With aid from the International Rescue Committee, Boston-based Robinwood Inc. has staffed itself with war refugees from around the world.
The Inner City 100
Even if Philip Celeste didn't read the newspaper, he'd be able to tell which of the world's political volcanoes had erupted just by peering out his office door. For six years Celeste has staffed his company -- Robinwood Inc. (#29), a Boston-based maker of candles and metal gift items -- with refugees from Asia, Europe, and Africa. The refugees have been aided by the International Rescue Committee, an organization created in 1933 to assist the opponents of Hitler. "It's very multicultural here -- kind of like a little Benetton ad," says Celeste, who cofounded the company with Charles Quinn. "Right now we have people from Bosnia, Somalia, Congo, and Ethiopia."
Assimilation can be tough, says Celeste. Workers must adapt not only to a new job but also to a new country, a new culture, and often a new language. Some are literally shell-shocked. "They generally start off very quiet," says Celeste. "But over a couple of months they begin to open up -- to say 'Good morning' and 'Good-bye.' They come alive a little."
Proximity to such recent suffering makes complacency impossible, says Celeste. A young man who has never seen war, he has suddenly felt war become very real. "At our Christmas party I was chatting with one of our employees and her husband, who are Kurds," recalls Celeste. "I asked if they had family here. They said, 'No, our family is dead.' I said, 'Do you have sisters or brothers?' And they said, 'No, they're dead.' And then I realized their entire families -- mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, and cousins, everyone -- they were all dead. They had died from a bomb. It's been so eye-opening."
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan