The Secret To Grooming Future Leaders

Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise - entrepreneurship

Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise

Nine years ago, Adam Braun was backpacking through India when he asked a child beggar what he wanted most in the world. The boy’s reply: a pencil.

The answer stuck with Braun. The boy, he learned, had never been to school — like the 67 million kids around the world without a chance at an education.

With that experience rattling around in his head, Braun returned home to the U.S., graduated from Brown University, and nabbed a job at the consulting firm Bain & Company. He figured he’d spend a few decades establishing financial security and then pursue his social impact dreams. But while the corporate gig gave him prestige, stability, and a hefty paycheck, he couldn’t shake the idealistic urge.

So in October 2008, he founded Pencils of Promise, an education nonprofit that’s now built more than 200 schools across the globe. While it started as a side project, he soon left Bain to pursue the venture full time. Since then, Braun has become something of a darling in the world of social good: Forbes named him to its 30-under-30 list, Justin Bieber has taken up the cause, and his new book, “The Promise Of A Pencil,” has endorsements from Richard Branson, Cory Booker, and Deepak Chopra.

In less than six years, Braun has grown the organization’s reach to 20,000 students in four countries and scaled the staff to 80 employees. The rapid growth has required building an infrastructure that emphasizes training and grooms potential leaders — since, after all, Braun can’t do it all on his own.

“After we built one school, I realized that other people were interested,” he says. “It went from being a personal project to an organization — so all the skills from Bain were going to be used in building a great organization.”

Braun, 30, says one of the most important lessons he’s learned so far is the power of stepping away, something he picked up in his consulting days. At Bain, he saw how new hires received dedicated training so that they could become as good as their bosses, if not better. Cultivating those competencies early allowed the boss to move from consultant to manager, manager to partner.

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