Life Lessons Learned from a Wise Business Mentor

A long time ago, early in my professional career, I learned a life lesson that has stuck with me these many years. As a new manager in the Phoenix CPA firm then known as Miller Wagner & Company, I remember one of my first management meetings like it was just last week. Len Miller, the founder of the firm, (and now a life-long friend), sat the group down around the conference room table and began the meeting by looking us all in the eye.

Instead of discussing client billings, tax laws or other regular business topics, he had a message to share with the group. He told us, “At this firm, we have a responsibility to our community. We give back to try and make things just a bit better for others. There is much more to business than the work we do within these walls. Go find a cause you are passionate about, and get involved. Figure out how you can give back!”

That inspiration set me on a path that continues to this day. In the late 80s, I joined a Board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix. I wanted to help kids who had not had the same blessings as I experienced in my life. I served for ten years in increasing capacities, ultimately elected President of the Board. It was truly rewarding work, and I am proud of the time I spent raising funds, assisting branch managers and interacting with the kids.

My role led to my next involvement. I put up my hand to help a small upstart charity called Arizona Helping Hands. I volunteered my time as a Board member for twelve years. Advancing from Board member to Treasurer and finally to Board President, I again saw the importance of Len’s message urging business leaders to get involved.

In April, Len participated in a Board retreat for our current team of Board members at Arizona Helping Hands. He shared with our small group of community leaders some important tenets of board involvement. Among them:

  • Don’t join a board to pad your resume.
  • Strive for a position of leadership. Your energies should be directed to making the organization stronger.
  • Give your all to the board. It will be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

During my time as a board member at Arizona Helping Hands, I played a key role in shifting the organization’s mission from helping the community at large to focusing specifically on the needs of Arizona’s children in foster care. As a volunteer, I stepped into the leadership position in 2014, and have never looked back. Today, as President and CEO, I oversee a $6 million charity that does amazing work for the 14,000 children in our state’s foster system.

I would not be here today if not for a message heard and responded to many years ago. I am grateful to Len for his wise words, and the challenge he laid down for those assembled at that table. I pass on the message to business leaders every time I have the opportunity.

Our community is made stronger by the charities like Arizona Helping Hands who is doing essential work for children, and by others who help animals, senior citizens and so many truly important causes. It is the responsibility of every one of us to figure out how we can plug in and make a difference. We each have time, talent and treasure that we have been gifted with – how will you put your gifts to work?

Dan Shufelt is the President & CEO of Arizona Helping Hands, the largest provider of basic needs to Arizona’s children in foster care. Learn more about the Organization at www.azhelpinghands.org and contact Dan at dshufelt@azhelpinghands.org

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