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Whitefish Bay Alum Identifies 'Soul of the Organization'

After more than 40 years of advising businesses and non-profits, David Zenoff has penned his observations of success in his new book, "The Soul of the Organization."

After four decades of advising a wide variety of businesses and nonprofits, David Zenoff has developed five keys to a successful organization.

But it's his experiences as a Whitefish Bay High School student growing up in a poor, single-parent household that made Zenoff the successful businessman he is today. Since leaving Bay, the management consultant and former academic has advised 90-plus organizations ranging from large multinationals to small start-ups in 31 countries, and now he's written a book, "The Soul of the Organization," sharing his observations of success.

Humble beginnings

Zenoff grew up on the east side of Milwaukee, attending the University School of Milwaukee, and moved to Whitefish Bay for his high school years. At Whitefish Bay, he was the junior class president, prom king, editor of the school yearbook, an all-state swimmer and a state gold medal winner in forensics.

It was at Whitefish Bay High School where Zenoff said he learned the values of personal responsibility, hard work, honesty, modesty, reliability, loyalty and courage.

“High school was such a positive experience in Whitefish Bay,” Zenoff said. “I knew my friends' families and they knew mine. Everyone had positive attitudes. They were interested in doing a good job in school and getting into good colleges.”

Because his dad never returned home from World War II, Zenoff felt the pressures of adulthood early. He knew that he was going to be responsible for his college tuition, so he started working in fifth grade as a door-to-door salesman, selling greeting cards, seeds for victory gardens and fire extinguishers.

In high school, he wrote sports articles for the Whitefish Bay Herald newspaper, worked at a men’s clothing shop in Bayshore Mall and bagged groceries at a local supermarket. In the summer, he mowed grass for the village, managed the pool at Ozaukee Country Club and took a machine painting job at a nearby factory. He also delivered mail in Shorewood for only $1.85 per hour.

After graduating high school in 1955, Zenoff went to Stanford University for his bachelor's degree, then went on to receive an MBA and DBA from Harvard Buisness School. He began his academic career at Stanford Graduate School of Business and Columbia Graduate School of Business before deciding to stop studying businesses and start advising them.

"The Soul of the Organization"

Zenoff has wrapped his decades of business experience into a new book titled “The Soul of the Organization,” which draws on case studies of 11 companies and nonprofit organizations, with examples from 30 other organizations. 

“I’ve had this very lucky opportunity through my work to see these companies in action, so I’ve developed some skills, awareness and sensitivity,” he said. "I can look at an organization at work, ask a few questions and ask to speak privately with a number of people in the organization. After my wide exposure, I wanted to be sure to write down what I’ve seen.

"What I found is when people love working at an organization, the organizations do well.”

Zenoff has broad consulting experience, advising Wells Fargo Bank and dozens of other financial services companies. He has also advised Glaxo and numerous pharmaceutical companies, as well as other companies like General Electric and The Nestle Company and nonprofits like the University of Notre Dame.

On the book's website, retired Wells Fargo Chairman and CEO Dick Kovacevich said the book "provides real-world examples and a clear blueprint for how organizations can create or fortify their “souls” to inspire employee engagement and produce superior results.”

Zenoff said the case studies in the book detail the inner-workings of six companies, four nonprofits and one government agency that "have something special." The book draws on examples of organizations with motivated employees, a sentiment that Zenoff distills into five elements of "the soul" of an organization.

Zenoff didn't hear much talk of souls in his discussions with executives and boards of directors, but the word seemed to be a perfect fit when he sat down to write his book.

"These are core underlying, enduring philosophies," Zenoff said. "When people are turned on, they will find more meaning, have more pride in the organization and have a more cooperative spirit. If everybody in the organization is doing a really good job, the overall sum of it will be better than it otherwise would be."

Read more about Zenoff's book at www.souloftheorganization.com.

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