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Albion: Work for goals, not money

Meghan Wons | Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mark Albion co-founded six start-ups, wrote a New York Times bestseller, taught at Harvard Business School and spoke both in front of the United Nations and with Mother Teresa – but he told his audience at the Mendoza College of Business Tuesday night he was simply a fellow journeyman.

A social entrepreneur and cofounder of Net Impact, a nationwide organization of graduate students and professionals supporting responsible business, Albion came to campus after Notre Dame’s MBA Net Impact chapter invited him to participate in its annual Ethics Week.

Albion urged students to work for more than a paycheck, find an occupation that makes them passionate and use it to impact the world.

“What’s your contribution going to be?” he said. “What are you going to do with your God-given life? That’s the big question.”

Albion recalled the day that changed his perception of his career and put him on a “different path.”

On June 5, 1986, Albion said, he was a Harvard business professor making a seven-figure salary and preparing to buy his “first trophy purchase, a black Jaguar” – until he received a distressing phone call from his mother, announcing she had cancer.

“It was the phone call from hell,” he said. “When I called the doctor, he told me that she had six weeks. It was stage four cancer.”

After Albion spent those six weeks by his mother’s side in resignation, the doctors performed an exploratory surgery to monitor the cancer’s progress. Instead, they discovered she was “microscopically clean, she was cancer free,” Albion said.

His mother managed a textile factory and employed a lot of immigrant workers, whom she taught English and helped secure other jobs. Albion called her “one of the first social entrepreneurs … even though they didn’t use words like that back then.”

He said he found out after her recovery she had continued working at the factory during her illness.

Inspired by his mother’s passion for her job, Albion left his paycheck behind to pursue other interests.

“In deciding to go down my own path, I asked myself four questions: Who are you? What do you want? What can you do? Where are you going?” Albion said.

He challenged audience members to ask these four questions and said they should look back to their childhood aspirations. For Albion, a simple trip to the attic led to the right track to self-fulfillment.

He said he found a box of old short stories in a box in his attic he would try to sell for three to five cents when he was younger. “They were real classics like ‘I Became the Demon,'” he said with a laugh.

Although he loved writing, the young entrepreneurial Albion quickly discovered it wasn’t very profitable and quit.

He said he would have liked the opportunity to tell his preadolescent self that it is integrity and passions that should guide a person’s career decisions, not a search for profit.

“Don’t get really good at what you don’t want to do,” Albion said. “The best time to make a change is early on … Don’t live a deferred life plan.”

In a time when people are easily replaced by computers or outsourced, Albion told students they needed to bring their personal spark to their jobs to really achieve success.

“You need to determine how you are going to measure success,” Albion said. “My dad once asked me if I would rather be rich or famous. It took me 37 years to figure out those are the wrong options.”

Albion said he recently asked his daughter the same question and when she quickly said she would choose the money, he was initially concerned – but she clarified her answer.

“My daughter said, ‘You can’t give your fame away, but you can give away your money.’ I thought then, I must be doing something right,” he said.

Albion will be on campus for the next few days and will facilitate a presentation at noon Thursday in Mendoza’s Giovanni Commons that is free and open to the public.