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Power of one goes beyond financial management

Power of one goes beyond financial management

Pay the bills, but pay it forward, too

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by ROB McMANAMY | July 2, 2015

For a group dedicated to keeping the ledger books and maintaining meticulous records for possible tax audits, it was no surprise that the national Construction Financial Management Association had timed its annual meeting and trade show for the end of the fiscal year. Finally, attendees must have thought, a moment to relax, unwind and to think about something other than the bottom line. In fact, a record 827 of the group's 7,000+ members were on hand, ready to enjoy sunny Chicago.

Well, incoming CFMA chair J. Brad Robinson, CPA, CIFP, decided to take the group in a little different direction in his first speech as chairman. And from the reaction of multiple audience members, he had hit it out of the park. "I had planned to just talk about membership and committees and our annual numbers, but I thought 'No, anybody can give that speech'," he told a colleague afterward. "So I threw out that speech and decided to make it more personal."

Lendlease's Robinson

Lendlease's Robinson

Robinson, a longtime treasurer for global giant Lendlease's Charlotte NC-based Americas office instead spoke on the conference's unusual theme: The Power of One. "What is 'The Power of One'?" he asked the crowd rhetorically. "Consider how we spend our lives, going through the motions. As a consequence, we miss opportunities every day to make a difference in the lives of others."

As examples, speaking June 29 to a full banquet hall at Chicago's Sheraton Hotel, he recalled moments in his life when he had pulled over to the side of the highway somewhere between Charlotte and his home in Alabama to help two elderly women whose car had broken down. Or another time when he voluntarily traded his First Class seat on an airplane with a young Iraq War veteran who was crammed in coach and trying to make flight connections to get home. "He was so appreciative that when we landed, he should have hurried to make his connection, but he insisted on waiting for me to thank me for what I had done," Robinson recalled. "You would have thought that I had just bought him a new car."

One person. One deed. What a difference.

Most tellingly, Robinson also shared a story about his son, who had just graduated from high school this spring. Two years ago, his son and friends on his football team had encouraged another shy classmate to go out with them to a local restaurant after a school game on a Friday night. The awkward young man joined them but remained quiet and withdrawn until one of Robinson's other friends decided to tell the waitress it was his birthday (not true). As expected, free dessert and song ensued, and the group bonded around a common purpose: i.e. free cake.

"By graduation, they were known as 'The Birthday Boys', and they were banned at 57 eating establishments around town," said a smiling Robinson. "It all started with one silly, selfish teenage act, but it turned into something that totally changed that young man's life."

Inspiring the room: Robinson definitely made an impression, even if these footprints somehow walked around him!

Inspiring the room: Robinson definitely made an impression, even if these footprints somehow walked around him!

The new chairman then brought his message home. "I challenge all of you here to find those opportunities," he said. "It is in those simple moments when we assist others that we develop the passion for service through --and find the strength in-- common connections. Those singular moments are The Power of One... All of us can make differences in the lives of others, and our Association every day. We have the power to do incredible things together."

As a fitting coda to the surprisingly moving speech, CFMA President & CEO Stuart Binstock came onstage and asked the crowd to sing 'Happy Birthday' to Robinson. It was not his birthday, of course. So smiles, and even a few tears, filled the room as the group serenaded its new leader.

Record turnout: CFMA's membership exceeded 7,000 earlier this year. More than 800 made it to Chicago.

Record turnout: CFMA's membership exceeded 7,000 earlier this year. More than 800 made it to Chicago.

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