Tag Archives: entrepreneur

The Nonprofit Prophet

Even the most vociferous critics of genetic engineering would have to concede: we need more Ken Saxons in the world.

Equal parts entrepreneur, social visionary, pragmatic analyst, and leadership matchmaker, Saxon has been serving the Santa Barbara community for nearly 25 years as a guiding force behind some of the most progressive nonprofit and philanthropic programs in the country. 

“I love to create organizations, grow teams, and create something that makes a difference,” he says. “That’s my orientation. I like to be creative and nimble.”

He is that, and more. As founder of the Courage To Lead Program for nonprofit leaders in 2008, Leading From Within’s Emerging Leaders Program in 2013, and recipient of Santa Barbara Foundation’s 2012 Man Of The Year Award, Saxon has been bringing together civic leaders, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits in Santa Barbara to more effectively work together through strategic alliances. 

“Business will always do what business can do profitably, and government has limited resources,” he says. “Beyond that, if you look at key areas of quality of life – education, healthcare, the environment, the arts – much of that is funded by philanthropy and executed by the nonprofit sector. A community with a healthier, more prosperous nonprofit sector is generally going to have a higher quality of life.”

“A community with a healthier, more prosperous nonprofit sector is generally going to have a higher quality of life”

As the son of a father in commercial real estate and a mother who was a community volunteer, Saxon’s future seemed pre-ordained. After graduating Princeton University and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, in 1988 he founded a small but successful logistics management company in the Silicon Valley – fertile ground for a fledgling entrepreneur. Moving to Santa Barbara in 1996 with his wife, a set of one-year-old twins, and family dog Maggie, Saxon initially found himself a Stranger in Paradise. Drawn to community organizations and nonprofits, Saxon began immersing himself in his new surroundings.

“I started to get involved on nonprofit boards,” he recalls, “and found that who I identified with most were the executive directors. They’re very akin to small business people, which is what I had been. They have to wear a lot of hats, and they don’t have enough time or resources. They experience the loneliness of leadership, where there’s not a safe place to talk about what’s keeping them up at night. I related to all of that – and my epiphany was that rather than let them suffer and burn out, we need to invest in them and connect them with each other.” That insight spurred Saxon to create the Courage To Lead Program in 2008, a vital cornerstone of Santa Barbara’s philanthropic and nonprofit community.

Saxon thrives on the ever-evolving dynamics of Santa Barbara’s unique nonprofit sector. “There’s a really unusual confluence of two things here: First is this incredible human capital. One of our greatest assets is that every year there are people who move to Santa Barbara that have experience, talent, gifts and resources, who want to put them to work. The second component is really substantial need. I think many people would be surprised to know that Santa Barbara County has the second-highest poverty rate of any county in California.”

“So when you combine all these people that have creativity, skills and also money – and an obvious need that’s right in front of their faces – that leads to a really significant amount of philanthropy in this region, and a lot of people with really creative ideas to address these needs.”

Reflecting on the recent near-Biblical string of Perfect Storms ravaging the Central Coast nonprofit sector, Saxon offers an insightful yin/yang perspective.

“In the last three years, the paradigm has become very disaster-focused, and that’s both good and bad. It’s good in that it’s catalyzed more philanthropy and some really creative solutions. An example is the 805 Disaster Fund, which is one of the most inspirational efforts I’ve ever seen. 

On the downside, it’s really limited the amount of resources to address fundraising, especially in light of the pandemic. Imagine how hard it’s been for arts organizations, when some funders say, ‘We’re not going to give our normal grants this year because we’re going to give money to address the mudslides or the fires or the pandemic.’”

“We will get past these current crises – as we have so many in our past,” Saxon assures, “and nonprofit organizations and philanthropy will lead the way as we rebuild a community that ideally works better for everyone.”

Ken Saxon is still working his altruistic alchemy, eager to embrace a future rich in transition and possibilities. “I do have the good fortune in that for more than 30 years I’ve had a great deal of say in what I do and who I do it with,” he reflects. “It’s a real blessing in my life. I feel so lucky about that.”

And Santa Barbara is lucky have Ken Saxon, even if there is only one of him.

Practically Visionary

If there was a Six Degrees of Connection Game for Enlightened Entrepreneurs, Rinaldo S. Brutoco would win it handily, along with the distribution rights. Anyone who can quote Mother Teresa, Ralph Nader, and Deepak Chopra verbatim is a rarity, but the man who was there to hear it firsthand is a force to be reckoned with.

Rinaldo S. Brutoco defies easy categorization. Even a casual perusing of his portfolio of accomplishments and titles can induce vertigo: corporate executive, successful entrepreneur, savvy philanthropist, acclaimed author, environmental warrior, accomplished lawyer, radio personality, climate change activist, futurist. Often lauded as a visionary, Brutoco is quick to modify the label. “I’m a practical visionary,” he corrects amiably, in a voice that makes it sound as if he’s earned the title, and he has.

Brutoco has been a catalyst within California’s cultural, business, and nonprofit engine for over three decades, and his energy shows no sign of flagging. Finding sustainable and practical ways for business to work on behalf of the common good, he consistently finds Wall Street’s sweet spot in the process. As Founding President and CEO of World Business Academy, the iconic Santa Barbara-based think tank and nonprofit business network, Brutoco impacts not only the village he lives in, but the zeitgeist of the world outside.

As one of seven children growing up in the then-sleepy town of Covina in the 1950s, Brutoco’s preternatural ability to synthesize entrepreneurship with logic was honed at an early age. 

“When I was seven, I needed to make some money,” he recalls. “I borrowed my dad’s lawnmower and said, ‘I’m gonna start cutting lawns for money, dad.’ He said, ‘Well, how are you going to do that? You can’t drive, you’re only seven.’ But I calculated there were enough houses on our block, the block to the left and the block to the right that it would be plenty for me to do if I could get a few of those houses… and that’s what I did.”

That early alchemy of ambition and logic served as a template for future, more grandiose successes. “I kept being entrepreneurial and pretty innovative, so it always put me in interesting places,” he says. As an idealistic young law student in 1969, Brutoco launched the California Public Interest Law Center at the personal goading of an early hero, consumer advocate icon Ralph Nader. Three years later, he won what was then the largest class action lawsuit in U.S. history, retrieving $143 million and returning it to Pacific Telephone customers. 

“Santa Barbara ought to be proudly leading the way to the future we are all trying to embrace. Climate change is forcing us, whether we like it or not, to take that leadership role.”

– Rinaldo S. Brutoco

Scoring yet another coup in 1986 as CEO and Chairman of the Dorason Corporation, Brutoco obtained exclusive distribution rights from Mother Teresa for a documentary film of her life – a partnership which complemented his compassionate capitalism ethos. 

“The greatest blessing of my life was to work with Mother the last decade of her life,” he says. “She was human in many ways – like your favorite grandmother – but she was also completely beyond human. She possessed abilities that humans don’t normally possess – to bend the time/space continuum, basically.” He pauses and laughs, adding, “They call them miracles.”

Around that period Brutoco also met up with another up-and-coming entrepreneur, Deepak Chopra. Kindred spirits, the two formed an easy friendship and eventual working partnership that endures to this day. 

“We’ve had some amazing adventures,” reflects Brutoco. “There’s only one Deepak. I’m very proud to call him my friend.” 

In 2013, the two served as co-founders of JUST Capital, the independent research nonprofit which monitors, measures and ranks businesses on their ethical and responsible stewardship.

As both a longtime Santa Barbara resident and maven of the local nonprofit landscape, Brutoco adheres to a strict rule-of-thumb when it comes to organizations in which he chooses to invest his energies and money. “I honestly believe it’s not my money in the first place, it’s God’s money,” he says. “The way it comes to me is through grace. And so my job is to figure out how to spend God’s money, the way a trustee has to do that for their trust beneficiary. That’s what I look for: the opportunity to get the maximum leverage for society from where I put the money.”

Keenly attuned to the worsening climate crisis, much of Brutoco’s current energies are focused on creating renewable energy paradigms. Spearheading such ambitious projects as Clean Energy Moonshot, a micro-grids-driven 100% renewable energy system, and his Jules Verne-esque, hydrogen-driven H2 Clipper dirigible, Brutoco dances outside the lines of Old School Capitalism for all the right reasons. “We must as a society elect to be better,” he insists. “Santa Barbara ought to be proudly leading the way to the future we are all trying to embrace. Climate change is forcing us, whether we like it or not, to take that leadership role. Period. Full Stop.”

“I often say Santa Barbara is the Jewel of the Central Coast and of California,” says Brutoco, “and California is the Jewel of the World. My hope and my dream for this city would be that all of us who live here would get engaged with creating the future that we want to live in rather than accepting the present mess that we tolerate. Why do we tolerate climate change? We gotta fix that. We can do that right here. We can show the world how to do it in Santa Barbara.”