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I guess the most interesting/ funny thing would be with The Exit. Having one major media outlet refer to me as “the happily married divorce guy”, as now almost 50 and having been married for 26 years but focusing on a problem that hasn’t directly affected me was not only really clever but also funny as well.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers.
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?
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
With Ian’s Friends Foundation I would say the greatest impact we are making is in funding cutting edge out of the box research that otherwise would most likely not receive funding for the research to get done. As pediatric cancer is often looked at and considered an orphan disease the need for foundations to step in and seed fund projects that will hopefully receive follow on funding later after proven results is helping get us hopefully closer to a cure. We have seen some of our projects receive major grants and win awards with one project even receiving breakthrough status from the FDA.
With The Exit, I feel our greatest impact is on providing the community of people going through breakups, uncoupling separations, and divorces a true resource to help them in the beginning, middle and then straight through to the end and then after with information that is relevant, unbiased, and engaging while being very on point. Having a resource like The Exit will hopefully help many covering topics ranging from education, finances, dating, co-parenting. We are also trying to reposition divorce. There is often a negative stigma labeled around divorce and I disagree with that. Please understand I am not promoting divorce but rather if it is your last and only option then everyone deserves to be happy and everyone needs a good Exit! After all, it is said that sometimes a good divorce is better than a bad marriage!
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
With the pediatric brain tumor foundation that my wife and I started; I believe we have helped many families along their journeys. Although we only fund pediatric brain tumor research there are still many families that contact us outright for help. We often try and help them gain access to the best practitioners in the field and specific areas of disease that they are trying to get too. With the amount of research, we have funded and in all the institutions we have funded projects we often have a pretty good call in to many places. There is nothing better than when you know that you have tried to help someone and especially when that help could be a positive life altering and generational change for a child and their family.
With The Exit, I’d just say it is amazing how great the feedback has been. Many have said (to paraphrase) “I wish I had this when I was going through my divorce!’ From an altruistic standpoint I am so happy that’s it is making a difference in the lives of many people, if anything giving them a resource and a feeling of community 24/7/365 as anyone who has access to an internet connection in the world can utilize the site and all of the content. Ironically however, I wish so many people didn’t need it. Again, I do not promote divorce, but I am so happy that we can be that shoulder to lean on when needed.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I like to steer away from political conversations, but that said, less than 4% of all NIH funding goes to all pediatric cancers and less than 1% to brain tumors which as I mentioned is the number one cause of death from disease in children under the age of 20. So, looking at the math it does not add up. We can put people in space, create electric cars, amazing infrastructure projects and thankfully come up with a vaccine for COVID-19 in less than a year…. all incredible feats! These are children, the future of our tomorrow is our children today. How we cannot or do not commit more capital to finding a cure is astonishing to me. Brain tumors are everywhere, in every state, every country and every continent. What we need are more dollars committed to finding a cure.
With so few dollars going to solve such a huge spinal cord problem it’s truly so difficult. I have heard that maybe it is because of the size of the population with the disease. Well, if that’s the case and let’s use a number like 35,000 kids who have brain and spinal cord tumors marry 35000 kids and they all have 2–3kids each, then we can build out a 5-million-person problem quickly. But even if it was just 1, that is one too many. My answer would be more government funding which can be raised in many ways even by enticing large Pharma companies with maybe extensions on patents if funding dollars are raised and or matched by government.
Community-wise, I would say our Atlanta community is the true reason for IFF’s success and the success of other foundations that exist. Even more community involvement? This truly is a disease that can happen to anyone at any time and trust me this is one that you would not wish on your worst enemy. Maybe more community outreach because so many don’t know the statistics, we did not either until we were thrown into it. Once people do, I am confident many more will get into the fight to make sure no child or parent ever walks alone! Society like that of community I am confident benefit greatly if we can beat this disease. Even if you could make it a chronic disease where maybe you just need to take a pill a day, your child would live a normal happy life; we’ll any parent would take that.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership presents itself in many forms. From leading by example, to making decisions that are the right things to do rather than the most popular things to do. Leadership needs to be expressed in many ways when leading a company. Leadership is also management. Managing your business is one aspect but managing and leading people is paramount. Your people (human capital) are as important as your financial capital, and too many forget that. Always treat your people well, always support them and always make them feel important and included. Feeling like your voice is heard and that you are helping to make a difference is one of the most powerful things you can do for anyone. Lead with these values and morals and your contemporaries will follow you anywhere…because you are going “together!” Always lead and thing as WE and not as I.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
I think I would rather answer this in what I would drill into my younger self’s head:
- Your first job does matter especially if it’s in an industry that you love- I believe this to be true. Others do not think so; I disagree especially if I am field that you want to be in. With technology today and the rapid speed everything changes in you really don’t want to play catch up. I know that sounds difficult especially in this jobs market where layoffs are happening all over but putting yourself in the position to succeed is really import for you to succeed. You shouldn’t want your resume to look as if you jumped around from firm to firm or position to position.
- Always be prepared. You would not go to court without your briefs to to the OR without a scalpel. Always be prepared and spend the time. It is always better to be prepared than embarrassed.
- Always have resilience and perseverance. Life is not easy and not to sound like a cliche, but it will knock you down sometimes. Getting up and having the perseverance to do that is the difference between success and failure. If you do fail learn from it and believe in yourself that you can achieve what you are trying to…now that’s perseverance.
- Stay connected to the people that matter most to you and that help light your fire rather than blow it out. There are always people out there who feel better when they make you feel worse. Stay away from them. Find your people, the ones who care and will help bring you up and never put you down. You will know that they are the right friends when they tell you honestly what you need to hear and not nicely what you want to hear.
- Loyalty loyalty loyalty. Always be loyal no matter what. It is one of the greatest lessons taught and the most important words in our home.
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.
I think I have made it pretty clear the movement I think needs the greatest amount of help to find a cure. But I would like to answer this question really with a quote from Winston Churchill focusing on those who are trying to help find a cure for so many fighting their greatest battle, the one for their lives. “Never before has so much gratitude been owed to so few who have done so much for the benefit of others” let’s all get behind this movement to prove what Margaret Meed said, “ never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are many that I believe in and or make sense…. like, “if you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried” … or “there is win or learn, there is no fail,” … Yoda’s (not Yagoda’s) “there’s do or not do, there is no try!” But I think the greatest one is also from Winston Churchill, “Never give in. Never give in. Never give in — in nothing great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to your convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy!” I chose this as the one to emphasize because of its strength and meaning. When facing a life altering health concern in your family or in the fight for someone else’s, you can’t stop just because the odds could be against you or because of how hard it might be to win. Miracles happen, things happen and there is always hope and there is always a chance. Hope is stronger than fear and fighting even when others tell you it’s hopeless is the only way to preserve when facing obstacles that appear. Remember, they could be a mirage because obstacles for some are seen as opportunities to overcome for others.
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.
David Geffen. I watched a documentary on his life and was just so enamored and impressed with everything that he had done in life. Like the Sinatra song, he did it his way! He did it differently than others in an industry that at the time was led by major studios and record labels. When the zigged he zagged. He took chances. He never gave up and he stuck to what he believed was the right way to do things, i.e.: when others had contracts, he had handshakes and his word. When he couldn’t get someone signed and he believed in them, he took that chance and it usually worked. But work he did coming from humble beginnings to working and out working the Goliaths around him, I believe he is the American dream. It’s great when David (no pun intended) really becomes Goliath out working the majors, building relationships and creating collaborations that if not for him may have changed a generation of music. My favorite is how he bought back the company that he sold for basically Pennies on the dollar vs the original sale price only to then make it even bigger and better than when he left it the first time. Truly an inspiration and if you are reading this name a place for dinner, I’m buying!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Phil Yagoda of The Exit 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.