Everyone thinks they know Discover Goodwill.
But here’s what Karla Grazier wants people to know: It’s so much more than a store.
“My wish would be that when people take a tour of Goodwill, they don’t say the following: ‘I had no idea …’” said Grazier, who has been president and CEO of Discover Goodwill of Southern and Western Colorado since 2010.
“I wish people knew about the impact we have on people gaining independence through the power of work; people gaining independence by learning life skills, helping seniors stay in their homes and remain independent — all of that, I wish they knew. And what they know is a store. I would be so delighted if I at least move that needle a little bit.”
Last year Discover Goodwill of Southern and Western Colorado provided an array of independence-building services for more than 80,000 people throughout 38 counties, and generated more than $200 million in economic impact.
This month, Grazier also was appointed chair of the board of directors for Discover Goodwill International. She talked with the Business Journal about her path to Colorado, the challenges facing Discover Goodwill and her passion for helping people.
What led you here?
I grew up in Indiana with my parents and three sisters. One of the big things that I thank my parents for is the fact that they really instilled a lifelong love of learning which became very important throughout my life. I went to undergrad at Notre Dame the first year they took women, then grad school at Indiana University, got an MBA, and then left for San Francisco and eventually New York City, to be a banker. … I was a banker for only about five years, and then the entrepreneurial bug bit me and I started a [snack food manufacturing] company and eventually took it public. I spent the next 20 years starting, building, buying companies. … My husband and I moved here to buy a company, grew that, incubated another company, sold both of those and retired … for about 10 years. When we sold those companies our daughter was 4, so it was a great time to really be a mom. As she got older … I knew I wanted to use my brain again. I’d been on the board of Goodwill Industries here for 12 years, and when there was a change in management the board asked me to apply. … I tell you, it’s the best job I’ve ever had in my life.
What do you expect as chairwoman of the board?
We’re an almost $59 million company with 1,500 employees so it’s a big organization, and I want to make sure we keep having the impact we need to have. … One of our big endeavors this year will be to help adapt to the changing way people shop — so more online shopping. … It is also very important to me, with 165 [Goodwills] in the United States and Canada, to make sure the board is listening to all these different voices and is as helpful as possible.
What do you love best about your work?
It’s how we have fulfilled our mission here. Our mission is about helping people achieve their highest level of personal and economic independence. Most people think of us as an organization that helps people with disabilities, but actually the largest population we serve are those with barriers to employment and economic disadvantages. For example, last year we placed 9,731 people into jobs. Helping people achieve independence and knowing they’re moving off public assistance to greater self-esteem and economic independence, that gives me great joy. The other side is the people here — how we help our own employees thrive and grow in their careers.
What challenges are facing Discover Goodwill?
I think the greatest challenge we have … is the exponential speed of change in our world. Part of our enterprise is our retail operations, about a third is our contracts where we employ people with disabilities, and then a third is the programs and services we provide. We embed our mission in all of that. [The challenges are] changes in the way people shop, paradigm shifts in how we serve people and the challenge of less government funding because of changes in leadership … mostly at the federal level. … We talk a lot about becoming more agile and more innovative to meet those challenges.
What should people know about you?
Goodwill and the people it serves are my passion. … I hope the community will understand that all nonprofit leaders — in fact all community leaders and all business leaders — really have a passion to help people and want to see this community grow. … I’m just so proud of this community and how it’s been transformed.