Today I am in the mood to write about something good for a change. Downright heartwarming, in fact.
We generally think of corporate CEOs as money-grubbing, amoral, unethical ‘Daddy Warbucks’ types, and more often than not, we would be right. But one Canadian CEO has risen above that image and proven that he has a big heart.
Jim Estill is the CEO of Danby, a multimillion-dollar appliance company in Guelph, a small city in Ontario, Canada. Moved by the refugee crisis in the summer of 2015, Estill set out to do something positive.
Canada has a private sponsorship program, which allows private citizens to welcome and settle refugees as long as they commit to covering the expenses for the first year or so and helping the newcomers ease into their new lives. Australia and New Zealand have similar programs, and a few other countries allow a private citizen to sponsor a relative. The U.S. has been working on implementing such a program, but I think, given the political climate, it is unlikely to happen.
Mr. Estill did the math and calculated that the cost to support a family of five for a year would be about $30,000. Based on that, he could, with some help from local religious and private aid organizations, support about 50 families! Think about this … while so many are whining that their tax dollars are helping refugees, this man is willing to spend $1.5 million out of his own pocket to help other humans.
The hardest part, according to Estill, was determining which families to help. “Basically you’re playing God,” he said. “You’re choosing who lives and who dies and who comes and who doesn’t.” Selection criteria would be determined by how well refugees do at getting jobs, becoming self-sufficient and assimilating into society. This would decide the success or failure of this venture. The first goal was to choose those who had family members already established in the area so they would have an additional layer of help.
“The part that was bad is that we wouldn’t take a single mother with eight kids, because we thought, ‘Your life is not going to be that good and how are you going to settle successfully?’ So that’s the way we chose. It’s terrible, but what can you do?”
A number of volunteers are assisting Estill in his efforts, and as of today, they have brought 47 families to Canada, with another 11 scheduled to arrive within a few months. They offer the refugees a number of services from job-training to English language classes, and each family is paired with an Arabic-English speaking mentor who helps them with practical matters like riding buses, grocery shopping and more. Estill and his wife have frequently had refugee families living in their home while waiting for rental housing to become available, and he makes a habit of visiting the homes of the refugees he sponsors.
One refugee, known only as Youssef, expressed his gratitude for Estill’s help: “I still don’t believe it. He brought me to this country and he didn’t just stop there.” You can read more of his efforts here.
This is not the first time Jim Estill has made news. In 2006, when he was CEO of Synnex Canada, Forbes magazine did an article about him. Twenty years prior, he had founded his own computer distribution firm, which grew to a $350 million before he sold it to Synnex. His humanitarian approach to business, training people properly for their jobs, and his overall down-to-earth methods of management earned him much respect. He does not ‘manage’ people, he helps, inspires and motivates them.
Estill does not consider his humanitarian work with refugees to be done, however, as he plans to bring about another 225 people to his country, in groups of 50 at a time. What impresses me even more is his humility. He is not tooting his own horn, not telling people how great he is, he just quietly goes about doing the right thing. In a recent interview, he said, “I still don’t see what the big deal is. And I’m surprised more people don’t step up and do it. I didn’t want to grow old and say I stood by and did nothing. So I decided to do my small part.” I’m not sure I would call what he is doing “small” in any way, but I admire his sense of humility almost as much as I admire what he is doing. While some would rather build walls to keep from having to help their fellow humans, Jim Estill is doing the opposite and his community is helping him. What a refreshing change of pace from what we have been seeing and hearing these days. Two thumbs up to Mr. Jim Estill!