Thank You Bernie
Greyston is one of the most inspiring companies in the world, one with a rich history built on true care, empathy and acceptance, thanks to the visionary leadership of our extraordinary founder, Zen Master Bernie Glassman.
This week has been extremely difficult as we mourn the loss of Bernie, who passed away on November 4, 2018. Bernie was a teacher, author, engineer, entrepreneur, changemaker, and peacemaker, and each day he committed to taking action to better the world. Even in his final months, he was optimistic and energetic about his ability to continue making a difference through his work.
Bernie’s wife, Eve, an amazing teacher in her own right, gave me a moment to say a few words at Bernie’s memorial service, a true honor as the CEO of Greyston. I spoke about the incredible good fortune it was to be part of Bernie’s life and how honored we are at Greyston to be joining the many others in carrying his legacy forward. Bernie’s unwavering belief in the potential of all people had the ability to remove bias in organizations around the world. He set a high bar for what it means to lead an impactful life and now, more than ever, we are inspired to further the reach of his wisdom, vision and pursuit of inclusion and opportunity for all, through our work.
Bernie was a social enterprise pioneer like no other. Not only did he create a lasting business, but also a model that could help millions of marginalized people around the world. The boldest entrepreneur I knew, Bernie sacrificed living and teaching in a beautiful Zen monastery to move his family and practice to Yonkers, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, so he could immerse himself in the lives of the people he wanted to help. He built an organization to benefit the people it served and left it to the community without any personal ownership. A truly selfless individual.
Creating a business that was equal part profit and part social justice was a radical concept in the early 1980s. Visionaries like Bernie were dismissed as dreamers that couldn’t possibly build successful businesses, but as a true pioneer of social enterprise, Bernie continued on his path. While others built businesses, Bernie built Greyston Foundation, creating low income housing, an early learning center, and serving people living with HIV all while continuing to grow Greyston Bakery. The Greyston Foundation delivered social services needed for team members at the bakery to retain long-term employment, a Foundation that lives on to this day.
While the world has veered in a direction where bias and racism are commonplace, I have spent the last six years as CEO working to achieve Bernie’s vision, leading Greyston forward based on the values that were created decades ago. These values of non-judgment, trust, and loving kindness are based on Buddhist principles dating back centuries, but they are needed today more than ever.
Bernie stepped away from Greyston in 1997 to dedicate his life to Zen Peacemakers, a community he created to build “an enlightened society where suffering is transformed into wisdom and compassion”. He left Greyston with an incredible vision to build on and an employment model called Open Hiring, which is unmatched in its ability to break down barriers and eliminate bias. I joined Greyston in 2012 and his vision was as powerful and energizing as ever, but not amplified enough to maximize its value.
With Bernie’s entrepreneurial spirit ignited in our hearts and minds, and to further the impact of his vision, this year we launched The Center for Open Hiring at Greyston. The Center is advancing the practice of Open Hiring by inspiring businesses around the globe to adopt this model, using business as a force for good.
We want to thank Bernie for all he did, for having the courage to believe in business values that others never could, for creating Greyston and for believing in human potential. Most of all, we want to thank him for continuing to inspire us at Greyston, the people of Yonkers and the wider world, even as we mourn his passing. I am blessed to be working with a team of changemakers to push his mission forward. We know, like he did, that we can’t do it alone. We need others to believe that change is possible. We need others to take the plunge towards a future where all people have an opportunity to become a thriving contributor in their community.
On behalf of everyone whose path has brought them to Greyston, thank you Bernie for making the world a better place. Each and every one of us has been changed by you. We will keep working to create a future that would make you proud.