John Wood

Founder and CEO of Room to Read, Award winning Social Entrepreneur

John Wood

At age 35, inspired by visit to a dilapidated Nepali primary school with an empty library, John Wood left an executive career track at Microsoft to build one of the fastest-growing non-profits in history. In just 13 years Room to Read has opened 1,675 schools and more than 15,000 libraries across ten developing countries. What’s more, Room to Read is on track to meet an audacious goal: reach 10 million of the world’s poorest children by 2015.
Today, John’s real-world business acumen and drive to change the world have made him an inspiring and sought-after speaker with universal appeal. Since “giving up the money and the perks” of his former career, John has helped millions of children who have lost the lottery of life. John leverages what he learned in the business world to massively scale social change, and likes to say “we run Room to Read with the heart of Mother Teresa and the scalability of Starbucks.”
Astonishingly, the organization did indeed open more libraries in its  first decade than Starbucks did coffee shops. John’s role in building one of the fastest-growing non-proits in history has earned him broad acclaim, including a nod as one of Goldman Sachs’ 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs of 2013.
John is a Five-time winner of Fast Company’s Social Capitalist Award, and was named one of Time Magazine’s “Asian Heroes” – the only non-Asian ever to win the honor. John has been recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute, and sits on the advisory board of the Clinton Global Initiative where he’s spoken three times.  He’s also received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, and appeared with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in the award-winning documentary “Half the Sky.”
John has received three honorary doctorates, teaches at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and has built a 370,000-strong following on Twitter.
  1. Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
    In 23 years' split between Microsoft’s executive suites and the crammed schoolrooms of the developing world, John has come to understand the perils of the comfort zone and the empowerment that comes with leaving it behind. “We get soft. We get complacent. And that’s the death knell for soon-to-be-great organizations.” John speaks from experience – in swapping the boardroom for the schoolroom, he stepped further out of his bubble than he’d ever thought possible. Today, after helping educate nearly 8 million children in 10 developing countries, John is living proof that opportunity awaits those with the audacity to venture beyond familiar boundaries. Companies, like people, can be drawn to the habitual and the routine. But in his talks to audiences around the world, John dares his listeners to look beyond business as usual, and argues that while good organizations find strong solutions to old problems, the great ones find exciting new problems to solve as well. He draws on his experiences to fire up the crowd with examples of what’s possible when “safe thinking” is left behind.
    At the conclusion of the talk, John leads audience members through a short exercise with a big impact. He asks everyone in the attendance to pull out pen and paper and write down “three things you vow to do to get outside your comfort zone – one thing today, one this month, and one this year.” By then sharing their pledges with a trusted co-worker – an “anti-comfort zone ally” – they turn an otherwise-abstract pledge into a concrete responsibility. Hundreds leave the room with a commitment to breaking old logjams, innovating, and taking risks in a way that will drive progress in their teams, their divisions, and their company.
  2. Re-Imagining Leadership

    John teaches managerial courage in classrooms and business conferences around the globe. Speaking to MBA students and executives alike, he inspires audiences to think differently and more boldly about what they can accomplish as leaders. He insists that audacious goals attract audacious people, and that when they work together in an organization that inspires and recognizes innovation, there are no problems they can’t solve. John contends that leaders must be continually disruptive – finding better ways to do business and challenging not only their organizations, but themselves in a quest for continual improvement. His brand of leadership balances an uncompromising commitment to the bottom line with deep organizational humility – a willingness to acknowledge problems and consider solutions no matter the source. At Microsoft, that might have been a junior employee’s fix for an inefficient supply chain. At Room to Read, it could be a volunteer’s plan for a farmer’s market to wean rural libraries off foreign aid. In both cases – and in all cases – the best idea must win the day. In this presentation, John talks candidly about his evolution as a leader and some of the lessons he’s learned along the way.

    Topics include:

    • Setting Great Expectations and finding Great People to meet them
    • Absolute Accountability
    • Reaching out to the World
  3. Scaling Success Lessons on Growth, Scalability and Continuous Improvement

    John shares his model for massively scalable growth with business, university and non-profit audiences around the world. His experience has made him an authority on overcoming the obstacles of culture, language, geography and technology to grow a truly global organization, and his insights on the promises and pitfalls of rapid expansion – gleaned through experience, intuition and trial and error – are sought by leaders everywhere.
    Key insights in this talk include:

    • Bold Goals attract Bold People
    • The War on Talent
    • Doing More with Less

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