The Power of One
When a friend, the managing director and founder of Wharton Gladden & Co., invited me to write a press release about a Christmas celebration set to take place at the peak of Winston-Salem’s private Piedmont Club, I initially declined the offer.
Like many people, my holidays were filled with mandatory visits, events and work related parties. Quite honestly, lavish corporate Christmas parties just weren’t my thing. But anyone who knows Algenon Cash knows that our charismatic friend rarely takes “no” for an answer. “Trust me, this isn’t just another Christmas party,” he insisted. “This party will benefit over 100 children through the Power of One Fund.” I was suddenly interested but still thought “Who does PR about a Christmas party?”
I got his point when Cash began the sixth annual event by sharing a story from his childhood about his young mother’s attempt to explain why Santa wouldn’t be bringing gifts that year. His mother (who had Algenon at age 17 and he has never met his father) shared a special table in the audience with her sisters and added resounding “Amens” as he expounded. “At age 7, I couldn’t wrap my mind around all that. I didn’t even know that guy took money,” he joked as a crowd of business and civic leaders chuckled. The room became very quiet as he grew more serious. “As we enjoy the view from the 19th floor of the Piedmont Club, know that there are families out there having this same conversations with their children.”
It’s hard for some to believe that the poised 35-year-old and highly-political Algenon Cash grew up on the rough east side of Winston-Salem. His list of accolades include being one of the Triad Business Journal’s “40 Leaders Under Forty.” Business Leader Media named Cash one of 30 “Triad Movers & Shakers” and one of 24 “Impact Leaders.” He is one of 15 recipients of the National Developing Leaders Award and the North Carolina Energy Forum named Algenon Cash as Chairman. With all that being said, his speeches often begin with a reminder that he’s a kid from the “block.” After all, it was in a shotgun house in East Winston where his grandparents instilled in him a few of life’s lessons that impacted how he conducts business today.
One example being what those in the public policy business have branded as “social capital.” It’s the new buzz phrase for a value our grandparents’ generation considered “looking out for each other.” He and I have reminisced over times when corner markets ran accounts for customers and trusted them to pay. Algenon remembers coming home to his grandmother’s table to find her feeding homeless individuals and those same people made sure that he could get to the store safely, because he was Ms. Irene’s grandson. Our grandparents didn’t have a lot of money, but they understood the power of something greater.
Algenon credits them for his success. Irene Wharton was well-known in the Winston-Salem area. Her mother, Annie Irene Wharton and father had both worked for the R.J. Reynolds family. When Algenon’s great-grandfather retired, the Reynolds family purchased a home for the couple to live in the area known as “Reynolds Town.” Irene and her husband, Frank Gladden, used this home to leverage the funds for several businesses, including a neighborhood market. His grandmother would manage Zesto’s Restaurant by day, run a salon from her kitchen and stay up all night baking cakes for customers. Algenon’s grandfather worked in construction and helped build the R.J. Reynolds facility. Evenings and weekends he dragged Algenon along for side jobs that included collecting cans and mowing lawns. His grandparents were always looking for ways to take care of their family as well as others in the community. Not only in namesake, but in spirit, they are Wharton Gladden.
The firm’s website calls itself “a uniquely designed real estate investment banking boutique that specializes in providing financial advisory services, underwriting, capital placement, asset management, and private equity to corporations, real estate developers, financial institutions, investors, municipalities, and high-net worth individuals.” But I think their motto says more about his grandparent’s values. Higher Standards. Better Relationships.
That night there was a lot of talk about “capital” but not the kind I expected at a corporate holiday party. As I mingled with guests, I realized that the room was filled with like-minded individuals committed to investing in the fund. I was a little surprised when I heard the words, “You don’t have to be able to write a big check” coming from Algenon “Show Me the Money” Cash. But he was serious. “If everyone could just do something,” he insisted as he went through numerous examples of how people had donated their time and talents to the mission.
If you know his background, then you can fully understand why the outspoken political leader says “It’s not good enough to make money. Even at our young age we have to be good corporate citizens.” So next year, the Power of One Fund will focus on education, entrepreneurship and empowerment in order to share some of the lessons the firm has gained in their successes over the years.
When I sent a text thanking Algenon for the invitation to the most inspiring Christmas party that I have ever attended, he of course said “I told you so.” The only problem was that I couldn’t include much of what I’ve learned about my friend in press release. Cash is outspoken about many things from politics to energy, but there is something special about the Wharton Gladdens’ story that has the potential to inspire businesses, empower families and strengthen the power of one.
Antionette Kerr is a freelance writer. You may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.