Tom Bagamane '83
CEO, Founder, The Giving Spirit / Managing Director, Founder, Profitable Good Group
A resident of Los Angeles since ’96, I moved here after business school and now I'm officially a Californian. It has been a wonderful journey since I graduated from Virginia Tech. I have had the amazing opportunity to reinvent myself several times and experience the world in ways I never could have imagined. The rewards that came with those opportunities, balanced by the subsequent risks and enriched growing through the struggles – have been immeasurable. My leadership chops and my pioneering skills, in both business and service to humanity, manifested in Ut Prosim, were sprouted at Virginia Tech.
I began with a decade in the fashion industry where I was recognized as one of the top menswear consultants in the US by Financial News Network at 27. I had the privilege of designing/curating my own signature line of men’s suits that was sold in top men’s specialty stores all over the country. As the world became smaller, I developed an itch to build global brands. Transitioned out of fashion via an M.B.A. for an international business education. I then was recruited into the ad agency world where I ran two different agencies global businesses.
My entrepreneurial track started in ‘99. I was brought in on several start-ups, then consecutively co-founded two companies in the pet space between ’06-’13. Integrated Pet Solutions pioneered the hard goods/soft goods senior pet care product category. We were acquired early-stage by the KONG Company, a multi-national pet products company.
I was then recruited by a private equity firm to build a dog food company modeled after the Tom’s Shoes one-for-one model – i.e., feed your dog a bowl and we feed a shelter/rescue dog a bowl. Within six months in-market FreeHand was named Dog Food of the Year, saved the lives of thousands of dogs all over the country and…was sold to/rebranded by a LA-based private equity firm. I then founded the boutique strategic consulting firm, Profitable Good Group (PGG). PGG advises CEO’s and investors on how to integrate profitable shared value-social justice and civic development programming into their business strategies and P+L. Our motto is “Good is only Sustainable if it’s Profitable”. Our clients range from Fortune 50’s to start-ups (our favorites).
However, the greatest achievement in my career has been the founding and leadership of The Giving Spirit, an LA-based homeless-services non-profit. Founded in ’99 with two mandates – to provide life-sustaining survival aid to the poorest of the poor while also piercing the veil of homelessness - revealing the tragic impact of poverty on the most vulnerable by curating and producing powerful educational content and curriculum.
Honored by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association as the inaugural winner of its Humanitarian Award in 2005, we have directly served over 80,000 unsheltered individuals in our 22 years of work with the help of over 21,000 volunteers. Los Angeles is the epicenter of homelessness in the US, and we are proud to have powerfully impacted the hearts, minds and souls of so many as we look to expand our work regionally and nationally
A key habit, practice, or skill, that's important for success in my industry...
In my non-profit world: Hire and seek entrepreneurial, business-savvy professionals. Indoctrinate them in the mission and purpose and let their instincts to execute and perform allow them to achieve above traditional non-profits ROI’s.
In my for-profit world: CEO/Ownership buy-in coupled with a fertile cultural seedbed are essential to success. Unless the company is led by a purpose-driven CEO, board and stakeholders and has a culture that is organically fertile – no matter how exceptional, profitable and sustainable your strategy is – your chances for successfully implementing are negligible.
Words of encouragement to a current Virginia Tech student... In 1981, I had the honor of being the first male of color to escort a Caucasian homecoming Queen. Ellen Hagen was literally the most beautiful coed in Virginia – and a dear friend. As a young man, as you can imagine, it was the greatest day of my young life. After her crowning as we were coming off the field, with 55,000+ fans cheering, a few rows of people were screaming racial epithets and cursing me, my race, my heritage and the color of my skin - simply for being her escort. It was as vile and hateful language as I had ever heard – and that was saying a lot as I had heard my share. As Ellen was approaching the sidelines, tears of happiness and joy streaming down her face, soaking in the adoration, I felt the anger of many years of prejudice and racism towards me and my family brewing up inside. I began to feel myself releasing from Ellen’s vice grip on my arm to go up in the stands. I had had enough. Thankfully, Mark Miller, the reigning varsity heavyweight wrestler, who was walking behind us, saw and heard the disgusting rants and slurs. He put his huge hand on my shoulder and whispered in my ear, “Don’t let those a***h*les ruin her day. Get up to the President’s Box where you both belong.” He was right. I gathered myself and resumed my duties as the respectful escort. The lesson I learned that day was the best way to combat hate is to live a life dedicated to service, justice and grace. The hundreds of thousands of lives that we have impacted in leading my companies and my organizations are living examples of channeling your best self to crash through the barriers that prevent truth and fairness from rising to beat back ignorance, fear and hate. By serving others in harm’s way, we prevent the toxic few from determining the fate of the well-intended majority. Don’t let them dishearten you. Courage, character, integrity, intelligence and strength of will wins the day.
How Virginia Tech equipped me for the 'real world'...
Having Ut Prosim as my default standard as to how to live a purpose-driven life
Best advice I've gotten....
It’s all about building sincere and trusting relationships. Treat and respect others knowing that you will see them again
Fondest Virginia Tech memory or tradition...
Being Co-Founder, Editor in Chief of The Student Voice. I brought together disparate and emboldened leaders of several student organizations, banded them together and formed an editorial board, drafted a business plan and distribution strategy
My favorite quote...
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40
This excites me the most about the future of my industry...
More and more boards and investors/donors are supporting unburdening non-profits with illogical and unfair margin targets, thus preventing them from recruiting, hiring and retaining the best and brightest to sustain their powerful societal impact. Gen Z has taken consumer activism to new levels of accountability. Bravo! Transparency in all aspects of a business and tangible, verifiable, measurable, MEANINGFUL impact metrics will win the day in brand/consumer loyalty/equity – and in some cases – justifies premium positioning and pricing.
A cause I'm most passionate about...
Obviously, if I didn’t say institutional poverty, I would be a hypocrite. Homelessness is the visual tip of its spear. It is the physical manifestation of what ails us a society - presenting itself on our street corners and in the entrances to our offices. Revealing the macro societal issues that drive the most vulnerable to the streets as the true issues on which to focus, allowing us to unshackle the poor from objectification and villainization – with truth and without judgment - is our/my passion.
My no-fail, go-for-it motivational song...
“Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra
Lindsey Haugh (540) 231-6959