Role Model for Giving as a Habit of the Heart


When it comes to giving back to entrepreneurship, Dave Moody has most bases covered in one form or another. He awards scholarships. He donates major gifts to his alma maters. He mentors small business owners. He hires interns. He and his employees speak at schools, churches and career day events. His company partners with local elementary and middle schools. He's judged regional and national Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year competitions. And, one day, he hopes, he'll write a book.

Born to educators in Chicago, Moody created the C.D. Moody Construction Company Education Foundation in 1989, only two years after starting his firm, which now posts revenues in excess of $35 million.

"I believe you start giving when you have nothing," he says. "Then, when you become successful, it's a habit from the heart. As a business person, we have a responsibility to give back to our communities, whether it's time, money or both. Not only because we've been blessed but also because we're role models. We give hope to people."

Exposure Is Key

Growing up, Moody knew kids who might have gone to or stayed in college if only they'd had an extra $500. To help these kids, he focused his foundation on awarding scholarships ranging from $250 to $1,000 to high school students – modest by some standards but pivotal to the kids who get them.

Not all of Moody's 80-plus scholarship recipients will become entrepreneurs. But, he says, that's not the point. The point is exposure.

Most kids I talk to – and I've talked to a lot of kids – have no idea what they want to do. Hardly any believe they could ever own their own business. The only business person I knew in Chicago until age 14 owned a tavern or barbershop. Giving kids the opportunity to go to college exposes them so many things, including what it takes to be an entrepreneur and the belief that they can start with nothing and achieve their dream.

The same thinking about exposure and the desire to make it accessible has inspired Moody to donate major gifts to several schools, colleges and universities:

  • $100,000 to Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he received his B.A. in psychology in 1978,
  • $100,000 to Howard University, where he earned his Bachelor of Architecture and five-year professional degree in 1981,
  • $10,000 to The Piney Woods School, an historically black prep school in Piney Woods, Miss., and to Central State University in Ohio,
  • An endowment at Georgia Perimeter College, where his wife earned her R.N., and
  • Company support to two elementary schools and one middle school in Atlanta

Moody believes too many young people give up too early on themselves. Consequently, he places a heavy emphasis on motivating students whose promise is often overlooked.

"Because of David's strong feelings that the potential of all students must be tapped, he has established what we call a 'diamond in the rough' scholarship, for which students can qualify with a minimum 2.5 GPA" says Kathleen Johnson, executive assistant to the president of the Morehouse College capital campaign.

Teacher and Mentor

As significant as financial support is, Moody feels equally compelled to share his time and expertise.

"David is not only one of our major donors, but also a frequent guest speaker at Morehouse events and in the classroom," says Johnson. "He is recognized throughout our alumni and faculty ranks as 'an entrepreneur who has a way with young people and can get the message across."

Moody has served on boards of organizations that encourage entrepreneurship, including the Association of Minority Contractors, the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta Business League.

He's met with young people seeking advice and hired interns, in most cases for pay, since the earliest days of his business. He welcomes students for tours of construction sites, and he's on his fourth small business protégé as a mentor for the Georgia Mentor-Protégé Program. Under the program, Moody meets with his protégé about twice a month for 18 months.

"If it hadn't been for Mr. Moody, after five years in business, we'd still be in limbo about our business plan," says current protégé JaQuetta Garrison. Garrison is the founder, president and senior project manager of GNG Electrical Construction LLC.

"When we started the company," she says, "we didn't know whether we wanted to be a construction management company or an electrical contractor. Mr. Moody handed me a template of his business plan and told us this is something you need to model."

Today, with a focus on electrical contracting, GNG grosses $3 million in annual revenues, which Garrison largely credits to Moody's advice. She also has him to thank for convincing her to relocate her business closer to her home, shortening her commute from 90 to 10 minutes and leaving more time to spend with her family.

Leadership with Integrity

Moody also guest lectures to entrepreneurship classes at Morehouse, Clark Atlanta University and Georgia Tech.

His message in a nutshell: "The books give you only about ten percent of what you need to learn. Focus on your passion. And don't do it for the money because if you do you won't suffer through the hard times. The money will come if you have a passion for what you do, are good at it, and do it with integrity."

Moody conveys a similar message to his 35 employees. He gives them paid time off to volunteer in the community. Says Moody, "I always have folks in my company join me at the career day programs sponsored by many schools here in Atlanta so kids hear from people who do different things, not just the owner. Not everyone will be an entrepreneur. And besides, you can't succeed in business if you don't have good people."

Moody also cultivates leadership in his employees. Once or twice a year, he gives copies of management books he likes to every salaried employee and follows up with a written quiz and discussions to help them apply what they've read to their unique roles in the firm.

C.D. Moody Construction Company has been involved in major commercial, industrial, institutional and hospitality projects throughout Atlanta, including Olympic Stadium, The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Turner Baseball Field, Philips Arena and, for Disney, conversion of a shopping mall into luxury office space. Employee turnover at the firm is about one percent compared to the retail average of 29 percent. Moody attributes much of his company's growth to the emphasis on developing employee leadership.

As seriously as he takes his responsibility as a role model to his employees, he challenges his peers to do the same. "I challenge them to get in their hearts to give back," he says, "because I'm a firm believer, as entrepreneurs, that that's our responsibility."

© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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