Best Second Act Game-Changer: Room to Read's John Wood
Bio: Former executive who quit Microsoft to launch Room to Read, a nonprofit that provides books and libraries to people in impoverished parts of the world
Attitude: "I'm probably on the road 250 days of the year," Wood says. "I travel more than I've ever traveled, but it's my passion. I'm working 24/7 with a smile on my face. . . . We're very serious about getting things done."
Few philanthropists manage to out-shine Andrew Carnegie, but Wood has taken a big lead on the scoreboard, as The New York Times chronicled recently. Carnegie managed to construct 2,500 libraries during decades of humanitarian works; the indefatigable Wood, who founded Room to Read only 11 years ago, has already built 12,000 libraries and counting. This year Wood's San Francisco-based charity marked a milestone by putting its 10 millionth book into the hands of a young reader. Room to Read also has created 1,500 schools and funded more than 9,000 scholarships.
Wood, who is now 47, was a top marketing executive at Microsoft, working to expand the software giant's reach into Asia, when his personal epiphany came in the late 1990s. While trekking through Nepal on vacation, he visited a school where books were nearly nonexistent. He promised to provide them, and he delivered -- not just in Nepal, but in Cambodia, India, Laos, South Africa and other nations grappling with high illiteracy rates. "These children would not get a second chance," Wood says of the mission's urgency. His book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children, released in 2006, accelerated the campaign. Room to Read now translates books into more than 20 languages and the Times says the organization opens an astonishing six libraries a day -- surpassing even McDonald's in creating new franchises.
Honorable Mention: Randal Charlton, entrepreneur
Charlton had an eye-catching resume -- he had bought and sold 14 companies, plus started a jazz club and even tended cows for a Saudi sheik. What he needed was a new challenge. He got it by taking over Detroit's ambitious TechTown, a business incubator at Wayne State University that was teetering on the brink of insolvency. In four years, Charlton re-energized TechTown, putting more than 2,200 entrepreneurs through training programs and helping more than 250 fledgling companies raise $14 million -- big doings in a city ravaged by bankruptcies and some of the nation's highest unemployment rates. The turnaround earned Charlton a 2011 Purpose Prize worth $100,000. His new project is BOOM! The New Economy, a program that will encourage baby boomers to reinvent themselves as entrepreneurs. "What we're doing," says the 71-year-old Charlton, "is developing a series of support systems for older adults who aren't ready to retire -- like myself."
Honorable Mention: Intel Corp., Silicon Valley microchip maker
Intel is one of the Goliaths of the tech revolution, having introduced the first computer microprocessor -- the technology that makes possible all of today's laptops, smartphones and internet servers. Now the Santa Clara-based firm is taking forward thinking a step further, bucking the trend of big companies that are slashing benefits and payrolls. The leaders of Intel stepped up this year to establish a fellowship program that helps the company's retiring workers find second-act jobs with nonprofit organizations. The $25,000 fellowships come with six months of health insurance, also paid by Intel. "This bold move is a game-changer," says Marc Freedman, founder of San Francisco-based Civic Ventures, a think tank for baby boomers. "Retirement benefits are no longer just about retiring. Instead, retirement benefits can help cover the costs of transitioning to a new, encore stage of work for the greater good."
Honorable Mention: Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF)
With fiscal calamity engulfing Europe, and the IMF's previous director ousted amid accusations that he sexually assaulted a hotel maid, Lagarde became the first woman to control the world's most important purse strings. A former member of France's national synchronized swim team, Lagarde, 55, brought to the five-year post a diverse background that also included an internship at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. She excelled as an antitrust and labor attorney, and served as the first female chair of the powerful international law firm of Baker & McKenzie. Lagarde held a variety of positions in the French government, including minister of trade, minister of agriculture, and minister of finance. The Financial Times called her the top finance minister in Europe. Forbes magazine ranks her the 9th most powerful woman on the planet.
Keep reading: The Best Second Acts Awards 2011
Day 1: Best Second Act in Sports 2011: Swimmer Diana Nyad
Day 2: Best Celebrity Second Act 2011: Jon Bon Jovi's Soul Kitchen
Day 3: Best Creative Second Act 2011: Poet Kay Ryan
Day 4: Best Second Act Comeback 2011: Entrepreneur Brad Gruno
Day 5: Most Inspirational Second Act 2011: Grad Student Allyson Reneau
Day 6: Best Second Act Making A Difference 2011: Judith Broder
Day 7: Best Second Act Reinvention 2011: E-book Author John Locke
Day 8: Best Second Act Game-Changer 2011: Room to Read's John Wood