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Danny Ludeman: “Small achievements are just as important as big ones”

Small achievements are just as important as big ones. Every small milestone that our participants achieve is worth celebrating. Whether it is walking through that door on day one, earning a certificate for completing workplace simulation training, or achieving 30 days sober, each of these moments are worth celebrating as they bring our participants one […]

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Small achievements are just as important as big ones. Every small milestone that our participants achieve is worth celebrating. Whether it is walking through that door on day one, earning a certificate for completing workplace simulation training, or achieving 30 days sober, each of these moments are worth celebrating as they bring our participants one step closer to living joyful, abundant, and purposeful lives.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danny Ludeman, CEO and president of Concordance Academy of Leadership. It is the only nonprofit of its kind working to reduce reincarceration rates through a holistic, integrated and evidence-driven model that includes 12 essential services under one roof, including integrated, personalized support across substance use and mental health treatment, education, job readiness and employment, housing and legal services, and more. The St. Louis-based non-profit is dedicated to restoring individuals, rebuilding families, transforming communities and advancing the field of re-entry services. Prior to founding Concordance, Danny previously served as CEO of Wells Fargo Advisors, where he increased revenue from 300 million dollars to 10 billion dollars during his tenure.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In the fall of 2013, I announced my retirement as CEO of Wells Fargo Advisors and decided to dedicate my life to helping others. Candace O’Connor, a professional writer and volunteer president of Project COPE, reached out to me to tell me about her organization and see if there was a way I could help grow its capacity. The small nonprofit had been providing limited re-entry services to individuals leaving prison since 1985. She explained the devastating impact of reincarceration and the statistic that 77% of all people released from prison are rearrested within five years — a statistic that hasn’t changed in 30 years. It made a real impact on me, and with that, Concordance Academy of Leadership was founded.

I didn’t know anything about reincarceration at the time, and I knew that I needed a group of experts to help me determine if it was possible to make an impact on the issue. We assembled a group of 70+ people to develop a strategic planning process, including the Governor of Missouri, head of the Missouri Department of Corrections, re-entry experts from Washington University in St. Louis and Saint Louis University, three mayors, two police chiefs, and other community and non-profit leaders.

We hired Washington University in St. Louis’ Brown School, the country’s top school of social work, to research effective, evidence- and trauma-informed randomized controlled trials. We spent two years studying over 107,000 interventions, which were narrowed down to 1,053 that met the evidence-driven standard. We finally selected 32 interventions to develop the Concordance Re-Entry Model. In June 2016, the Academy began providing services to individuals in three Missouri state prisons.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I think the most interesting stories are the ones our participants share with me. There are so many of these stories that stick in my mind. One that always comes to mind is a young woman who was a participant at Concordance. She shared with me that at the same prison where she was incarcerated, her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were also all incarcerated. I wish I could say this was the only one of these types of stories, but sadly it’s not. Too often, families and generations of families spend time in the same prisons because of the cycle of reincarceration. Stories like hers motivate me to work harder to break that cycle.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t think I can come up with a funny mistake, but we definitely had our share of learning opportunities as we started Concordance Academy.

When we began Concordance, we created an 18-month model with the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. We had a timeline laid out. It included participants receiving nine weeks of extensive substance use and mental health services, and then they went to work full time at one of 41 employment partners in the community. We were so excited to have so many local community businesses who wanted to hire our participants. We thought we had the model all figured out. We had done all the research to show that it would work. But we immediately realized that our participants weren’t keeping any of those jobs.

What was on paper from the research didn’t translate into real-world practice. Participants needed more support and more time to heal before trying to enter the workforce. We quickly made adjustments after our first couple of classes, based on those experiences. We knew the research needed to inform our practice, but we learned that the practice needs to inform the research as well. Now, our participants spend six weeks receiving intensive outpatient programming, focused heavily on the 12 Steps and traditional cognitive behavioral health therapy, followed by two weeks of workplace simulation training. Once they complete that, they move on to part-time employment, working in the morning and receiving programming at the Academy in the afternoon. If they are successful, they work for ten weeks in part-time work, and then they move on to full-time employment. We have had a lot more success with this model — a 71% retention rate among our employed participants.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Approximately 100 million Americans are impacted by mass reincarceration, most notably 30 million felons who are disproportionately Black. Over ten million U.S. children have experienced parental incarceration at some point during their childhood; these children are six times more likely than their peers to end up in prison themselves. The largest segment of both unemployed people and those with housing instability are formerly incarcerated individuals, as well as the largest group of people overdosing on drugs. Research and our experience shows that a person goes back to prison on average seven times. We call it serving a life sentence on an installment plan. Nothing in the person’s life changes while they are in prison. When they are released, they end up in the same ecosystem — facing the same challenges and obstacles as before they went to prison.

Our re-entry model gives participants their first real chance to succeed: It helps them heal from trauma and substance use, learn the skills they need to earn a sustainable living, and put strategies into daily practice that reduce their likelihood of reincarceration. Since our inception, we have lowered reincarceration rates by nearly 40%, and that has a ripple effect throughout the community. Families are restored, food security is achieved, and stable housing is obtained. This impacts society through improved public safety, the economy by helping people return to the labor force, and families by ending generational cycles of incarceration and poverty. I challenge anyone to find a source issue that has so many ripple effects across our country.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

There are so many impactful stories. One that sticks with me is the story of Ronald. This young man was shot six times before he was 9 years old. A tragic experience that creates a lot of trauma. Ronald went to prison five times before finding Concordance. Now, after working hard to complete the program, he’s working full time at a grocery store and is an Elder at his church. He married his childhood sweetheart, and they just had their first baby together. Seeing the success of participants like Ronald reminds me, time and time again, that our participants don’t need a second chance, they need their first chance for success — an opportunity to heal from the trauma of childhood, access to substance use and mental health programming, followed by job training and employment assistance.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

First and foremost, the best way to address the crisis of reincarceration is to donate to Concordance and support our holistic, integrated re-entry model. Financial support is vital to continuing our mission and providing our services. We are in the middle of a capital campaign — the First Chance campaign — working to raise 50 million dollars so we can expand our services to 11 additional locations across the country in the next five years. David Steward, Founder and Chairman of World Wide Technology, is our campaign chair, and I feel extremely blessed to have his partnership on the campaign.

Second, politicians can endorse our Pay for Success approach with government funding. Reaching out to governors to encourage Pay for Success contracts.

One of our hopes with our program is that it will have a ripple effect that breaks down the stereotypes of justice-involved individuals. Because so many young people end up in prison, they are stigmatized as felons their whole lives. I ask everyone to take a moment, before judging someone who was recently released from prison, and acknowledges them as a person and not a stereotype. They did their time, and they deserve the opportunity to have a fresh start.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is creating a vision and a culture for your organization and inspiring other team members to fulfill that vision and culture. At the core of this is a passion and commitment to creating true, authentic, trusting relationships.

I believe that the deepest hunger of the human heart is to be understood. In doing so, you validate the self-worth of an individual and can help fulfill their needs…whether clients, team members, your community, etc.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

The human condition is very complex and unpredictable. Many people don’t understand why they do what they do. Our participants’ life journeys are complex and while they might seem to be on the right path, they sometimes make choices that can’t be explained.

Setting firm boundaries with our participants at the beginning would have led to immediate success. Instead, we spent too much time coddling them in fear of scaring them away. All that did was enable them. We learned quickly that we needed to set boundaries and expectations for our participants, as well as consequences for breaking rules. Simple things like enforcing everyone show up on time…it creates structure.

When securing government money, it takes a lot longer than you think. Since we started Concordance five years ago, we have had three different governors in Missouri. That slows down conversations and decisions.

Trust God. We do our part with vigor, persistence, and wisdom, but we must leave the results up to God and trust in our faith.

Small achievements are just as important as big ones. Every small milestone that our participants achieve is worth celebrating. Whether it is walking through that door on day one, earning a certificate for completing workplace simulation training, or achieving 30 days sober, each of these moments are worth celebrating as they bring our participants one step closer to living joyful, abundant, and purposeful lives.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Hundreds of years of systemic racism in America’s criminal justice system have resulted in Black people being disproportionately impacted by issues of incarceration and reincarceration. Black people are nearly six times as likely to be in prison compared to whites, and two times as likely for non-white Hispanic people. The numbers are even higher for young Black men.

But we can change this. Concordance Academy is working to address these issues right now and has a proven, holistic approach to reduce reincarceration, helping people achieve long-term success and lead productive lives. Not only are we ensuring people do not relapse back into criminal behavior, but we’re helping stop the vicious and generational cycle of crime. On average, a person will commit seven crimes before they are arrested, which we are helping prevent.

Concordance has reduced the rate of reincarceration by 38% in St. Louis. Through the integrated re-entry program, people gain access to job skills, health services, and more. The ripple effect of this helps society, the economy, and the communities where our participants live. There is no better movement that can impact so many lives across this country.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have two quotes that are extremely important to me. The first is from my mother: “Lead with your left”. It’s a simple statement, referring to dancing. Most people when they dance lead with their right. My mom taught me to not be afraid of doing something different. Don’t conform to what the world wants you to do or what the world will praise you for doing.

The second quote is from Teddy Roosevelt and is a bit longer: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

To me, this quote is a reminder to never give up. My God-given strength is persistence and this quote has motivated me for years.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Barack Obama — He is a compassionate leader, walking the talk of his faith. He inspires me and so many others to restore and unite America….i.e. one nation truly under God. And honestly, it would give me an opportunity to meet Michelle Obama. She is just as inspiring.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/danny-ludeman-29294797

Concordance LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/concordance-academy-of-leadership/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


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