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Social Impact Heroes: “How Kent A. Kramer and Goodwill are empowering people to increase their independence and reach their potential through education, health, and employment”

Dylan Snell came to us at the age of 19 as a high school dropout with a felony theft charge. He had no home, no job and no transportation. Seven years later, he has turned his life around, is achieving professional success and this year, Goodwill Industries International honored him as the 2019 Kenneth Shaw […]


Dylan Snell came to us at the age of 19 as a high school dropout with a felony theft charge. He had no home, no job and no transportation. Seven years later, he has turned his life around, is achieving professional success and this year, Goodwill Industries International honored him as the 2019 Kenneth Shaw Graduate of the Year. The award recognizes an outstanding person with a disability or disadvantaging condition who completed a Goodwill career services program and is competitively employed by a non-Goodwill employer. His story: After Dylan’s father lost his job and left the family, Snell became homeless, dropped out of high school and took a job at a gas station. He ended up in jail, charged with theft for giving away gas to his friends. That’s when he knew he had to make a change. On the advice of a friend, Snell enrolled at Goodwill’s Excel Center, a unique, tuition-free high school geared for adults to earn a high school diploma as well as industry-recognized certifications and dual credits — all at no cost. The Excel Center helps adults remove barriers by offering resources and support, including free, onsite child care and transportation assistance. Snell credits The Excel Center staff with making sure he had transportation to his classes and food for lunch. After graduation, Dylan applied for and took a job working in retail at a local Goodwill store. He worked his way up from a cashier to team leader to assistant manager, and then worked with one of our life coaches to find employment outside of Goodwill. Snell is now a project manager at Kirby Risk Electrical Supply in Indianapolis, where he works on large-scale electrical contracts from bidding through delivery. He has a car and a home and has paid off his debts. I am very proud of Dylan and his accomplishments. The cool thing about my job is that I get to work with thousands of people like Dylan across our Goodwill — people looking for that second chance.


I had the pleasure to interview Kent A. Kramer. Kent joined Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana in 2002 as Vice President of Retail Operations, later serving as Chief Operating Officer. In 2015, he was named President and Chief Executive Officer — just the fourth leader in the organization’s nearly 90 years. Kent leads a thriving Goodwill of more than 4,100 employees (56% of whom have a significant employment barrier). With nearly $160 million in annual revenue, Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana is one of the largest of the Goodwills in North America. Kramer, through his role with Goodwill, appreciates the opportunity to help improve lives and communities. Goodwill utilizes its resources to help provide solutions to serious social problems, including poverty, by creating opportunities for people to become productive, economically self-sufficient citizens. Each individual’s success story drives Kramer and his team to work even harder to provide employment and education opportunities that will ultimately lead to prosperous outcomes. A proud alumnus of Indiana State University, Kent holds a Bachelor of Science degree in management and serves on the university’s Alumni Association Board. He also holds an MBA from the Falls School of Business at Anderson University. Kramer is a 2010 graduate of the GII Executive Development Program, a 16-month curriculum that blends classroom instruction and applied learning with a focus on results and performance, with an aim to help learners develop the skills necessary for success as a Goodwill president and CEO. Kramer serves on the School of Business and Information Technology Advisory Board for Purdue University Global and is an active member of the Rotary Club of Indianapolis. Prior to joining Goodwill, Kramer spent 13 years in multi-unit leadership positions with Sam’s Club and Kmart across several states. Kramer resides in Pendleton, Indiana with his wife, Jamei. They are the proud parents of four adult children and are active members of Madison Park Church of God, where Kramer serves as an Elder.


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

My retail background and experience got my foot in the door at Goodwill 17 years ago. It took me about two weeks to realize that I had landed somewhere very special. I immediately fell in love with the mission and the people we served. Since then I have taken advantage of several opportunities to further my education and enhance my leadership skills. As the VP of Retail, I participated in a two-year Executive Development Program offered through Goodwill International and also earned my MBA from Anderson University. Those opportunities, along with taking on additional responsibilities along the way, helped prepare me to become CEO.

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

I was hired as CEO in early 2015. There were several personal and board-driven objectives that I began to work on right away. I started the journey of getting more involved in the community. We undertook the task of developing a comprehensive strategic planning process, which included updating our mission, vision and values statements. I also restructured my direct reports, which included not replacing my previously held Chief Operating Officer role. Needless to say, we had a ton going on those first few months. What I did not count on was the ‘getting to know you’ conversations that I was having with my fellow Indiana Goodwill CEOs would lead to organization merger talks with Goodwill of Southern Indiana. This led to merger plans, and in January of 2017, we became a new entity, taking on 300 new employees and eleven new service counties and facilities. Now, almost three years later, the two entities are truly one great organization.

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?

Sorry, nothing funny comes to mind here. I’ve made several mistakes though, and I try to learn from them each time. I have learned to watch my words closely as they can tend to take on a life of their own. In our first executive staff retreat after my appointment to CEO, I made a comment about vetting a new idea that was not quite ready to be shared. I said that if the idea was not tattoo-ready, then I did not want to get others involved. The statement has stuck and still rears its head, even five years later. A person getting a tattoo is pretty certain about their idea and there is a permanency component to it. That is where I was coming from with that statement.

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

Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana changes lives every day by empowering people to increase their independence and reach their potential through education, health, and employment. Our vision is that all people are productive, self-sufficient and capable of contributing to their communities. Throughout our 39-county territory, we employ more than 4,000 Hoosiers, 56% of whom face significant barriers to employment, such as a disability, criminal history, or limited education. We also operate 16 high schools as well as mission programs to address barriers that arise from generational poverty. For nearly 90 years, Goodwill has worked to support individuals as they become healthier, better educated, and more economically successful.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

Dylan Snell came to us at the age of 19 as a high school dropout with a felony theft charge. He had no home, no job and no transportation. Seven years later, he has turned his life around, is achieving professional success and this year, Goodwill Industries International honored him as the 2019 Kenneth Shaw Graduate of the Year. The award recognizes an outstanding person with a disability or disadvantaging condition who completed a Goodwill career services program and is competitively employed by a non-Goodwill employer.

His story:

After Dylan’s father lost his job and left the family, Snell became homeless, dropped out of high school and took a job at a gas station. He ended up in jail, charged with theft for giving away gas to his friends. That’s when he knew he had to make a change. On the advice of a friend, Snell enrolled at Goodwill’s Excel Center, a unique, tuition-free high school geared for adults to earn a high school diploma as well as industry-recognized certifications and dual credits — all at no cost. The Excel Center helps adults remove barriers by offering resources and support, including free, onsite child care and transportation assistance. Snell credits The Excel Center staff with making sure he had transportation to his classes and food for lunch. After graduation, Dylan applied for and took a job working in retail at a local Goodwill store. He worked his way up from a cashier to team leader to assistant manager, and then worked with one of our life coaches to find employment outside of Goodwill. Snell is now a project manager at Kirby Risk Electrical Supply in Indianapolis, where he works on large-scale electrical contracts from bidding through delivery. He has a car and a home and has paid off his debts. I am very proud of Dylan and his accomplishments. The cool thing about my job is that I get to work with thousands of people like Dylan across our Goodwill — people looking for that second chance.

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

1) In the state of Indiana, there are an estimated 460,000 working-age Hoosiers that are high school dropouts. For this population, securing employment that provides family sustaining wages is becoming more and more difficult. The support Goodwill and The Excel Center has received through our elected state officials has been incredible. The state of Indiana provides the funding necessary to offer a high school diploma to adults. This support is changing lives.

2) Goodwill employs and provides programming to help people with criminal backgrounds. Our data shows that providing meaningful employment and wraparound services can lead to lower recidivism rates. Our hope is that other employers in the community provide employment opportunities as well.

3) The unemployment rate for persons with a disability was 8.0% in 2018, more than twice the rate for those with no disability (3.7%). Increasing the funding pool for supportive employment programs can help reduce that number. We believe in the value of work, and that the opportunity for employment should be afforded to all who wish to engage in the workforce.

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

I define leadership through these four points:

  • I feel a good leader is a person of values.
  • Beyond personal values, someone who can drive the values of an organization.
  • A good leader has the ability to choose, develop and retain good leaders as well.
  • A good leader can develop a solid strategy, apply business objectives to that strategy, execute it themselves and hold their team accountable for results.

I have seen this multiple times over my career. I first saw these principles in action when I worked for Wal-Mart back in the early 1990’s. Sam Walton exemplified my points here.

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

1) Never stop learning. I wish I would have invested in professional development and earned my MBA at an earlier age. I believe education and learning is like compounding interest: as time goes on, that investment can grow exponentially. The long term results earned due to that investment can have a very positive impact on your personal and business results.

2) Build a solid process and cadence to get feedback on your performance, from your leaders, your peers and those you lead. I respect people who ask the question, “how am I doing?” or “what can I do better?” I have been able to break through tough barriers when I have asked those questions of people I am working with.

3) Listen intently to your people. Easier to say than do, but so true. We are working on defining and building our culture at Goodwill. Our best ideas and action items have come from listening to our folks in the field.

4) Get involved in your community. Give back. Several of our newer initiatives have come through folks getting involved in the community and sharing our story. Most new business opportunities begin with relationships that have been nurtured over time.

5) Do not underestimate the value of appreciation and recognition. People love to hear that they are valued and appreciated. It never gets old, so never stop recognizing people for their efforts.

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

I try to inspire more people to give second chances. I truly believe that it may take a person 2–3 (or more) times to get it right. In addition to providing that opportunity at a second chance, sometimes a person may need an advocate or a coach to help them towards success. If we could get more people to step in and help, through mentoring, coaching, supporting, etc., we could move the needle at a much faster pace. It’s tough when you are out there on your own. It can make a huge difference, if you have someone in your corner. #secondchances

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

Steve Jobs said, “Things don’t have to change the world to be important.” I believe this with all my heart, and we see it every day at Goodwill. A person getting their high school diploma at the age of 32 may not be ‘world-changing’, but it sure can be ‘important’ and ‘life-changing.’

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

I love the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I believe he could relate to our scalable work being done in education, employment and health.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

LinkedIn: Kent A. Kramer or https://www.linkedin.com/in/goodwillkak/

Twitter: @GoodwillKAK

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