A Conversation with Joe King, Global Philanthropist + Former CEO
Following an intimate event where he shared career reflections and words of wisdom with young professionals from the A Better Chicago community, former Molex CEO Joe King sat down with staff member Danielle Veira. Get to know Joe and find out what amplifying impact means to him.
Q: You grew up in a farming community in Ireland. How would you say your origins influenced your work ethic and your trajectory to becoming the CEO of a global tech company?
A: People who grew up where I did tend to be fatalistic for many reasons. Farmers are often at the mercy of the weather. Religious people believe that many of the events which shape their lives are at the will of a higher power. Irish people, who had not at that time fully grasped the reins of self government, still felt under the influence of arbitrary foreign government, foreign landlords, etc. So we don’t fully buy into the image of the “self-made man.”
“There is a large element of luck in all success. Of course, those who succeed mostly work very hard and deserve their success. But the great majority of them were also very lucky in their parentage, in their education and in the opportunities at which they leaped and succeeded. So, from my background, I learned to work hard and to work even harder when the odds are against you. But I will never claim that my success was due solely to my own efforts. I was very lucky in parentage, in education and in opportunity.”
Q: When sharing your philosophy around civic leadership and philanthropy, you’ve highlighted how important you believe community engagement and mentorship are, particularly when it comes to ensuring that those less fortunate than you have the opportunity to succeed. How do you determine which organizations to devote your financial and personal resources to in order to make the most impact?
A: I was once told that, in the Chicago area alone, there are over 10,000 registered charities. So there is no shortage of choice. I am clearly focused on the lowest level of the hierarchy of needs. This is the most fundamental level which, more often than not, can determine a person’s opportunity in life. Without basic nutrition, health care and education the chances for achieving a positive, successful and fulfilled life are very limited. The effects of helping at this level are highly visible and oftentimes measurable.
Many wealthy donors in the developed world give large amounts towards “name on the wall” civic and cultural projects. I fully understand and believe that these investments contribute greatly to a richer personal life for those in the communities in which these investments are made. And I believe that this has a “knock-on” effect in making the community at large more enlightened and more generous, which ultimately helps the needs at all levels. But, as for myself, my feet—and my philanthropic focus—are planted in the soil.
Q: You’ve supported nonprofits that work on a global and local scale to improve access to opportunity. What projects have been the most rewarding for you?
A: My tendency has been to donate without earmarking the funds. I believe that this is the best way to help an organization in which I have put my trust; it gives them the most freedom in establishing priorities for the use of their resources and generally they are in a better position to do this than I am.
Donating as I do means that I identify with the success of the organization as a whole, but also that I take pride in the specific projects of which the organization is most proud. With Concern, for example, I take great pride in the outstanding reputation of the organization, but I also am proud to talk about their successes in irrigation projects in the Horn of Africa, Ebola burial projects in West Africa, emergency responses in Haiti and others. My wife and I have made one earmarked donation to the Brain Research Foundation in support of research into addiction, the progress of which study we have pursued with interest.
Q: You’ve been retired for 10 years, but you’re clearly passionate about giving back and inspiring others. What does the next 10 years look like for you?
A: Ah, the naiveté of youth! At the age of 74 the key goal for the next 10 years is survival. But hopefully more than that. In addition to continuing to give and help in my own low-key way, I look forward to trying to influence my grandchildren in positive ways.
Q: Lastly, what resources (e.g. books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, TED Talks, etc.) would you tell our readers they absolutely have to check out?
A: The single biggest media challenge for all of us today is the search for truth. Without the time or resources to check out each source ourselves, we need to rely on trusted sources which have earned our trust through dependable processes for verifying their information. I tend to avoid blogs or podcasts from individuals, many of which are directed by a personal agenda. I trust public radio and public television, whose processes are subject to constant scrutiny. I believe most business-focused books can be summarized in about 5 pages and I can recommend a good (and short) book in support of a key value I believe strongly in: Success and Luck by Robert H. Frank.