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John Whitehead on Living “A Life of Integrity”

It sounds simple—and yet, on a daily basis, it’s easier said than done. Early on, John Whitehead committed to doing the right thing. Ever a Boy Scout, Whitehead relied on integrity to guide his decisions during his esteemed 38-year career at Goldman Sachs—even when it wasn’t great for business.

Outside the office, Whitehead made good on his commitment in the nonprofit and public sectors. Shortly after he retired from Goldman in 1984, he was asked to serve as Deputy Secretary of State. But by 1989, he was back in New York, pursuing his philanthropy with nonprofits full-time. All told, he has been serving nonprofits for nearly 60 years.

From the start, Whitehead took a keen interest in refugees and specifically the International Rescue Committee (IRC), then a fledgling organization. With his support for more than half a century, the IRC’s budget has increased by more than 400%—and the scope of its reach has expanded exponentially. Whitehead encourages newer philanthropists to follow his lead: use personal passions to guide philanthropic interests and choose organizations where you can make a difference.

In the early 1990s, Whitehead provided founding support to the Harvard Business School Social Enterprise Initiative, helping to foster generations of “do-righters” to come. "My activity at Harvard Business School with forming [the Social Enterprise Initiative], converting them and everybody converting business schools all across the country to train nonprofit leaders is maybe the biggest contribution I've been able to make to all the nonprofit world," says Whitehead.

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