Leadership series: Q&A with Craig Mathews

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From an early age, Craig Mathews was taught a simple lesson: if you use a public resource, you have to give back to that resource. And, if a successful business uses public resources to make a profit, they have the responsibility to give back even more.

Knowing that the government was not going to provide the necessary funding to maintain valuable public lands, Craig realized it was up to individuals and businesses to give back to protect, preserve and enhance these resources for all future generations. From this idea, 1% for the Planet was created and grew into a passionate coalition of businesses, individuals and nonprofit organizations fighting for our planet's future.

We sat down with 1% for the Planet co-founder, Craig Mathews to talk about how he went from police chief in the wild west to global leader in the environmental movement. You don't want to miss this one!

Q: Tell us about how you started 1% for the Planet.

A: A long story short here: in 1996, Yellowstone Park's Superintendent Michael Finley came to local gateway communities and told business leaders the park could no longer supply many necessary services to visitors. It (the Park) no longer received adequate federal funding.

An idea came to me at that meeting: why don't all businesses that make a living, because of a national park or other public resource, levy a 1% fee on their gross sales and give those monies back to the that resource. Our businesses began doing that at that time, sending our 1% earth tax to the Park through the Yellowstone Park Foundation to help fund fisheries and wildlife programs.

A short while later, we began to send as much as 2.2% of our yearly gross sales to grassroots-advocacy organizations that fight for preservation and protection of public lands, wildlife, native trout and more.

Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard and I have known each other for over 30 years. One day in 2000 while we fished together, we discussed our shared interest in giving to grassroots-advocacy organizations that fight for conservation and environmental programs we believe in. Yvon and I discovered our businesses were each giving back a percentage of our gross sales to these causes and our businesses were growing stronger by doing so; our customers supported us due to our supporting these grassroot-advocacy groups. It was then that we decided to begin 1% for the Planet and we are glad we did!

Q: What makes 1% for the Planet different than other nonprofits?

A: 1% for the Planet is effective and efficient. Member businesses donate directly to grassroots advocacy organizations. It directly connects donor members and their gifts to doer organizations. 1% for the Planet forms a strong alliance of business and individual members committed to saving our planet.

Q: Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person affect your life?

A: Without a doubt Michael Finley. Mike was Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park in the 1990's. He went on to run the Turner Foundation and recently the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. Mike never, ever ran from a fight to protect, preserve and enhance Yellowstone National Park. Mike always led by example. He failed to succumb to the politics and ran Yellowstone and the foundations by sound science. He founded the Yellowstone Park Foundation and led and inspired its directors and members to fund successful projects like the new Old Faithful Visitor and Education Center, a $35-million-dollar-capital campaign. We led the successful wolf recovery project in the Park and much more.

Too, my old friend and co-founder of 1% for the Planet and founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard has never run from a fight and leads by example. His inspiration and business acumen and leadership are known worldwide.

I love both of these men and we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Q: What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

A: Inspirational leadership!

Q: How do you inspire change? What inspires you?

A: Leading by example, and with inspiration! When operating this way, one inspires, and it becomes contagious leading to more inspiration and enthusiasm for all. Telling personal, inspirational stories with emotion about conservation and environmental victories and successes often brings me to tears, and nothing is as strong as this can be.

Q: What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?

A; Moving to Yellowstone to become police chief with big paycheck of $9,000, knowing that 36 police chiefs had come before me in less than 20 years. The town had little funding, no sales tax and I often was paid by a warrant that no bank would cash since there was no money in the town's account. Still, my wife Jackie and I wanted to live in Yellowstone, and we have for over 40 years.

Q: What's the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn't learn from your resume alone?

A: Probably about my 3-year stint as West Yellowstone's Police Chief and what it entailed. For example, due to the town's budgetary issues, we fed the prisoners at our home since the town could not afford meals for prisoners. Our two daughters spent lots time in a jail cell. (My wife often worked as a police dispatcher and I had night shift and we had no money to pay a babysitter so the kids would occupy a jail cell for the night behind Jackie's dispatch desk.) Then too, the town was wide open with gambling, strip joints, ladies of the evening, biker gangs and more. How we policed a town with over a million visitors to Yellowstone each year, bike gangs and all that goes with gambling is another story!

Q: If you could be any animal in the world, what animal would you be and why?

A: A native Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. I'd love to see and live in their watery world, inhabit pristine waters of the Park, evade grizzly bears, eagles, osprey and more.

Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders?

A: Lead by example, inspire, tell your stories, be that change, mentor, speak louder, clearer and more often, get involved and stay involved.

Q: What is one thing we can all do right now to make a difference for our planet?

A: The most pressing issue of our time is tackling climate change. Learn about it, grab on and don't let go; become a leader and support 1% for the Planet with all you have!

1% for the Planet