This Gopher won’t go for broke [classic article]

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Being cautious with his money has allowed Fred Grandy to be utterly fearless about career shifts.

His resume would give a high school guidance counselor whiplash: TV star, member of Congress, CEO of Goodwill Industries, college professor.

Of course, he’s best remembered as Gopher on The Love Boat, the popular ABC eye-candy that ran from 1977 to 1986. But he moved straight from Capt. Stubing’s crew to the starboard side of the House of Representatives. He served four terms as the Republican congressman representing Sioux City, Iowa, including a stint on the powerful Ways and Means committee. Grandy stepped down from his House seat to seek the Iowa Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1994 which he lost by a narrow margin. In 1995, he was tapped by Goodwill Industries International Inc. to serve as its president and CEO.

Most people who have seen the naive and goofy Gopher character will be surprised to learn that Grandy graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1970 with a degree in English.
He’s returning to the academic world now, having accepted a professorship at the University of Maryland. He’ll serve as a visiting professor, teaching a course on leadership of nonprofit organizations, and as a senior fellow in the school’s new Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise.

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We spoke to him on his last day on the job at Goodwill.

BANKRATE: Goodwill seems to be more modernized than other service organizations. Are there any new services that you have developed?
Fred Grandy: Thank you! They’re developing all the time. We are based on what the community needs. In Baltimore, our constituency has a welfare or correctional background. Some places, we concentrate on refugees, people who speak English as a second language. In Indianapolis, the issue is people who are HIV positive. In Portland, Maine, it’s traumatic brain injuries. Our major focus is bridging the digital divide. If that’s “cutting edge,” I’m disappointed. In some of our programs for women entering the workplace, we give them their own computer. I expect more of that.

B: Have you changed your opinion about government funding of charities since working for Goodwill? Have any members of Congress approached you as to that?
FG: Well, nobody’s going to change Goodwill; they’ve had 100 years of success. We have facilitated the government’s transition from welfare to work. A lot of our funding is from the government now. We got a $20 million grant from the U.S. Census, which helped serve 10,000 people. I came to be a facilitator rather than a provider. I believe in moving social services to the community. The government threw in a lot of good money after bad; it needs to be monitored.

B: Your Web site mentions training corporate victims of “downsizing.” Do you offer training programs to management types?
FG: Not much with executive education. We do a lot of internal training for Goodwill executives. I don’t foresee a lot of training of people going from Deutsche Bank to Sun Bank.

B: I see that some rather upscale items have been sold at, like a Picasso. I didn’t know that Goodwill was assessing the merchandise, I thought it was a mixed bag.
FG: We have upscale boutiques in places like Tampa our is based out of Orange County. More and more, we are employing experts to assess collectibles from nice junk. An astute employee spotted what turned out to be a Picasso. In our store on Embassy Row in Palm Beach, we see mostly furs and silver. Not a lot of Tupperware in Palm Beach. Our Portland, Oregon, store is also very upscale. We are in the middle of a movement to upgrade the stores. The donated goods market is very competitive. We are changing the displays, the merchandise, customer service. It’s a $3 billion or $4 billion dollar business. Many for-profit organizations use a nonprofit as a front. Very little of the money goes to charity. We complained to the IRS, but we found that the best way is to beat ’em in the marketplace.

B: With the events of the election, are you glad to be out of politics?
FG: I’m not sorry to be out of politics, but this was a political job, just not a partisan one. I’m glad not to have to be in Florida, examining a dimple and arguing that it was a smudge.

B: Have you considered doing benefit performances?
FG: I’ve done some of that, but not for Goodwill. My wife and I did Love Letters to benefit children. At Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., I performed in The Miracle Worker, with 40 percent of the cast being hearing impaired and the person who played Helen Keller was completely deaf.

B: So, what do you consider a waste of money?
FG: Verizon Cable! They have a complete disregard for customer service.

B: What is a splurge for you?
FG: My wife and I are living a more ascetic life now. We are vegan, eating no meat, dairy, eggs, and very little fat. So, we are not going to gourmet restaurants like we used to. We only have one home and that’s all we need.

B: What are some of your favorite investments?
FG: Unlike my acting colleagues, who spend their money as quickly as they earn it, I was very proud that in my Love Boat days, I bought zero-coupon bonds. It completely funded my children’s education. They had 11 percent interest. I’m very conservative, penurious. I always felt that I was in a volatile profession, so that I had to save for when I wanted to do something else. I invested my own money in my congressional campaign; that’s because I wasn’t sure anyone else would invest in me. Today is my last day at Goodwill; I will be starting an associate professorship at the University of Maryland. I’m teaching public policy. My motto is, “Always have enough money for pre-retirement opportunities.”

B: Do you still receive royalties from Love Boat?
FG: Very little. Last year, it was on the Pax Network, so that was very lucrative. But now, I’ll see a check for $11 from Zimbabwe.

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