Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Notes from the Case Files: The Most Extraordinary Thing About Adam

By Jesseca P. Timmons, a case writer in Entrepreneurial Studies and Social Entrepreneurship for the Lewis Institute at Babson College.

Meeting entrepreneur Adam Braun in person had an enormous impact on how the Pencils of Promise case was positioned, developed and written. After talking to Adam on WebEx, Mary Gale and I wanted to hear more about POP’s business model. But after meeting Adam in person, we realized it might not be the business model alone that had grabbed our attention—with Adam, we were dealing with a force of nature.

In just three years, Adam had gone from “Googling ‘How to start a non-profit’” at his desk at Bain to building schools, training teachers, and creating support programs at over 100 sites in the four countries where POP operated. CFO Tom Casazzone, who had been with POP since founding, explained Adam’s role:

Having a truly passionate leader really drives everyone else, and makes us all try to be better, and just work harder every day–because you see Adam working harder than anybody every day to make his dream a reality. It started out as just his dream, but slowly, it has become everyone’s dream–it is not just his company any more, it is our company. So that transition from his passionate leadership to a more collaborative culture has been a key factor.

POP board member Hope Taitz, a long time non-profit leader and venture capital expert, had advised countless young entrepreneurs before she met Adam. She immediately saw something different in him:

Adam has always looked for where his weaknesses are, and he has always been open to surrounding himself with help—as opposed to saying, ‘I can do this, I can get it.’ That is actually is the most amazing thing about Adam: he went and surrounded himself with people different areas who could help him…he gets the concept of mentoring, and surrounding yourself with good mentors. Adam has tremendous creative vision–he knows he’s not a t-crosser, so he got Tom (Casazzone), who is fantastic…..he found Emily (Gore) who is fantastic on international programming–finding the right people in the right areas is a tremendous skill! Another unusual thing about Adam, which is also tremendously strong, is that he is always able to cut his losses. If he hires somebody and they do not look to be fitting in to the model, he is able to terminate them, which is also very hard for young people to do.

As for the business model—Adam rejected the notion that POP would follow a specific long term plan. Instead, he was convinced that: “If we’re not iterating every single day on the organization, than we’re not best in class.”

Mary and I went back to square one on the case: we wanted students to try to figure out exactly what made this entrepreneur so different. My challenge was to try to capture Adam on paper–because from what we had seen, it was nearly impossible to sit in a room with Adam and not believe in him–but how to get this across was another story.