Mixing business and charity is a 'win-win', says Lily board member Dean Curtis
The Lily Foundation is delighted to welcome Dean Curtis to our Board of Directors. As the President and CEO of a division of RELX Group, a global company that provides information technology and services to businesses and industries, Dean brings a wealth of experience to our growing charity. Here he talks about what drew him to get involved with Lily, and why there's never been a better time for businesses and charities to work together.
Dean, how did you get involved with The Lily Foundation?
I'm close friends with John Symons, who is on Lily's Board of Directors and has been involved with the charity since its inception. I was getting to that stage in my life and career where I wanted to give something back, and already supported other charities. Then John introduced me to Liz [Curtis, co-founder of The Lily Foundation] and Ben [Carter, Chairman of Lily's Board of Directors]. I was so inspired, and from that moment I was hooked. Liz has been through so much personally, and yet with hard work and humility she uses her experience to make a difference for others. It's a real inspiration, and it touches everyone involved with the charity.
What do you most admire about the charity?
Look behind any successful organisation, and you'll see it's all about the people and the working culture. Lily has some truly amazing people working for it, including the staff, volunteers, supporters, and of course the Lily families who are the real heart of the charity. Energy and passion like that is transferred to others, and that makes good things happen. What Lily has achieved in supporting families affected by mitochondrial disease, raising awareness and driving research is making a positive difference to people's lives, every minute of every day. Who would not want to be a part of that?
What's a typical day at work for you?
My days vary a great deal, and travel is a big part of that. Wherever I am in the world I usually wake up early, because I'm at my best early in the mornings. I try and fit in a work-out or run, and have a good breakfast while catching up with emails. Then for most of the day I'll be in meetings with customers or staff. Where possible I'll carve out some family time in the evening, and if I'm working from home I like to do the school run (two of our three children are at school, and the eldest is at university). I work long days and I'm away a lot, so this balance is important and the children are my focus at weekends. Exercise is my release, family is my reason and work and people are my purpose and motivation. And now I have Lily too, which provides additional motivation, and gives me the opportunity to step back from my day job and gain real perspective.
What's the biggest challenge as a member of Lily's Board of Directors?
I have sat on several boards and committees, and chaired the board of a regulated financial services business, and I see it as a huge responsibility and privilege. Many people are working hard to raise funds for The Lily Foundation, and it's our job to steer those funds to areas where they will have the most effective, long-term impact. We have to make difficult choices, because every year there are new areas of research into mitochondrial disease that deserve investment, and we only have the resources to support a few of them. That just motivates us to work harder to generate more funding though, and it's hugely encouraging to look back at the charity's achievements to-date and see such a positive trajectory. Our board is experienced, diverse and focused, and we have a responsibility to ensure good governance and guide the charity to successfully meet its mission goals. It truly is an honour.
You've helped many businesses grow. How does it benefit companies to partner with charities?
As government and public sector funding continues to get squeezed, corporates have a responsibility to give back to the world and contribute to the communities around them. The business I work for has over 30,000 staff, and they all get two days leave for charitable work. I am lucky enough to work for organisations that look after staff and their families, and it is our responsibility to ensure we assist others who aren't so fortunate. This also helps business too, because giving employees a truly meaningful purpose is a great motivator, and working with passionate people who care about what they do is good for everyone. It's basic human nature; when the game means more, you play better. It's a win-win.
What can a global business learn from a grassroots charity like The Lily Foundation?
I believe you can learn something from everyone. Lily is special, as it has some amazing people and in every interaction I either learn something or I'm inspired personally. When people work so hard for such a great cause, how you manage and invest resources is key, and this translates into your business. Businesses have a tendency to overcomplicate things and lose focus, so a back-to-basics approach, where there are clear mission goals and everything is driven by a common purpose, puts everything into perspective. As a board, we come from different areas of business and have different skills and expertise, and that creates a really fertile learning environment that benefits everyone. I would genuinely encourage anyone to get involved, and I would be happy to have a conversation with anyone who is interested or who thinks they can help, even in a small way.
What are the board's goals for Lily as we go forward into a new decade?
Our overall goal is to find a cure for this dreadful disease. When Liz set up The Lily Foundation, there was very little information and no support for families affected by mitochondrial disease. Thanks to Liz, her team and the efforts of all the Lily families, this is no longer the case, but there is still so much more for us to do as a charity. Our families are the DNA and lifeblood of our charity, and we have to make sure that everything we do, we do for them. We want to give them more support, more advice, more assistance and more information, while continuing to generate more awareness of both The Lily Foundation and mitochondrial disease. That way we can raise more funds for medical research, and we can help even more families, and anyone whose life has been impacted by mitochondrial disease.