By Bob Andelman
Biz941.com May 2008
The Rev. Don Roberts knew early on that he was an entrepreneur. But he was always an entrepreneur with a twist.
“When I was 15 years old, I decided I was going to build motels for black people,” he says.
“I grew up in the Jim Crow South,” he explains. “On our back 40 acres was a tarpaper shack that an African-American family lived in. Because of the racial divides in that day, we didn’t associate much, but I knew the kids. And I remember this kid saying to me, ‘We had to travel to Alabama, and we had to stop on the side of the road for my momma to go to the bathroom ‘cause nobody would let her go to the bathroom in a regular white place.’ That was 1950. And at 15, I said, ‘I’m going to develop a business with social enterprise rules.’ And then the Civil Rights things blew my business model totally out!”
Darn that Civil Rights movement.
“It screwed up everything, or I’d be the king of African-American motels!” he says, laughing. “I don’t know why a 15-year-old envisions both a business model and a social enterprise model in the same place. Who knows? A gift of God? But I find myself now, 50 years later, running a business with a social enterprise.”
And what a business it is. As president and CEO of Goodwill Manasota, the 6-foot-2-inch, Southern-tinged, humor-loving Roberts runs a $25 million organization, encompassing four corporations with 525 employees. He’s spent the last 31 of his 65 years atop the local Goodwill operation. But it’s not just a local business. Roberts and his team have developed such a solid reputation that they consult to or operate Goodwills in two other states and two Canadian cities.