Matt O’Connell’s Story
I thought I was going to retire from the company. In my twenty years at the firm, I had moved from an entry level sales rep position to leading our corporate divisions in Latin America, Europe, North America and finally the global team. During those years, we quadrupled revenue and became the most profitable division in the company. I loved it and I really couldn’t image the company surviving without me, or more truthfully, me surviving without the company.
Yet, despite the best laid plans, all good runs do come to end. We were acquired and although it seemed very positive at first, things begin to change. Leadership changes, consolidations, new synergies and a new culture. During the transition I went from being one of the most valuable members of the team to one the ‘old guard’ and slowly but surely I realized that my best days at the company were behind me. It was time.
The company asked me to stay on as a consultant for 12 months, which was financially attractive and would take up a few hours a week. The rest of the time was mine and the thought of all that free time was terrifying. I had not had any stretch free time in twenty years; my days being filled with meetings, conference calls, financial reviews and travel. I had no idea how to fill my day without the imperatives of the business driving my schedule.
This mid-career crisis lead me on an exploration that proved to be one of the most valuable experiences of my life. I challenged myself to find purpose, meaning and impact outside of my corporate comfort zone. I needed to answer the question of how could I use the skills and talents that I has gained over the years to impact the world in a new way?
This exploration lead me to Haiti. Like many, I was horrified by the loss and destruction caused by the earthquake in Port Au Prince in 2010. I am not sure why, but I decided that wanted to see if I could use my time to help alleviate some of the desperation that was reigning in Port Au Prince. I met with an organization based in Los Angeles called J/P HRO. The organization was providing assistance to the tens of thousands of Haitians living in displacement camps after the quake. I offered to help in any way I could and the JP team invited me to visit the camps to explore that opportunity.
During my second day in Port Au Prince, I went to tour the largest of the displacement camps that was serving close to 60,000 people. JP HRO had set up a medical and dental clinic in the camp and the dental clinic caught my eye. The clinic was very crude by our US standards. The equipment was very rudimentary but was sufficient to pull teeth and alleviate the pain when there was no other option. I knew right away that I could help.
I had spent twenty years in the dental manufacturing business and I knew that we could access better equipment and materials that would provide better care and health to people in the camp. Right then, I began my work with JP HRO. Our goal was provide high quality and safe basic dental care services the people of the camp. I decide to spend the better part of my year off in Port Au Prince toward realizing that goal. That year proved to the most rewarding of my life.
I had the privilege of working with the extraordinary JP HRO staff and a group of inspired Haitian dentists to build one of the best community dental clinics in Haiti. My initial plan was to invest my year in helping build the clinic and then get back to work when my consultancy was up. I did go back to work but I did not leave Haiti far behind. I couldn’t. I realized that I was getting more than I was giving in this project. My work in Haiti had become an essential part of my life.
In the five years since returning to full time work, I still am very involved in the work of our clinic. Over the years, we moved the clinic out of the camp and into the general community. We have hired three full time Haitian dentists that provide free and safe care to over 8,000 patients per year that would not receive care otherwise. Next year, we will be adding one more dentist to our practice to service an additional 2,000 patients.
JP HRO Dental Clinic 2010
JP HRO Dental Clinic 2016
My year in Haiti showed me that my life is bigger than my business. I learned that I can have an impact that goes beyond the P&L of company. During my year in Haiti I found a mission and purpose that will be part of me for the rest of my life. Richard Ward and the team at Stifle are part of this mission with me. Sustaining the work we began in Haiti and securing its impact long term is the primary topic our financial planning. My plan now is not to simply retire well. My plan is to transition to continuing the work that has been so meaningful to me.