Drawing on Data Resources to Fight Hate and Never Accepting the Status Quo with Jonathan Greenblatt
In this episode of Leading with Data, we discuss extracting value from data resources and creating a culture innovation with Jonathan Greenblatt.
Jonathan is the CEO and National Director of ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and is responsible for driving forward the mission of the world’s leading civil rights and anti-hate organization. He has had incredible success in the business world, in tech, consumer packaged goods (CPG), retail, and media. He also served as a Special Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.
With such an incredible wealth of experience, he joined Jason Dorsey to discuss the work of the ADL in combatting hate, the tyranny of data, and how organizations can draw on data as a resource to help them innovate.
Hit play to listen to the podcast episode or read on to find out more.
From Real Estate to the White House to the Anti-Defamation League
Jonathan has had an incredible career path. He spent most of his life starting up and scaling companies. As a serial entrepreneur, however, he has always had a focus on providing social value and driving change. That underlying thread has woven its way through his career and his current role at the ADL continues to follow that thread.
His first company was a small start-up called Realtor.com, which opened up the real estate market. He then launched Ethos Water with his college roommate. This bottled water company donated 50% of the profits to providing children with clean water. Ethos Water was bought by Starbucks in 2005, at which time Jonathan joined as the VP of Global Consumer Products and sat on the board of the Starbucks Foundation.
From there, success snowballed. Jonathan incubated a business called All For Good with support from Google, which did for volunteer listings what Realtor had done for real estate listings – providing an open database for volunteer positions. He then grew and developed other companies before being asked to spearhead innovation in a role in the White House.
How has Jonathan transitioned into his role as the CEO of ADL?
“A lot of my life has been in business, a little bit in government service, but never anything like this before. But I’m the grandson of a Holocaust survivor and anti-Semitism has helped shape my life, so when this old institution wanted a new CEO to help modernize and transform it, I thought I’d give it a whirl.”
Jonathan took up the mantle in an age of polarization and division, but his appointment was made even more challenging. He explains.
“I started on the job at the ADL the same week that Donald Trump announced his candidacy, and so the wheels sort of came off. It’s been quite a rollercoaster ride for the last five years.”
Jonathan recalls his time in high school as a Little League umpire, where he had to call balls and strikes. The home team hated you, the away team hated you, but it was just something you had to do. He sees his role at the ADL as being similar to an umpire on the field, constantly calling balls and strikes.
One of the greatest assets he has in his job, however, is data.
“The ADL has better intelligence and information about anti-Semitic incidents, not just than any other non-profit organization, but better than any other government agency because we’ve been doing this for 40 years.”
Overcoming the Tyranny of Data and Turning It into a Valuable Resource
Jonathan believes that taking an empirical approach to policy is one of the ADL’s key strengths. By grounding their opinions and statements in data, he believes that they can effectively diminish polarization.
But in an era where our data resources are so ubiquitous, it can become overwhelming.
Jonathan refers to it as a tyranny of data. Where every movement of our daily lives is recorded, from every click to every keystroke to every sound we make in our homes. The challenge comes, however, for organizations to try and reduce that signal-to-noise ratio.
“I think part of value creation in the 21st century are those organizations that are able to do that effectively. To help us discern what really matters and find the significance amongst all the information that’s out there. The ability to do that sort of pattern recognition becomes even more difficult in an environment where again data is so ubiquitous and overwhelming, but I think it’s critical to success.”
For Jonathan, the future lies in being able to use those data resources effectively and stream data together in novel ways that can create even more value for people.
What Is the Key to Becoming an Effective Leader?
Despite all of Jonathan’s success in the business world, across tech, retail, and media, he doesn’t put it down to having the best algorithm or the best product. Instead, he remarks that it was a mixture of people and culture that led him to success.
He firmly believes that his ability to recruit and train the best talent is the reason he has been able to get companies to innovate and flourish.
At ADL, he has also made people and culture his primary concern and ensures that every single meeting starts, no matter who is in attendance, dealing with people and culture first.
The Importance of Servant Leadership
Jonathan cites former Starbucks CEO Harold Schultz’s servant leadership philosophy as the guiding principle of his own leadership strategy. Every day, Jonathan also asks how he can serve the regional directors. It’s a leadership strategy he believes has contributed to the positive culture at the ADL.
When he first started at ADL, he implemented this servant philosophy even further by changing the name of ADL’s headquarters from the “National Office” to the “Community Support Center.” This small change was about putting more emphasis on the regional offices: drawing focus away from the HQ and towards where the work was actually being done on the ground.
Jonathan believes that this sent a clear message internally and externally that the ADL was focused on supporting regional communities where kids are educated, where laws are passed, and where incidents happen.
Instilling Pioneer Spirit and the Drive for Innovation
Jonathan is a firm believer in finding new ways to solve old problems. If he asks, “why you do something a certain way,” make sure your answer is not “because we’ve always done it that way.”
“No one is allowed to say that to me. That isn’t a reasoned approach. I want my team to always be innovating, never be satisfied, to always be thinking outside of the box.”
He credits his success in the 90s with Realtor.com, and his bottled water business, to this inability to accept the status quo.
“You don’t have to be successful, but the habit of trying more stuff will help you push and find new ways to solve old problems.”
Jonathan’s skills in transforming companies, driving innovation, and utilizing data resources, coupled with his passion for bringing about cultural change, will no doubt serve the ADL well as it continues its mission to secure justice and fair treatment for all.
To learn more about the incredible work the ADL is doing across the United States and Jonathan’s path to success, listen to his interview in full on the Leading with Data podcast.