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Giving to Entrepreneurship by Spreading the Gospel of Giving

Timothy Haahs, President and CEO, Timothy Haahs and Associates, Inc.

When Timothy Haahs tells people he's discovered an approach to managing his engineering and architectural design firm that makes recruiting and retaining top employees easy, yields profits of $2 million from $9 million in billings, and helped earn the title of Ernst & Young 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year in the Real Estate and Construction category for the Philadelphia region, people are intrigued.  When he tells them that his secret weapon is giving, they want to know how he does it. And so he explains.

Haahs spent the first 12 years of his life in South Korea living in a leper colony, where his father served as a Christian missionary. After earning his engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and working for a company that designed nuclear power plants, he climbed the corporate ladder for 10 years, advancing to principal with Philadelphia-based Walker Parking Consultants.

Haahs' life changed in 1992 when a previously undiagnosed heart failure caused him to lose consciousness while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike. In January 1993, after six months waiting in the hospital, he received a new heart. The surgery and hospitalization caused him to exceed his lifetime insurance maximum. It also caused him to adopt a new perspective on life.

"What came upon me," he says, "is that life is really about helping other people, and I wanted to do something with that. To have that kind of impact, I decided to build my own company, and make its purpose to serve others."

A New Kind of Mission

Thus, Haahs founded Timothy Haahs & Associates, Inc., specializing in the design of mixed-use buildings containing parking structures, with a mission statement not focused on high quality or service. "Those things," he says, "are given."  Instead, Timothy Haahs & Associates' mission statement begins: "We exist to help those in need."

Haahs and his 48 employees translate that into donating at least 20 percent of profits, both directly, and through the Timothy Haahs Foundation, to charities and churches serving the needy in the Philadelphia area. Principals and employees of the firm are encouraged to participate in philanthropic activities ranging from food drives and charity walks, to serving on boards of directors. In 2002, Haahs moved his office into a building he designed to include a 12,000 square-foot community center with auditorium and meeting space, which he makes available to nonprofit agencies free of charge.

All this, notes Haahs, has been possible while averaging 21 to 30 percent growth in average annual gross revenue over the past three fiscal years, with the net pre-tax, pre-bonus, profit/loss margin at 20 percent or higher.

While the firm Haahs started in his garage has achieved remarkable financial success, what excites him most is the impact giving has had on keeping stress levels low, and employees loyal and motivated to work hard.

Timothy Haahs & Associates' staff turnover rate is 3.8 percent. Haahs himself works long hours with more responsibility than ever before but, he says, it doesn't affect him the way it used to.

"With my own firm," he says, "we've created an organization with a greater purpose. Everybody helps one another. We have stress, but it's about getting something done versus the stress that comes from the people around you. Plus, I get the reward of knowing I'm helping a lot of people."

Doing It Like Haahs

When Haahs refers to helping people, he's not just talking about people in need of health care, education, social, and other services that traditionally attract donors. He's also talking about helping fellow entrepreneurs by spreading the gospel of giving itself.

Haahs' desire to help other entrepreneurs build companies with a higher purpose grew as requests multiplied to speak publicly about his business model, and audiences responded enthusiastically to his message.

"People are just amazed when I tell them our financial status," he says. "They come up to me and say, 'I didn't know you could have a money-making, for-profit company with this type of mission statement. It's unheard of.'"

Increasingly, they want to know how they can do it like Timothy Haahs & Associates. Take Paul Tourney. After partner disagreements led to the demise of a previous business, he approached Haahs for permission, as he puts it, "to plagiarize" the Haahsmission statement for the new company he formed in January 2006, Tourney Consulting Group LLC, which helps engineers building reinforced concrete structures predict service life.

"It's not a copyrighted mission statement," Haahs told him. "In fact," he said, "my mission is partly to see other entrepreneurs adopt this kind of spirit in their firms."

Tourney's first indication of the impact the statement would have came when new employees expressed a desire to help spend the money that would go to charity. Tourney believes basing his company on this type of mission helps him attract more stable employees of higher character.

"When I hire people that are okay with this mission - when they don't wrinkle their face, but look at it as positive - then I think maybe this is the kind of person I'd like to be around," he says.

Haahs now plans to share his ideas with a wider audience, and devote more time to helping entrepreneurs like Tourney build their businesses based on the premise that success is about more than just the bottom line.

"It came to me," he says, "that I want to write a book about leadership based on community-oriented entrepreneurship and pull back from work to travel around the country to speak about it. Maybe even create an association of like-minded entrepreneurs."

In the meantime, from recognition as one of Philadelphia's 100 Fastest-Growing Companies and Best Places to Work, to a personal citation from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania House of Representatives, appreciation of Haahs' commitment to giving continues to reinforce his belief in the power of entrepreneurship to change lives in the service of a higher power.

© 2007 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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