The Business of Giving Back

By Nathan C. Martin

College of Business Alumnus of the Year Eric Eckholdt ’89 may have imagined himself at the helm of a division of a major international finance corporation when he enrolled in Loyola University New Orleans. After all, the ideal trajectory in the business world is up, and most aspiring businesspeople want to reach the top. To do so, many work extremely hard and devise innovative methods to generate profit for their company and its shareholders—the more money one makes for the company, the more likely it becomes that he or she will climb to a position of influence. It’s simple business.

Today, Eckholdt holds sway over more than 5,000 employees of the Credit Suisse Group, a leading worldwide financial service company. They log more than 60,000 hours annually pursuing initiatives that he and his immediate team members develop. But Eckholdt’s position as director of the Credit Suisse Americas Foundation does not hinge on the amount of money these people bring to the company. In fact, in essence, Eckholdt guides them in giving their time and money away.

“I’ve always had an interest in causes and efforts that can advance the standard of living and opportunities of less-advantaged people, in order to propel society,” Eckholdt says. This sentiment, along with a substantial degree of business savvy, makes Eckholdt the perfect person for his position.

The Americas Foundation is part of Credit Suisse’s corporate responsibility commitment. Under Eckholdt’s direction, it oversees all volunteer and philanthropic activities for Credit Suisse in the United States and Latin America. The foundation organizes Credit Suisse employees to do volunteer work for such agencies as Habitat for Humanity and the New York Food Bank, coordinates employee giving campaigns that benefit a variety of nonprofits, and provides microfinancing for worthy small businesses.

The combination of smart business and working toward the common good was something ingrained in Eckholdt early on from College of Business professors such as William Barnett, Ph.D., Chase Distinguished Professor of International Business. Eckholdt credits Barnett with showing him how principles of the free market, which might seem to the untrained eye to be contradictory to Loyola’s Jesuit values, actually enforce them by helping to present opportunities to disenfranchised people and help raise their standard of living.

“Clearly, teachers can inspire you to understand what you need to know from a technical standpoint,” Eckholdt says, “but some, like Barnett, can also show you how those things align with larger sets of values, such as those held by an institution like Loyola.”

After Eckholdt graduated from Loyola with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in economics and finance, he worked for Credit Suisse for several years on the financial side. But his urge to serve the less fortunate compelled him to transfer to a different sector. He joined the New York-based nonprofit Prep for Prep, which helps prepare high-performing students of color in the New York area for future leadership roles. After six years in his position at Prep for Prep, Eckholdt saw the opportunity to combine his financial know-how and do-good spirit by returning to Credit Suisse, this time in his current position.

Eckholdt’s background in finance and nonprofits suited him perfectly for corporate philanthropy. There are lots of moving parts in a global financial firm, and it takes a certain eye to know how to assess opportunities in the field. Eckholdt moved into his position at Credit Suisse with gusto, leading its Americas Foundation through a strategic review that expanded its purview and placed an emphasis on education. Under his direction, Credit Suisse has partnered with his old employer Prep for Prep on a variety of initiatives, and has launched other projects with organizations such as the Relay Graduate School of Education, which offers an innovative master’s degree program designed to train highly effective teachers for low-income public schools.

Of course, Eckholdt has not forgotten where he first learned the values and business skills that have served him so well, and has worked to help ensure that Loyola’s College of Business can continue to educate students along the lines of his experience. In fall 2011, Loyola announced the creation of the William Barnett Professorship in Free Enterprise Studies, an endowed professorship for which Eckholdt spearheaded the fundraising. The Barnett professorship will help the College of Business continue the work of educating students in the Jesuit tradition, and to teach them to leverage the traditional theories of classical liberal economics in a way that makes businesses work on behalf of others.

View the complete fall 2012 issue of Loyola Executive.

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