BOLD Leadership in For-Profit and Nonprofit Work: An Interview with Tim Clark

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Tim Clark about BOLD LEADERSHIP.  Having had two very different careers, I was interested in learning more about what Tim saw as universal truths about leadership.

At CarVal Investors, Tim Clark had grown the global distressed debt hedge fund from $1 billion to over $13 billion over 19 years.  However, despite this success – Tim was ready for a new challenge.  “I felt I was good at what I did”, says Tim, “But I thought that there were ways to have a larger  impact than simply identifying the next investment deal to make money”.tim clark

“I had been exposed to a number of not-for-profit organizations around the world while helping to lead CarVal.  Some served constituents who have “hope”, but the organizations lack resources and the ability to make deep and long term impact.  Others have resources, but their constituents have lost “hope”.  Most didn’t seem as effective as they could be – but I was attracted to the potential to make a real impact.”

In 2012, Tim was offered the opportunity to become the CEO of Urban Ventures.  Urban Ventures was founded 24 years ago in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis, one of the most economically challenged areas of the city.  The goal of Urban Ventures is to create a city without poverty by breaking the cycle of generational poverty.  It does that by focusing on “ventures” that create jobs, close the achievement gap and strengthen families.

Under Tim’s leadership, Urban Ventures increased the number of individuals served by its programs by 2.5 times during 4 years and increased their overall impact by 5 times.  Today, more than half of their participants come from outside of South Minneapolis.  Much of this success is the result of partnering with others.  “For our own constituents, we need to adopt a model to address the full range issues the family is facing to create meaningful change.  However, we can’t be great at everything and need to utilize partner services to fill out our menu.  At the same time, we can provide some of our programs to others to empower them to be more successful serving their communities.  This also lets us have an impact far beyond our footprint.”

Two specific social enterprise programs that Urban Ventures has developed are CityKid Java and CityKid Food.  These enterprises provide employment and learning opportunities for community members, while generating profits to support the broader mission of the organization.  As Tim explained, “we have learned numerous lessons over the years, even before my tenure,  about how to optimize these programs.  Others should be able to leverage our learnings and lessons.”

Recently, Tim has transitioned from Urban Ventures to TreeHouse, another faith-based mentoring organization focused on empowering at-risk youth.  With close to 20 locations, TreeHouse is poised to develop a package to deliver services and mentoring to at-risk youth in any community across the nation.  “UV is in great hands with the current leadership team and new CEO”, Tim states, “TreeHouse is an opportunity to leverage the need of communities to develop pathways to graduation and success for at-risk youth and scale and grow this platform.  Name a community out there that doesn’t need this help?  This is why the mission of TreeHouse is so vital and important.”

As our discussion turned to bold leadership, Tim stated that while the enterprises were wildly different, what created success at CarVal was the same as at Urban Ventures and TreeHouse.  As a leader, Tim felt that there were five keys to success:

  1. You must create a vision for the organization
  2. You must communicate that vision to all of your constituents in a clear and compelling way (over and over again)
  3. You must find, develop and retain talent within the organization
  4. You must empower and motivate your people to create the change you want to achieve
  5. You need a commonly accepted scorecard to measure and track success

Tim commented that within the investment management business the scorecard was relatively easy.  Within Urban Ventures and even TreeHouse, it has required a new mindset.  “We needed to stop talking to our funding sources about why we need money to demonstrating how we are different and can deliver a measurable impact.”

Finally, we spoke about the “nature vs. nurture” question relative to bold leadership.  Tim felt that there were a set of inherent characteristics that bold leaders need to have.  However, he felt that if organizations spent more time seeking individuals with those characteristics (either within their organization or outside) they could do much more to develop those individuals to allow the organization to take full advantage of their bold leadership capabilities.  “My mission now in life is to build the next generations of leadership.  People need to be able to see a vision and feel confident in their capabilities to strive to reach it.  I find developing and building leadership in others to be exciting and rewarding.”

I found my conversation with Tim to be both interesting and stimulating.  I look forward to the day when communities prosper due to Tim’s work!

Duane White has a proven track record of driving positive change in a wide variety of settings, from large Fortune 100 companies to smaller start-ups. He possesses excellent problem solving skills and a unique ability to marry strategy development with superior execution, focusing on the few really critical elements that are the performance drivers.