This is a writing sample by “nycghostwriter,” AKA Barbara Finkelstein. It is “Do Good. Get Good,” a case study published in 2015 in a ghostwritten book about estate planning. You can get professional ghostwriting services from a published non-fiction writer. Email me or fill out the short form on my contact page.
Robert and Ange Workman’s eight children know what the children of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet know: They will not inherit the lion’s share of their parents’ wealth. Throughout their lives, they will have the educational, entrepreneurial and recreational opportunities that are the birthright of children born to self-made men and women. They will also have a hand in directing the distribution of family money to cultural and community-based development projects around the world. What they will not have, though, is a trust fund to underwrite a life of indolence and unearned ease.
Robert Workman, the Utah-based businessman who parlayed $250,000 Provo Craft and Novelty, Inc. into a tech-centered emporium valued at $250,000,000, is among the growing ranks of millionaires and billionaires determined to safeguard their wealth for generations — and teach their children that a life well lived is built on self-reliance and charitable giving.
Workman credits his parents and grandparents for a worldview that values making money and using it to repair the cracks in the world. He grew up in Lovell, Wyoming, a farming community near the Montana border, influenced in large part by a no-nonsense grandfather. “He was an old rancher, tough as nails, and he taught me early in life that if something is broken, the means to fix it is within your reach,” Workman says. Workman also acquired his grandfather’s STM attitude. “Screw the Man,” he explains. “I don’t want people telling me it can’t be done. It can be. We just have to figure out how.”
The civic side of Workman’s nature — the you-owe-the-world-something side — comes from his mother and grandmothers, Wyoming women attuned to the vagaries of climate and economics that are part of every farmer’s life. One of Workman’s earliest memories is of a neighbor sitting in front of his house eating bread and milk. “I asked him, ‘Is that all you got to eat?’ He said, ‘Yeah, just bread and milk. I’m poor!’” Workman recalls that the man’s poverty shocked him. “I ran home and told my mother, ‘We’ve got to do something for him!’” No matter that the man was simply teasing a sensitive little boy. As Workman sees it, the die was cast: He had been trained since earliest childhood to lend a hand when a neighbor was in trouble.
Workman’s parents got divorced around the time he started school. His mother remarried and stayed on in northern Wyoming. His father also remarried, later moved to Provo, Utah, and in 1964 opened Provo Craft. Workman does not fixate on the emotional fallout of divorce and implies that he made the best of living in two worlds. Growing up in farm country gave him a lifelong love of nature; nurtured his entrepreneurial spirit; and provided countless opportunities to solve problems. Moving to Provo at nineteen helped him deepen his relationship with his father; continue his education at Brigham-Young University; and ultimately turn Provo Craft and Novelty’s product line away from pom-poms and wiggly eyes to Cricut, an affordable high-tech template-and-cut system that revolutionized the arts and crafts industry. Workman speaks without rancor when he says his family reunions constitute a small city.
Just before moving to Provo, Workman went out on a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. [Briefly describe where Robert went and what he did.]
When his church mission was over, Workman enrolled in Brigham-Young and worked part-time in his father’s store. His interaction with customers lent an added dimension to his business education. Workman experimented with their favorite products. And he got to know his customers as DIYers, parents, churchgoers, gardeners and hikers. On the product side, he learned about a three- to fifteen thousand dollar arts and crafts cutting machine that only high-income hobbyists could afford. He studied the available data about the crafts market and concluded that an affordable DIY technology was an unmet consumer need.
“If we copied our competitors, Provo Craft and Novelty would be just another hobby shop,” Workman says. “But if we pushed the limits of our dream, if we thought about crafts in a new way, we could change the marketplace.”
As artists themselves, the Workmans knew they could design templates for a low-cost machine that cut vinyl, felt, fabric and fondants (edible icing). Naysayers predicted that the product would fail. Who was going to pay three hundred dollars for a basic die-cutting machine? And how many crafters were out there anyway? Workman says he had the courage to move forward because he knew his market. Over the course of eighteen months, the Workmans and a creative team of designers, artists and engineers produced several iterations of a prototype they called Cricut. They all loved it and believed other crafters would too.
Workman calls Cricut an overnight success.
“My father had the wisdom of years behind him and ran a tight economic ship,” he says. “And I had the vision that we could be a ten million dollar a year company. He supported me as I pursued my dream.”
The Workmans ran Provo Craft and Novelty together until 1984 when Workman Senior retired. Robert Workman bought his father out and stayed on as CEO. After twenty years at the helm, Workman felt an old desire to commit himself to the sort of community development projects he had participated in as a missionary. To home in on the right project, he drew up a list of human needs:
- Portable power or electricity.
With the list in mind, Workman, Ange and several like-minded associates traveled to China, where Provo Craft and Novelty already had relationships with vendors and factories. To fund their first community development project, the Workmans had sold the company in 2005 to [NEED INFORMATION]. They channeled most of the proceeds into Teaching Individuals and Families Independence through Enterprise, the humanitarian organization they founded. TIFIE’s mission: Fund self-sustaining enterprises in poor, dependent communities.
In China Workman became acquainted with a citizen from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Phil [SURNAME] had come to network with people and companies interested in establishing a profitable business in the DRC. He invited the Workmans to visit him there.
“Ange and I fell in love with the place and the people,” Workman says. TIFIE began putting down roots in Congo.
No need was greater in the capital city of Kinshasa than electricity. TIFIE’s first grant funded the production of a small electrical grid intended to serve as the energy source for a range of small businesses. To Workman’s consternation, though, business after business failed. Interestingly, the failures followed a pattern. While Workman was on site, business operations flourished. But as soon as local people assumed management, the money vanished. People were stealing from the company. Corruption was rife, and it was undermining TIFIE’s mission to lift a community out of poverty through entrepreneurship.
“I was super discouraged,” Workman says. “I remember looking up at heaven and telling God, ‘You can just take these people and shove it up their ass! They don’t appreciate our work. I’m getting out of here.’”
Defeat was not an option.
If Workman and TIFIE could not figure out how to establish an enduring enterprise in a poor, corrupt environment, who could? And if not now, when? He thought of personal heroes who undertook grand missions and confronted the pessimism and fear of their critics. Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan had not retreated in the face of routs and setbacks. Workman had to acknowledge that he and his organization were doing something wrong.
“We simply didn’t know how poverty drives corruption,” Workman says.
He and his associates studied a specific case of corruption involving a trucking business they funded. The original plan had been to help farmers transport their crops from the countryside to Kinshasa. The business model involved cash transactions on the Kinshasa side. “How naive could we be?” Workman says. “The truckers were skimming off huge quantities of cash.”
Stolen cash was only half the problem. The Kinshasans would drive out to the farming villages and sell their tires to dump truck drivers they met along the way. Later in the day, the TIFIE trucks would roll back into Kinshasa on flat tires they took from the dump truck drivers. Workman says he had never been exposed to such catch-as-catch-can thinking before.
“Generations of Congolese had operated in survivalist mode,” Workman says. “That means when you have food, you eat it today because tomorrow it might not be there for you. A non-governmental organization, or NGO, like ours cannot just show up and say, ‘Hey, guys, we’re here to help you think strategically about the future.’ The people we worked with were too poor to think about anything but the here and now.”
Workman and his associates contemplated their core strength: They were inventors of useful products. Workman thought back to that list of basic human needs he and Phil talked about in China. In Congo he began to think of those needs as four pillars. Without them, no community could expect to create a profitable business.
“It was my aha moment,” Workman says. “We weren’t going to change hundreds of years of cultural habits by imposing our strategic thinking on people. We had to be tactical. We would fund specific tools. We would teach individuals how to use them to create their own enterprises and their own wealth — one pillar at a time.”
Workman and his team went back to the drawing board. They decided to move their operations from Kinshasa, the locus of government corruption, to Dumi, an outlying village. They established relationships with various tribal chiefs and together designed a 5,000-acre farm. Workman says the implementation succeeded because the chiefs believed themselves answerable to their people.
While TIFIE continues to maintain several buildings and a communications center, the farm has been self-sustaining for the past eight years. Originally, a TIFIE seed multiplication project funded the cassava, pineapple and sweet potato crops, as well as 40,000 hectares of moringa and acacia trees. In due time the villagers themselves planted cassava, eggplant, hot peppers and corn. Surplus crops are sold in local markets. Yearly income has increased from $30-60 per family to $300-600 per family. Along with greater economic stability have come a rainwater collection tank, a small school and a health clinic. Solar panels, batteries and lights have replaced kerosine lamps and candles.
Workman and his associates did good one pillar at a time.
TIFIE’s business model is sound because it insists that the community be part of the financial partnership. Rather than donate a five-hundred dollar power system, for example, TIFIE charges the village two hundred and fifty dollars and makes up the difference with a matching grant. TIFIE does not dictate how the grid is used. Indeed, people in Congo and elsewhere with a vested interest in the utility infrastructure have chosen to establish different kinds of energy-dependent businesses, including roadside ice cream stands, cell phone charger stations and schools.
“Instead of us running the show, we teach people how to use tools and then they figure out their own business plan,” Workman says. “We ourselves had to learn that for a development project to succeed, the local people need to have skin in the game.”
TIFIE has gone on to fund refrigeration, farming, education and communications projects in many Congo villages. The organization scrupulously avoids activities — notably mining — that invite corruption. “You can blame the mining corporations all you want, but the main problem lies in government corruption,” Workman says. “Local politicians siphon off 50 to 80 percent of any contract.”
Central to all TIFIE operations is the energy grid.
Workman and his team created GoalZero, a developer of portable power products that first provided reliable, safe power and light for farms, water purification plants, brick-making foundries and a mobile hair salon in Congo and Swaziland. The company name reflects Workman’s philosophy that zero apathy, zero regrets and zero boundaries lead to committed business solutions. Since the mid-2000s, GoalZero has made grants to dozens of small businesses around the world, including a surgical care program in Congo; a community police station in Ghana; a post-typhoon housing and school project in the Philippines; a solar installation in the Navajo Nation, and a portable smartphone charger project in New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.
GoalZero became so profitable that Workman sold it in late 2014 to NRG, a $14 billion energy company that supports clean, sustainable energy technologies. To this day TIFIE partners with GoalZero and NRG on energy installations in Africa and Asia. Using the business model Workman hammered out in Congo, TIFIE worked with tribal chief King Nana Pra to build Kushea, a community technology center four hours outside of Accra, Ghana. Solar panels, batteries, tablets, computers and Internet routers were purchased from GoalZero. TIFIE’s Light a Village Program funded a solar backup system to run the center’s fifty computers. King Nana Pra provided funding to train instructors.
“Pretty darn cool that we could do something like that,” Workman says.
TIFIE’s community development work hinges on identifying the right partners. Workman says it took him ten years to develop a partnering paradigm based on well defined business objectives and personal integrity. With dozens of successful business projects on the books, TIFIE and its partners now have the agility to SWAT-team themselves into disaster areas faster than most established NGOs.
To wit: Seventy-two hours after Hurricane Sandy knocked out power in New York and New Jersey, TIFIE and GoalZero were on the ground alongside Team Rubicon, a volunteer organization of military veterans who dive in as first responders. The 2012 joint effort relied on a 53-foot trailer full of portable solar-powered equipment capable of recharging cell phones and powering critical life-saving equipment.
“We still get thank you cards from the four thousand lives that our three organizations touched,” Workman says. “We had the product, the will power, the team work and the money to get the job done.”
Workman reenacted the drill after the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal. Seventy-two hours after disaster struck, TIFIE worked alongside other NGOs to set up a power source and twenty-four maternity clinics. Whereas the Hurricane Sandy relief project was a “one-and-done-deal,” TIFIE expects to stay on in Nepal’s Dhading and Sindhupalchok regions, where it will aid some 126,000 pregnant women left homeless by the earthquake and its aftermath. One of TIFIE’s chief partners in Nepal is Barebones, another Workman enterprise that facilitates off-the-grid living and disaster relief with product lines such as tents, camping equipment, gardening tools, solar generators and lights.
Unlike administration-heavy not-for-profits, TIFIE and Barebones stay afloat thanks to a small staff and a network of volunteers. One hundred percent of donations go toward development projects. An endowment, enriched through Workman’s various businesses, funds projects and office overhead.
Robert Workman points to his childhood in Lovell, Wyoming as the foundation of his philanthropic ethic. Yet he concedes that his humanitarian mission would not exist without a moral framework he calls the Four Ones:
- One with one. Your relationship with a higher power.
- One with me. Your relationship with yourself.
- One with you. Your relationship with another individual.
- One with community. Your relationship with three people or more.
Workman further pairs each of the Four Ones with three concepts: intention, respect and choice. For example: What is your intention in having a relationship with a higher power? What is the nature of your respect toward that being? Based upon your understanding of a higher power, what choices are you making in your life?
The Four Ones underscore Workman’s belief that giving back is the ultimate expression of a successful life. He defines “successful” as doing good to get good.
Indeed, humanitarian action is the legacy the Workmans want to their leave their children and grandchildren. To that end, five percent of the family wealth is earmarked for their eight children, ranging in age from thirty-eight to twenty-one, while the rest goes to charities and foundations. The children will rotate in and out as TIFIE board members. Each one gets a crack at spending the money on worthwhile sustainable projects.
In the final analysis, Robert and Ange Workman have tried to raise their children to believe as they do: That people out in the world — in Congo, Swaziland, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nepal, Guatemala, Peru, Morocco — need the Workmans. And the Workmans need the people of the world too.