The Entrepreneurs Organization (EO)/Virgin Unite Changing Business for Good (CB4G) Contest recognizes business leaders whose companies make a deliberate, positive impact on people and the planet. The 2017 winner, David Gatchell, is the founder and president of Fellgroup, a global engineering, construction and sustainable development company based in Austin, Texas. Here, he describes how he found his focus.
I've had the desire to make a lasting and positive impact on the world for much of my lifetime. My parents took me to Mexico when I was young to work on building projects there, and those experiences really contributed to who I am today. However, it's only recently that I've had the opportunity--with my firm--to effect large-scale change.
When I started down this path, my goal was simply to support myself without having to work for someone else. Once I proved I could do that, I looked to grow a profitable business. We had some early successes, but I found myself growing bored. It took a couple of years before I realized that I didn't just want social impact to be one of our key principles--I wanted to use my experience to do good work globally and, as the end goal, to help people improve their lives.
At first, we were working with local construction contractors in Afghanistan, helping them to elevate their performance, marketability and business growth. The objective was to build capacity within the communities where projects were being implemented, as opposed to importing all the labor and other resources. By working together, we offered local knowledge, experience and pricing comparable to that of well-known international firms. We received strong performance reviews from our clients and maintained profitability. Now, we're doing the same with multiple projects in more than a half-dozen countries in Africa.
When I applied for the CB4G award, I'd been working with my EO mentor, Cole Harmonson, the founder and CEO of Far West Capital, to refine and roll out Fellgroup's Impact Plan. Cole was able to listen to where we were in the process and ask pointed questions about our intentions. He really helped me see things in a different light and understand how best to present what we're doing. He shared his own experiences in similar situations and suggested literature, including Conscious Capitalism and Servant Leadership, that offered even more perspectives.
Our company's Massive Transformative Purpose is to enhance the well-being of a billion people by sustainably developing infrastructure and empowering communities where we work. To track our results against that target, we analyze each project at both micro and macro levels, considering all stakeholders--from an individual laborer up to an entire community or country, determining the population size from payrolls, research or other data. Then, we estimate the percentage of each group who positively benefited from our involvement. Right now, that estimate is about 146,000 people for whom we've been able to make a direct impact. It's not just a measure of progress, though. It's also a method for identifying ways to improve performance in terms of the impact we make, either by adding stakeholder groups or expanding the value of our offering to a larger population.
Putting our focus into words and actions has motivated and inspired me. It's also offered personal fulfillment to others. We've seen a strong increase in retention and we know what differentiates us from countless other firms in the same space. Our team is small, impactful and growing a community. I take great pride in the projects we've done around the world, but even more important are the people with whom I've had the pleasure to work.
It's an honor for Fellgroup to receive the CB4G award. I'm eager to share this recognition with our team members on three continents. They move us forward daily. I'm also inspired by other entrepreneurs and organizations who are using their platforms to effect positive change. Virgin Unite is built on this premise and many of my fellow EO members have impressive backgrounds using their businesses for good. I hope that by winning this award, we can share our story with a wider audience, become more engaged in the conversation about improving lives around the world and continue to learn from business leaders who have tread this path before me.