This is the first of two blog posts based on an interview of The Hon. Gregory W. Slayton by Richard (Rick) J. Goossen by phone on March 15, 2019. Gregory will be an instructor in the Entrepreneurial Leaders Programme to be offered by ELO in collaboration with Wycliffe Hall, University of Oxford (www.ELOOxford.com). To see Gregory’s bio' click here: http://www.entrepreneurialleaders.com/GregorySlayton.
RG: What is your calling?
GS: My calling in many ways goes back to having been abandoned by my American father and taken in by my Chinese family and that whole miraculous 5-6 years of my teenage life. That led directly to my becoming a Christian through their good influence – and that of some very good Christian brothers at Dartmouth College, where I did my undergraduate degree. The love and care of my Chinese family led to our Family Foundation now operating via our Asian non-profit Family First Asia (FFA) in ten major nations in Asia. FFA will serve over 3 million families this year and we hope to be at 4 or even 5 million next year.
RG: You were an advisor and early investor with Google—how did that happen?
GS: I had some good friends in Google senior leadership, including Eric Schmidt. We weren’t best friends, but I knew him, and we had a respect for each other. He recognized that he needed someone with a particular set of skills who could help him in a particular area, and I’m deeply honoured that he reached out to me. It wasn’t just Eric, it was a couple of strong Christian guys at Google. We were able to make a small investment, picked up some equity shares, and it obviously was a great blessing.
As I think about it, all of my great opportunities have come through my personal network. The Chinese have a word for it – “guan-xi”—which means connection, relationship, friendship. It’s super important in the Chinese culture; but in truth it’s important everywhere. In Silicon Valley, if you didn’t have the network it didn’t matter how smart you were, because if nobody returned your phone call, it didn’t matter.
I was on the Board of Advisors of Google. Eric joked that I was the only Republican on their Advisory Board or any of their boards. That was an honor.
RG: You were an early investor in Salesforce—how did that happen?
GS: Same thing as with Google. I knew Marc Benioff, again not super well, but well enough. Marc made a very gracious offer and I got involved very early in Salesforce. Obviously, that company has gone on to do incredible things. Marc has moved far to the left politically, but he is still a good man, a man with honourable intentions even though we take different paths. But that was also a great experience.
RG: Why did you start Fellowship of Fathers Foundation and Family First Asia (FFA)?
GS: It was really again just open doors. We had first set up the Slayton Family Foundation here in the United States because we had these two significant victories with Google and Salesforce. Then we had some other good things going on and we wanted to be faithful stewards. At first, we were just a grant-making organization, but I wasn’t really happy with that. We started to focus more and more on fatherhood, I think in large part due to my experience with my American father abandoning us in such a dramatic way. He wrote a note to my brothers and myself, we were so young but I will never forget it: ‘Boys, I never want to hear from you again, I never want to see you again, I never want to have anything to do with you again for the rest of my life.’ That’s something I’ll never forget. That was one of the few promises my blood father actually kept: 25 years later we had never heard from him and then he died, sadly. I think that really seared into my heart the importance of fatherhood. My Chinese dad was a really wonderful man – not perfect of course, there is no perfect father here on earth. But my Chinese family really was the catalyst for the Fellowship of Fathers Foundation and all our work in Asia through Family First Asia.
My wife, Marina, and I were married while I was in my second year at the Harvard Business School. We had a daughter and then three boys – which was wonderful. But all of a sudden, I had to figure out this fatherhood stuff. I had kept a ‘Fatherhood Journal’ for myself over the years – because I knew I wanted to be a good dad (like my Chinese dad) and not like my American dad. Out of that Journal, I wrote the book Be a Better Dad Today which went on to be an international best-seller. That shocked everybody, including the author!! Today it has sold over 500,000 copies, in I don’t even know how many languages. Of course, we give all the royalties to charity, which I think is the right thing to do. The success of the book showed us there’s interest here, there’s a market here, and maybe this Fatherhood thing is the LORD’s leading.