An interview with Pegi Matsuda, CEO / founder, On Board Business & Community Consulting
Pegi Matsuda is an experienced and enthusiastic leader in both her professional career and in her passion for serving the community. She has more than 30 years of experience leading companies and organizations during times of significant industry change. She’s at the helm of change every day as she serves her diverse clients and their unique needs and while serving as a board member of several nonprofit organizations. As a member of numerous executive teams, she’s led change in several industries including telecommunications, natural gas, a membership association, publishing and in health care. Celebrating five years as the founder and CEO of her own consulting practice, she’s sharing her story of the power of volunteer leadership and how serving the community inspired her to become an entrepreneur.
How did you become engaged with the community?
MATSUDA: The usual response from many people is that they followed the example of their parents or a friend invited them to a community volunteer activity. My path to volunteerism came through my first professional job. I always say the path towards volunteerism doesn’t matter. All that matters is once you serve the community, stay connected by volunteering in any capacity you are able. After graduating from college, I was fortunate to work for a major telecommunications company, GTE Telephone Operations, which went on to become Verizon Communications in 2000. The president and CEO and the vice president of public affairs had a major impact on my interest in volunteerism. As a young college graduate, I had a bird’s eye view as I watched them expertly navigate through the multitude of volunteer activities and identifying how best to utilize the company’s resources to help Los Angeles become a better place. After serving a year in plant operations, I was invited to join the company’s community development team and had the opportunity to help the company chart a new path into the future. Community relations is certainly an art, but there is some science to the profession, as well. We started by creating a community relations strategic plan, connecting community engagement activities with tens of thousands of community volunteer projects and encouraged employees to become actively engaged in the community. While the company did not seek out recognition, we were honored for our employee volunteer program by the President of the United States along with 50 other US companies.
My first volunteer assignments were what you’d imagine. I helped feed the poor in downtown Los Angeles, planned holiday events for children living in poverty, helped as a “hugger” at the Los Angeles Special Olympics as participants crossed finish lines, passed out community resource information at community events and I also walked a lot of dogs for the local animal shelter.
What did you learn as a community volunteer?
MATSUDA: I tell this to young people all the time. What you don’t learn in college and what you might not learn in your career, you can learn as a volunteer. So, pick a skill you want to learn and are not learning in school or in your career and identify how you can learn that skill through volunteer service.
My favorite volunteer assignments included serving on the committee of a major golf tournament (The Los Angeles Open which is now the Genesis Invitational) when I didn’t know how to play golf nor did I understand golf “jokes.” I’m not a financial professional but serving on a board helped me understand how to read income statements and balance sheets. I’ve also participated in the hiring of audit firms to conduct nonprofit audits and I’ve learned a great deal about strategic planning and community development. While my career in market planning, community development, media relations and communication provided a solid foundation for my volunteer activities, I was also able to see, up close, how many of these skills would be put to the test in my volunteer service. Watching some non-profit organizational structures crumble, nonprofit leaders coming and going, strategic plans ignored and other sorts of mayhem, serving on a board during times of intense pressure from the outside world was definitely an experience that shaped me in so many positive ways.
The big five lessons learned?
1) Seeing how organizations grow and decline and the impact on communities;
2) Understanding the importance of positive and not-so-positive leadership;
3) The importance of hiring and developing the best employees and when to “let go” of employees who are not the right organizational “fit;”
4) How to deal with obstacles; and,
5) Metaphorically, how you may sometimes stumble on “boulders” but learn how to skip over the “pebbles” of life, you see on the ground.
How did volunteerism inspire you to start your own business?
MATSUDA: It’s usually a career or a specific set of experiences that lead you to entrepreneurship. In my situation, volunteerism played a significant role in my career today, perhaps more than my corporate and small business positions. Volunteerism helped me gain confidence in my decision-making. I learned how to put fears aside when situations went down darker paths than expected. Taking the lead and “inserting myself into the process” taught me there is a role for all of us in any process to overcome obstacles. Looking back, climbing out of, and around obstacles, gave me the confidence to believe in myself and that situations would improve. Volunteerism continues to inspire me today. People always say, “know your passion” and that passion will lead to a great volunteer opportunity. I wish I found this to be true. Most of my passion for community issues came about indirectly and grew from various volunteer activities. I’ve participated in quite a few volunteer projects where I felt like a “fish out of water.” Surprisingly, it was these type of volunteer activities that allowed me to actually find my passion and also helped to grow my vision for community service and for my professional career. I always say take a chance volunteering for a project that may not initially fit your skills and interest. Who knows? You may find yourself on a path to becoming an entrepreneur.