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The Voice of the Black Community


C-Suite conversation with Goodwill Industries CEO Chris Jackson
'Late bloomer found stride with mentoring
Published Saturday, May 1, 2021 10:09 pm
by Herbert L. White

Chris Jackson has been CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont since 2017.

Chris Jackson’s job is to help people develop careers.

Jackson, CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont, leads one of the Charlotte region’s largest nonprofits. Goodwill helps people build career skills for in-demand industries such as customer service, administrative and business services and construction. It also offers free computer literacy courses, résumé workshops, mock interviews, and vocational and career development services. It operates 24 retail stores and more than 30 donation sites in eight counties.

In an interview as part of The Post’s C-Suite series with Black executives, Jackson talked about finding his professional stride later in life, Goodwill’s mission and the value of mentors. Answers are edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: When you were growing up, did you envision what you're doing as president and CEO of Goodwill Industries?

A: I’m from Philadelphia, I grew up in the Germantown section with one younger brother. What I’m doing now was not even a glimmer in my mind, to be quite honest with you. The area of town that I grew up, very diverse area of town on the lower income side, but one of the things that we had was we had community. … One of the things that I really enjoyed when I was younger was aviation, so I enjoyed space, planes, the airport. I used to build model airplanes. But I also was in a place as I started getting older, where I was really unfocused.

To be quite honest with you, a lot of a lot of things happened in my life. Life happens in other people's lives as well. But those things that I was dealing with at the time caused me to really not be very focused. Let’s say this I was not a very good student growing up, not at all. And some of those issues I was dealing with led me to make some decisions that might have taken me down a very, very different path. I dropped out of high school when I was 16 years old and started working.

Q: It sounds like you are a bit of a late bloomer. What was the accelerant for you to go from where you were as being unfocused to getting on the track to becoming CEO of one of the biggest nonprofits in this region?

CJ: Yeah, late bloomer is probably an understatement, but definitely a true a true statement. I think two things happen. One, you know, was family. Family was extremely important to me. My, my parents divorced when I was very young, 4 years old, and my dad passed away when I was about 12 from multiple sclerosis. Although I had a very strong extended family, my immediate family was somewhat fractured.

I met my wife, Renee, during that one year in college, and we had started a family and so that was a motivation for me. The second was really my experience at Vanguard [Investments, a financial services company]. As I reflect back, what I realize is that every step of my journey of Vanguard and by the way, I spent almost 20 years at Vanguard, I started in customer service, and a call center.

I left as an officer running the Charlotte office, which is actually how we came to move to Charlotte. But what I realized, reflecting back is every step of my journey, there was somebody or more than one person, really, that was either a mentor that I had reached out to, but maybe even more importantly, there were people who had my interest in their hearts and minds that maybe I didn’t even realize were sponsoring me, thinking about and encouraging others to think about me in different roles.

Q: When you look at management and leadership, you’ve been at Goodwill since 2010. You’ve moved up through the ranks. Everybody knows about Goodwill, even if they don’t know what Goodwill is. Walk us through what Goodwill is and what Goodwill does that we may not be that familiar with.

CJ: At the end of the day, what Goodwill is about is about helping people prosper. We talk about the purpose of our organization is to help people see possibilities, to seize opportunities and to prosper. And the way that we’re doing that is partnering with individuals, our neighbors and community members who are looking to build their skills and competencies to move into employment or increase their capabilities so that they can move into new positions of increased responsibilities in their workplace or in another workplace.

And I say partner, because it's really focused on those individuals and their goals, the dreams and aspirations they have for themselves and their families.

What are their interests moving forward? And then, what skills do they need to build upon to be able to achieve those skills. We have a heavy focus on career navigation and on skills development, and the skills development changes over time. But right now, there’s three main focus areas. … So, the mission is why we exist. And that purpose that I talked about from a prosperity standpoint, and then how we do it is the social enterprise, our stores, and an e commerce and we have a couple other businesses as well. But that’s at the core of what we're really about. It’s really about prosperity.

Q: You got the CEO job in 2017. Help us understand how you rose through the ranks.

CJ: I have a very broad-based experience from my time at Vanguard because I led lots of different areas, moved to Charlotte in in 2000, to run the Charlotte office and did that for six years or so and then just had a real I want to say calling. That’s cliché, but I wanted to do something that was more community focused, and I had been on the board of United Way for a period of time. In a position, they opened up, it was leading their community building area, which is supporting all of the nonprofits in the community, the allocation grant process.

So, I joined United Way. I led that process for about three years and it’s when I found out about Goodwill. My role at Goodwill was vice president of strategic planning. Now, you might ask, I just shared a little bit about my background. I didn't say anything about strategic planning, so I was made a strategic planning practitioner. That wasn't my core competency. However, the broad-based experience that I had gained both Vanguard and United Way was real world experience in planning, performance, improvement, continuous improvement and things of that nature.

Q: How are you looking at moving the organization forward? What are your aspirations for goodwill?

CJ:  We’ve been in this community for a little over 55 years, extremely helpful, have helped a lot of individuals. But one of the things we were hearing input from the community was it was not enough. It was … much more transactional. Somebody would come through the doors of Goodwill, we would help them build a skill. And what we were hearing is that’s great.

But, but we need more because we know that that next job, the first job, or next job is probably not the one that's going to, help me support myself and my family longer term. And so, just before I took over as part of that strategic planning process, we had focused on the fact that we really needed to be moving towards more relational services.

We needed to be moving towards the idea of family sustaining employment defined by the individual, but that was going to that was going to mean some shifts. So the shifts, frankly, just really started just before I took over, but when I realized, and my team realized when I started, which was, you can say those words. But you have to shift the culture, and the in your power processes inside the organization to make that a reality. So that’s what we’ve been focused on.


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