As the president and chief operating officer for the American Cancer Society, Greg Bontrager is always thinking about the bottom line. Except when Greg refers to ROI, his concern goes far beyond what’s measured in dollars and cents.
“The most significant investment you can make is an investment in others,” says Greg. “Time and again, we've discovered that is the only investment that always guarantees a return.”
That’s why he’s dedicated his entire career to making a difference in the lives of others. This May, Greg will celebrate 25 years of service with the American Cancer Society, the world’s largest not-for-profit health organization.
Unsatisfied with the status quo, Greg is currently helping to lead the 100-year-old American Cancer Society through a complete and total transformation.
“Other than the mission statement, everything is on the table,” he explains.
The shake-up that includes the largest legal consolidation of a federated organization in the history of the United States has caught the world’s attention and has raised more than a few eyebrows. Harvard Business Review has even approached the American Cancer Society about analyzing the organizational and cultural shift in a published business case study.
“It’s an enormous thing,” he says. “I’m asked almost daily: ‘Why is such a high-performing organization transforming itself?’ The answer is that for a mission organization as important as ours, good enough is not good enough.”
Throughout the transformation, Greg has been guided by a leadership principle that a mentor instilled in him.
“He told me, ‘Methods are many, values are few. Methods always change, values never do.’ As long as you’re clear what your core values are, you understand that the only constant is change relative to the methods you employ, both in your career and in life. You need to have that foundation in place and clear, whether it’s in running a company, a family or your life.”
Time, talents and treasure
Greg believes that it’s incumbent on everyone, and particularly Christians, to make investments in others in three ways: through their time, their talents and their treasure.
“You have a really good sense of where someone’s heart is when you see how they are allocating those three Ts,” he says.
He and his wife, Karen (Abbott) ’86, regularly show their hearts by investing all three in Olivet Nazarene University. In addition to their faithful financial support, they have regularly served as advocates for the University. Karen is a member of the Board of Trustees by virtue of her appointment as lay representative on the Alumni Board.
“For us, it’s about the multiplier effect,” he explains. “Karen and I believe that Olivet shares our core values. The people there are not concerned about activities, but about output and impact. It’s the kind of place where you feel like your time, your treasure and your talents are taken seriously.”
Whether it’s investing in Olivet, his career, his family or his local church, Greg measures his success with just one question.
“What’s going to be lasting?” he asks. “Life is a series of really, really important choices. Wherever you choose to invest, it needs to show results and return.”