Tag Archives: philanthropist

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.”

Investing in Community and Getting Better Returns than Wall Street

Tom Parker has been marinating in Santa Barbara philanthropy since the 1950s when, as a kid, he and his dad would distribute food to Santa Barbara’s homeless through the local Kiwanis Club. Tom says philanthropy has always been woven into Santa Barbara’s fabric because it’s a small enough place where it’s easy to see the impact of one’s good deeds – and enjoy the gratification that comes with it. 

“Very few businesses give you the kind of feeling of fulfillment a nonprofit can,” says the third-generation Santa Barbaran and president of the Hutton Parker Foundation.

The Hutton Parker Foundation primarily focuses on supporting Santa Barbara nonprofits, especially in the areas of Education, Health & Human Services, Civic & Community Development, Youth & Family Services, and Arts & Culture. The Foundation was started by Tom and his aunt-in-law who are sort of a riches-to-rags-back-to-riches story – with many valuable life lessons learned along the way.

Parker did well in real estate investing as a young man, so much so that when the real estate portfolio of his wife’s beloved aunt Betty Hutton became distressed in the 1980s, Tom had the flexibility – and wherewithal – to move his family to Orange County to work with Betty for quite a few years whilst turning around her ailing business and her underperforming assets.

As with Parker, philanthropy was always a priority for aunt Betty. So as soon as Betty’s financial ship was righted and the family had “enough,” Tom and Betty funneled the rest of their assets into their newly formed Hutton Parker Foundation. “You get to a certain point where it feels better to give back than to consume. If you are fortunate in life, that’s not just an obligation, it’s an ingrained part of you.” Not surprisingly, Parker is grooming his sons Christopher and Jess to take over the foundation and carry on the family legacy.

Parker’s philosophy as a philanthropist is that most of the charities he focuses on are great at their primary mission, but their good deeds could go further if these nonprofits ran better, leveraged assets, and found productive synergies. To this end Tom sees himself as more of an aggregator and super connector rather than a micromanager. He uses lessons learned streamlining his aunt’s businesses and has innovated a system whereby multiple nonprofits pool resources and invest in local real estate, and frequently (with Tom’s help) buy the buildings where they operate.  

“The local nonprofits don’t just need monetary funding; they need entrepreneurial support, innovative ideas, and energy. All these charities do great work, I just try to help make sure their business plans are sustainable.”

– Tom Parker

To facilitate its mission, the Hutton Parker Foundation makes below market loans to nonprofits, buys buildings, and has housed 55 nonprofits in 17 renovated Santa Barbara structures, not just saving these organizations millions in operating expenses, but greatly benefitting the larger community of Santa Barbara. “The local nonprofits don’t just need monetary funding; they need entrepreneurial support, innovative ideas, and energy. All these charities do great work, I just try to help make sure their business plans are sustainable.”

Parker says the key to his system is identifying and sometimes synthesizing collaborations, or as he likes to say, “Whatever you do, try to make sure everybody wins.” By maximizing symbioses, Parker scores a quintuple win for nonprofits, the people they serve, other nonprofits they partner with, and the communities where they’re located. 

Parker’s system (known as “tenant equity”) has been so successful there’s even a book about it: The Hundred Million Dollar Secret: Why and How Foundations Should Invest in Community Instead of Wall Street. Parker says he wrote the book because he was a “boring lecturer.” Although that is likely a fiction, Tom’s book in fact proves that foundations can yield superior returns by investing locally rather than in an ordinary portfolio of stocks and bonds. 

Parker is also a big believer in the utility and importance of data: that how a place (or group) is doing can be measured, providing data that’s invaluable in terms of allocating resources and focusing efforts. This is one of the reasons Hutton Parker is a main underwriter of UCSB’s “Indicators Project” – which literally measures leading indicators in a multiplicity of categories, showing how various aspects of a hyper local community is doing or at least trending.

As recently as this year, Tom “reused” data collected by the United Way during relief efforts for undocumented residents in the 2018 debris flow to spearhead a new outreach to undocumenteds today, during the pandemic. “Investing in our local communities is like watering a thirsty plant – you can see the local communities springing back to life,” says Parker.

For his achievements in philanthropy Tom has been awarded Santa Barbara County’s Philanthropist of the Year Award, the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce Founders Award, the Anti-Defamation League Distinguished Community Service Award, the Women’s Economic Ventures Man of Equality Award, and countless others. More importantly, Tom Parker has won the respect and gratitude of thousands of Santa Barbarans, though it is very clear this is not why he does it.

“For me, it’s the ‘teach a man to fish’ thing,” says Parker. “Helping nonprofits work better and sustain over the long haul is much more satisfying – and ultimately more useful – than simply writing a check.”