Ferrari in the driver's seat 

New Heifer head knows business, but is all about the mission.

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When the lady from Alabama called Heifer International's catalog line last week to order a llama, she did not know that listening in at Heifer's end was the CEO of the company, Pierre Ferrari. He heard her say she liked llamas, which she was buying for Heifer as a gift for her grandchildren, but she added that the organization, which helps lift people from poverty with farm animals, could use the money wherever it needed it the most.

Ferrari, 60, wearing a headset, scribbled an answer to a reporter on a pad. Why was he listening in on Heifer's catalog calls? "I want to understand what we do everyday — understand the systems we must have to function efficiently," he wrote. And a moment later, "Also: I share in their lives."

His two-step answer was characteristic of how he'd responded in all situations that day, as he was shadowed by a reporter. The African-born entrepreneur and former Coca-Cola executive is putting his marketing expertise and worldwide business contacts toward making the global non-profit work in the best way it can. That means growing the non-profit (but not too much), and collaborating with corporations like Ben & Jerry's (Ferrari is on the board), Danone (Dannon in the U.S.), Green Mountain Coffee, Garnet Hill and Eli Lilly, in relationships that will benefit Heifer and the small farmers that Heifer helps lift from poverty worldwide. He and his teams — one just in from Kiev — talk about everything from the benefits of a Heifer flavor for a Ben & Jerry's ice cream (increasing contributors from "half a million donors to 3 million fanatical eaters," Ferrari said), supply chains, and using "metrics" to test efficiency and effectiveness, to company accounting practices in the Heifer gift shop.

But always, at the end of every strategy discussion, the Cambridge University and Harvard Business School economist comes back to the bottom line: the mission. It's not about making money. "It's about improving life and reducing pain and suffering," he tells the group gathered at the small table in his office.

Ferrari's credentials in the civil society movement run deep. As special assistant to the president of the humanitarian organization CARE, he provided performance analyses for a hospital and banking projects in Africa; he is on the board of a non-profit that raises funds for a Kenyan anti-poverty organization. He is also an investor in for-profit companies that benefit, for example, reforestation in South America. He sees a "rapid convergence between the for-profit and the civil sector."

Serendipitously, Ferrari said, "I had decided to focus on one thing," narrow his energies, "and Heifer was looking for a CEO." He knew about Heifer largely through his own child's involvement in a Read to Feed project at his Atlanta school, a fund-raiser in which students raise money for Heifer by getting sponsors for the number of books they read. After Heifer contacted him, Ferrari talked to his friends in the NGO world; they reported that the organization "has gotten an incredible reputation in the development field." "To a person," Ferrari said, his contacts said that "of all medium and large-sized [organizations] it is the best." Ferrari said he was the interviewee "who categorically, energetically wanted [the job] the most."

Ferrari's arrival at Heifer comes after an upheaval of sorts: In 2009, in the midst of the economy's downturn, the organization's financial situation was such that it had to reduce its workforce 20 percent (330 people, Heifer said in June 2009) and its operational expenses by $10 million. Heifer International's revenues were off $24 million from the year previous ($106.3 million, compared to $130.8 million for the fiscal year ending in June 2008), and the organization was in the middle of a $13.5 million project, the Heifer Village. Longtime CEO Jo Luck retired in January and the organization had begun to feel rudderless. Ferrari hit the ground running; two months into his tenure, he'd met, he estimated, with a third of its employees. "I was shocked at how quickly we felt the presence of a new leader," Hilary Haddigan, vice president of planning and enterprise effectiveness, said.



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