Anita Zucker of The InterTech Group shares her vision for making a difference.
For Anita Zucker, the bottom line goes deeper than dollars and cents. As chair and CEO of family-owned holding company The InterTech Group, she sees improving lives as the mission of the company she formed with her late husband Jerry Zucker.
“Jerry and I were children of immigrants, and we needed lots of help on our path to success,” says Zucker. “Through hard work, determination, and the help of many, we built a business that allowed us to help make things better for others.”
The holding company includes investments in diverse business segments worldwide, including aerospace, specialty chemicals, leisure/entertainment, real estate, financial services, manufacturing, and investments. But just as important to Zucker is being mindful of the potential impact made possible through the work.
Making a difference in the lives of others was foundational to The InterTech Group. “Jerry and I built our legacy on the concept of tikkun olam [pronounced tee-KOON oh-LUMN] which is Hebrew for ‘repair of the world,’” says Zucker. “We applied that concept to all aspects of our business as we built it, from the products we make to the safety measures we take to the entertainment services we offer to the way we give back. To us, everything was connected to the change we want to see in the world.”
With that view, corporate philanthropy was a goal from the start, but it took time to build the business before taking a more institutional approach. “We didn’t have money in those days, so earning enough to give at a more impactful level took a while,” says Zucker. “But philanthropy was always part of who we were and who we wanted everyone in the company to be.”
Engaging everyone in giving
In 2004, the couple formed The InterTech Group Foundation to enable their vision for the philanthropy and support to community service efforts so important to them. The foundation is employee managed, providing a way to engage all employees in giving. In fact, everyone on staff is invited to play an integral role, and the enthusiastic participation has led to what Zucker sees as meaningful contributions to many diverse groups through their supported areas, including education, health and human needs, the environment, and the arts.
Looking back, Zucker found that what fueled the objectives for the foundation was a desire for all people to have access to the education they need to succeed in the world. After graduating from the University of Florida, Zucker was an elementary school teacher, and she found value in helping children — especially those in high-poverty families — navigate the path from birth to career. Her husband, too, took opportunities to teach.
That focus on education extends to the community both outside and inside the company. Zucker puts it this way: “We are teaching our employees not just about giving money and reviewing grants, but about the real impact the organizations have on their communities. They have learned so much along the way about the impact our grants are having.”
“We encourage volunteers from the company to go on site visits to learn how grants from our foundation create change, and one employee did research on her own to understand not just what was being spent but also the impact to the community. I was really proud of her initiative.”
A culture of changing lives
More recently, this corporate approach to giving back has been extended beyond the Foundation. One of the companies within InterTech Group switched its manufacturing focus to produce personal protective equipment for health care workers.
“Changing lives was part of our corporate culture from the beginning,” says Zucker. “Everything we support — from education to healthcare to arts and culture to the environment — aligns with that.”
It is not surprising that Zucker is helping to change lives outside work as well, including her work with the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies, an interdisciplinary center at the University of Florida. “Someone recently said to me, ‘I know you get your hands dirty,’ meaning that giving for me goes beyond money. And it’s true. I like to give time and talent as well because that aligns with my family’s values.”
As a true teacher, she gives this example of how she has imparted her values for giving to her own children. “When our youngest was 4 and the oldest 14, we let them call in bids for toys during a televised auction. We set a limit, and once they reached it, we rented a big van and drove to the TV station. When the van was loaded up with toys, we told them: ‘These toys are not for you; we are taking them to children at an orphanage. They protested, of course. But as they gave out the toys one by one, the look on their faces as they saw the joy on the other children’s faces was priceless. This is one of my favorite memories and shows how we teach our children to give by helping them to experience the impact they have on others.”
While education is her passion, the concept of tikkun olam also has extended to contributions to the COVID-19 Relief and Recovery Fund. Her contributions have been focused on support for displaced workers, expanding food access, and providing shelter for displaced children.
With many initiatives under her guidance, Zucker has stated that she wants her legacy to be that she helped change the world for young people. “I feel very lucky to serve.”
Zucker’s suggestions for creating a sustainable foundation
To create a sustainable foundation, it can be helpful to adopt the same practices for creating a successful business. Here are Zucker’s suggestions.
- Align. “I feel lucky that Jerry and I thought about the work the same way. We both cared deeply about education: it is part of our DNA.”
- Consult. “We faced a tough decision: to create a public foundation or a private family foundation. At the time, I was working with a community foundation, so we brought in their experts to understand how they set up business. We also worked with attorneys well versed in foundations to make sure we set everything up legally.”
- Mentor. “We are teaching our employees not just about giving money and reviewing grants, but about the real impact the organizations have on their communities.
- Diversify. Determine how grants may impact a variety of groups that fall within your objectives.
- Measure. While it is important to give, it is equally important to know how to measure the impact of that giving. “Understand not just what was being spent but also the impact to the community.”