Leader to Leader: From For-Profit President to Nonprofit President



Tom Shoemaker used to run a successful bank. Now he runs an innovative high school for low-income students. It’s not as different as you might think.

Earlier this year, Tom Shoemaker made the kind of career switch you don’t often see, stepping away from his role as TD Bank’s Pennsylvania market president to become president of Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, the North Philly educational institution focused on teaching – and creating opportunities for — kids from economically disadvantaged families.

Part of a national network of Cristo Rey schools, Cristo Rey Philadelphia has an innovative model, with its 530 students attending classes at the school four days per week and working at one of Cristo Rey’s 90 corporate partners one day per week. It’s an example of the kind of extraordinary relationship that can exist between nonprofit and for-profit organizations and the role free enterprise can play in improving the community.

Shoemaker isn’t the first corporate exec to lead Cristo Rey — in fact, the school was founded in 2012 by John McConnell, a longtime management consultant with Deloitte who raised the money to open the school and ran it during its first decade. Here, Shoemaker, who joined the Satell Institute while still at TD Bank, talks about Cristo Rey’s impact, what for-profit business leaders bring to nonprofits, and why it’s in companies’ self-interest to give back to the community.

When people ask how the transition is going from for-profit leader to nonprofit leader, I say…

…it’s not as difficult as you think. The setting is obviously different, and I have done a lot of listening in my first 90 days, but my job at TD Bank was leadership, management, and revenue growth for the organization. My job at Cristo Rey is leadership, management, and fundraising – so the fundamentals are the same. I use so much of what I learned at TD and other organizations, including board involvement with the YMCA, BLOCS, and The Riverfront Alliance.

I first got involved with Cristo Rey when…

…I was invited to a CEO breakfast at Comcast in 2013 to learn about the school’s work-study program. Mayor Nutter, John McConnell, Dan Hilferty from IBC, David Cohen from Comcast and other business leaders were all there supporting this new, innovative approach to education. When the students spoke, I was hooked. I went back to TD and said, we have to do this. And we did — we became a work-study partner that year, nine years ago.

And then I got the bank involved. Cristo Rey started in a temporary home — an old grade school on North Broad Street. They knew that wasn’t a permanent home, and they found a location in Tioga at 17th and Allegheny to really build a campus, a school the students absolutely deserved. TD and the TD Foundation helped make that happen by establishing the TD Bank Financial Literacy Center in the new school and provided a loan to bridge the pledges committed by supporters to fund the construction.

I became Cristo Rey’s president when…

…John McConnell asked me to join the board after the bank deal, about three years ago. I had made some inferences that I wanted to do something else besides banking before I retired, and John was retiring after an incredible 10-year run. He had a sneaking suspicion that I would be interested in being his replacement. I was getting pulled in but willingly, I would say. I wanted to do something else, and education is the most impactful thing you can do.

Cristo Rey’s work-study model…

…was initially built to be the financial engine for how we fund the school. But just as importantly, it’s a mentorship program. We have 90 companies around the area that employ our students – Comcast, Independence Blue Cross, FMC, Main Line Health, PECO, Wawa, and many much smaller companies as well. Their employees have a huge impact on our students. When they go to work, they often go thinking, I don’t belong here…. I can’t do this. By the end of their freshman year, after some great support from their co-workers, they realize, I can do this — I am just as smart as these people, I just need a chance.

We now have graduates of Cristo Rey High School who have graduated college and are working full time at Deloitte, CHOP, Pew Charitable Trust, Vanguard, Comcast…they’re becoming the citizens, the business leaders, that we want them to become. Our corporate partners understand that they’re benefitting as well. Our class of 2022 are going to Georgetown, Cornell, Penn, Notre Dame, Villanova, Temple, Drexel, Penn State. They’re ordinary kids who are given a very good educational opportunity, and they do amazing things with it.

When you talk about Corporate Social Responsibility…

…I tell people all the time: Cristo Rey is the ultimate partnership of corporations and individuals working together to take care of their own community. And I love that. Yes, Philadelphia has some challenges right now, but we are part of the solution.

It’s important to say that our students work really hard, and their families are very committed. On average, students come into Cristo Rey a year or two behind academically, so they have five or six years of material to learn in four years. And they have to do this going to school four days a week because they work one day a week. Cristo Rey students are given a good opportunity, which all kids deserve, and they work really hard to take advantage of it. That’s what our work-study partners, our donors and our volunteers really appreciate. Who doesn’t want to help a young person who’s working really hard to change their life?

The next thing on the horizon for Cristo Rey is…

…we definitely want to grow our impact. Many major cities have more than one Cristo Rey because the need is so great and the impact is so positive. We could use another Cristo Rey in Philadelphia, and we know the community would benefit from it. In order for us to expand, we would need 70 or 80 more job partners. It’s something we’re considering, but we will need a lot of help from local companies to make it happen.

I enjoy being part of the Satell Institute because…

…everybody’s talking about it now. There’s so much involvement that now, when somebody’s not a member, it’s almost like: You’re not involved in the Satell Institute? Why wouldn’t you be?

My new colleagues at Cristo Rey…

…our faculty, staff and trustees are an amazing team of people who make our mission happen every day. I think they are sometimes surprised that something I learned in banking could be used at a school, but the principles are the same. It’s all about the people and, in our case, all about the Philadelphia community taking care of its own through the Cristo Rey model.

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