Culture Corner: In the business of philanthropy and values

Each month, we interview a Richter partner to gain insight into how our leadership finds balance and focus in a demanding job, and what non-technical skills contribute to career success.

“Philanthropy” can be broadly defined as “love for humankind”. It is derived from the Greek words “philos,” which means loving and “anthropos,” which means humankind. This month, we’re speaking with someone at Richter with a lot of heart: Partner Alana Geller. While philanthropy is one way to express the core values of the family, it also rings true for businesses. Alana doesn’t just support and promote certain causes she believes in, she has her own personal story behind her reasoning, too.

You work with a lot of families, business owners, shareholders, and have advised many through some tough situations when it comes to family succession, matrimonial proceedings, financial disputes, etc. How do you approach a client’s business or family affairs and ensure their concerns are balanced with emotions?

Alana Geller (AG): I enter all situations with an open mind and listen very carefully. I also go slowly and try hard not to rush to conclusions even if they seem obvious at the outset. Sometimes if the emotions are high, then I recommend that we take a break, and we all “sleep on it” and meet again. Also, I try as much as possible to conduct important meetings in-person rather than on the phone or over the email, especially if it’s an emotional situation. The ability to read body language and other social cues are important and can be misinterpreted by phone or over email.

You organize and chair several events – how do you encourage people to volunteer? Many people are scared to ask others to help because they don’t want to hear a ‘no’ – any advice? 

AG: This a great question that brings me back to some great advice that a client of the firm gave me. I co-founded my first fundraiser in 2015 and the client was very involved with the organization that we were supporting. His advice was “Don’t be afraid to ask for somebody’s help. Worst case, they say no, and nobody will think less of you for asking”. This advice has given me the courage to reach out to many people, often with great success. I continue to give this advice to others. I also try to connect the dots. I’ll ask people who I know have a connection to the cause because an engaged volunteer will often be more helpful than someone without a true connection to the cause.

“I enter all situations with an open mind and listen very carefully.”

Let’s talk about giving back. You’re the Co-founder and Co-chair of the Annual Stroll for Kids event held last month. What is this initiative about and what pushed you to engage yourself with the foundation behind it, the Just for Kids Foundation?

AG: I co-founded Stroll for Kids in 2014 following the birth of my premature twins. Avi and Eli weighed less than four pounds at birth and spent six weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. When Avi and Eli came home, I wanted to express my gratitude to the Montreal Children’s Hospital in a unique and significant way – and so Stroll for Kids was born.

I spearheaded the JFK Sibling Park project following the hospitalization of one of my twins in a U.S. hospital that had a similar program. The Park caters to patient families by focusing on the often-overlooked healthy siblings of these patients. This program provides overwhelmed parents with more time to bond with their hospitalized children, alleviating the financial and time-consuming stress of securing additional childcare. Siblings can join their parents at the hospital and be cared for in a warm and welcoming environment, run by a group of childcare professionals.

You’re also involved in the Israel Cancer Research Fund as a Co-chair of the Annual Women of Action event. Why is recognizing women’s achievements so important to you? How do you decide what organization to lend your support and time to?

AG: At Richter, as well with my family and in the community, I feel very fortunate to have always felt very well supported by the people around me. I realize that this is not true for many women in our community and society at large. It is important to me to celebrate the successes of great women leaders in our community and that’s exactly what Women of Action does. The event honours – one woman from business, one from science and one from community; and we’re showcasing what they have done to strengthen our communities. The event will be held on November 18, 2018 and Richter will be a major sponsor.

This is in keeping with Richter’s values and desire to promote women to leadership positions. While the event focuses on celebrating the successes of women, we’re supporting highly impactful cancer research. Israel Cancer Research Fund has contributed to many important discoveries which have increased the outcomes for cancer patients and greatly enhanced their quality of life.

“Women of Action (…) is in keeping with our values and desire to promote women to leadership positions.”

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

AG: It’s not necessarily advice that I’ve been given but something I have felt since I’ve been working here. After nearly 15 years, the most important lesson that I have learned is the importance of teamwork. I have seen how projects transform from great to outstanding when you have a strong team. I never shy away from asking colleagues or possibly other professionals for advice or even to be part of the project team. I have learned that when you have diversity of backgrounds and different points of view, your work ends up being much better, exceeding client expectations and often our own.


Read more articles in the Culture Corner series:

Culture Corner: Learning Always
Culture Corner: New Minds, New Perspectives