For three generations, the Winn Family has passed on values that I hold dear to me: hard work, empathy, and respect. These were traits I saw in my parents, my beloved wife, and now I have the privilege of seeing in my adult children. In 2015, I was truly humbled to be honored with the Community Leadership Award from AJC. The same values that my family tries to apply to business and daily life are being carried out on a global scale by the outreach of the AJC.
To better understand the values that I hold dear to me, I must go back to a tragedy that taught me some of the hardest life lessons. My world seemed to be spinning out of control as a teenager when my father suddenly passed away. With the loss of the rock of our family, I felt the need to gain control of the situation as best I could to protect my mother, sister, and the people I loved. While gaining control can sometimes be beneficial in the business world, it is not always a quality that works well in my personal life.
Thankfully, my mother Bea turned this tragedy in our family into an opportunity to teach me the value of empathy, hard work, and respect. She was sincere with everyone she met. Of course with my father’s passing, my mother went to work and worked hard for everything we had. She made sure to buy things at the cheapest possible price to save for our family.
Alice, my late wife and my partner for more than 30 years, also worked hard and bought everything on sale just as my mom did. She did this out of respect for me. Alice supported us both during the start-up phase of WinnCompanies. Once WinnCompanies was off the ground, Alice attended law school at night and later went on to hold the position of State Assistant Attorney General for 20 years, all while raising three extraordinary children. Through leading by example, Alice played a monumental role in passing the values of empathy, respect, and hard work on to our children. To say I am proud of my children is an understatement. I believe they possess the best qualities of both Alice and I.
Jennifer graduated top of her class both at Columbia and Harvard Business School. She is an integral part of the leadership team at the Boston Foundation. She serves as the Acting Vice President for the Program. When I run into Paul Grogan these days, Paul will inevitably mention that Jen is the best. I tend to agree with him.
Of course, everyone in Boston has heard of alice + olivia. My daughter, Rebecca, has become a success in the schmata business. Alice was her mother’s name, but Becky has become notorious in her own right. She can simultaneously juggle three kids, bake a cake, and do the dishes, all while executing her next business strategy. She does them all with ease and grace.
Gilbert has completed his second year as the CEO of WinnCompanies after spending a decade learning the business from the ground up. No one I know works harder and more productively than Gilbert. Under his leadership, working with our top management team, the company’s profitability is at an all-time high. Gilbert’s character is exemplified by his acute sense of empathy. As an example, he unilaterally suggested and swiftly implemented raising the company’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.
People often tell me that Gilbert is one of the smartest and nicest young men they know. I am so very proud of him. It’s clear that under his leadership, both the company’s culture of excellence and profitability will continue to grow in the future.
When I found out I would be 2015’s AJC honoree, I had the privilege of being introduced to a number of staff members and consuls of the AJC which gave me a glimpse into the extraordinary relationships that AJC has established on a global basis.
This became crystal clear to me at the AJC Diplomats Seder at the JFK Library. It was one of the most extraordinary nights of my life. German Consul, General Rolf Schutte, in delivering his closing remarks, purposefully and clearly pointed out that his country, Germany, was the perpetrator of the Holocaust and that he understood he was addressing Germany’s victims. What prompts a diplomat to stand before 450 people and voluntarily admit the culpability of his country for committing history’s most heinous crime?
How do you build a relationship of trust and respect like that? I can tell you: It took 60 years of hard work by the AJC, starting in the decade after World War II. In that moment, I experienced the respect and trust that the AJC has earned through quiet, thoughtful relationships built at the grassroots level as well as globally.
What other organization can engage in sophisticated diplomacy in the halls of power all over the world and also lead a hands-on campaign all over the country to enlist 300 mayors in the fight against anti-Semitism? And, it is working.
It was Shimon Peres who said: “I don’t know if AJC is the biggest Jewish organization, but I do know that it is the most respected.”