Serving Those Who Serve Us: Corvias Group CEO John Picerne Talks Paying it Forward

The key to being a successful company isn't quarterly reports and results.

Corvias Group has three primary business lines: Corvias Miliary Living, Corvias Campus Living and Corvias Solutions. The Military and Campus Living divisions offer military and higher education institutions with fully integrated development, construction and property management services.

In 2006, Corvias Group CEO John Picerne founded Corvias Foundation, the charitable division of the company. It’s dedicated to motivating students, college and university campuses, military families, and company employees to work hard and follow their dreams.

This year, Corvias Foundation awarded 11 college scholarships of up to $50,000 to outstanding high school students, marking the 10th class of scholarship recipients. So far, nearly $6 million in scholarships has been awarded to families of active-duty service members. MHN spoke with John Picerne to find out his inspiration behind creating the foundation and why he believes it’s an important part of company culture.

MHN: When did you first become involved in philanthropic work? What inspired you?

JohnPicerne-2014Picerne: It came to me somewhat naturally early on in my life. My mother was a big influence in my life and she was always doing volunteer work and something to give back in the community. As I grew up in my family’s company, the company itself didn’t have that same sense of philanthropy. There was a much stronger mindset of “Corporate America” in that you give back when you know you’ll gain value for it. I always felt there was a disconnect there. I always felt, and still believe, you give because it’s the right thing to do, it will help somebody and when you start doing that you realize very quickly what you receive in return, the feeling you get, is something you can’t measure. The more restrictions you put on it, the less value you receive back. Once I purchased my company from my family business in 2005 that was the moment I was going to do things the way I wanted to do them. First and foremost—find a way to give back.

MHN: What made you choose the military as your line of work?

Picerne: I chose the military business in 1996 as a way to solidify a better way of doing business. In the real estate business my family was in, there were a lot of ups and downs. You’re alive only by the powers of the economic upturn and you see the brink of disaster on the economic downturns and I didn’t like that way of doing business or that lifestyle. I tried to find a business that was less cyclical in nature and one that wasn’t being chased by every entrepreneurial business in the world. I found the military business to be the perfect opportunity for both of those things.

MHN: What have been some of your most successful projects?

Picerne: Our relationship with the Boston Red Sox and the Run to Home Base program has been really successful. It’s in honor of our military wounded warriors and all the money goes to run-2014-7veterans programs. We connected with them to do shadow runs in Afghanistan and Iraq so that our soldiers would have a connection back to the States to a cause. One thing I’ve learned about philanthropy that amazes me the most is those that are in the toughest situations tend to be those who want to give back the most. Our soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq wanted to go and run a race like they were doing in Boston to help give back to wounded warriors even though they were on the front line. We’ve done that now for five or six years and it’s been a tremendous opportunity and a lot of fun.

The other greatest success for me would be last summer when we held our first full alumni retreat. We had nearly 40 college graduates, who were military children that we awarded scholarships to, come back to Boston to spend two days with us to discuss how they, as a connected group, wanted  to start to give back in their communities where they’re now living. With the foundation, they coordinated a two day inner-city giving back program in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago coming up in September.

If you find ways to give back and help people and connect them to each other, the idea is eventually they become force multipliers for each other. They start to become not only support for one another but they become philanthropic and give back support to each other which, in my mind, is the way we’ll really make deep impact changes in our country.

MHN: What is the importance of incorporating philanthropic work into company culture?

Picerne: Our three core principals of our company: to be the best provider of service in the industries we’re in to our customers, to be the best place to work and to generously give back to the community. We diagram these out on a circle because one without the other doesn’t complete the circle. Once they’re working in unison, you can be all of those things. I think by being a philanthropic company and giving back to the community we live, serve and work in, we’re giving back to the community that our employees live in. So, they’re proud of the fact that we’re giving back and proud that they’re able to give back. It makes them feel pride in the company they work for, which makes them walk in to challenged situations on their job with their head held high, feeling really good about the work they’re going to do, which then gives them the ability to provide the great level of service that we offer. Without the philanthropic piece, I would tell you our folks don’t believe our company’s the greatest company to work for and that we wouldn’t be able to provide the great level of service.

Now, how do we convince, from a profitability standpoint, the University System of Georgia who just awarded us a very large, first of its kind program that we’re the right company to partner with? Because they reach out to the community and find out what kind of community service we do and they see it’s great. They talk to our customers and find out that our people show up every day doing the best possible job they can do. That’s all connected to being the best partner and if we continue being the best partner then every place in the world that wants to do the type of work we do, I’m hoping they’ll reach out to us and say “we want you as our partner.”

MHN: How has philanthropic work impacted business for Corvias Group?

Picerne: We are never perfect. Since we’re imperfect, we’re humans, things don’t always work out the way we hope they will. But because of all the great work we do, philanthropically and great intentions every day, if we don’t get it just right our partners seem to want to give us a second chance more so than if we were always negotiations contractual obligations. It sets a corvais-425x283tone for the types of arrangements we’re in that say, “you know, these are good people trying to do really good things. So it didn’t work out exactly right this time, let’s work with them to make it better next time.” The fact is we’re embarking on new businesses that are reshaping the way the company does things like stormwater management or on campus college housing. Since we’re embarking on brand new businesses, I think this has helped us, our philanthropy, our way of giving back, and the nature of who we are, has helped us tremendously get folks to select us versus our competitors.

MHN: What else should our readers know?

Picerne: One thing I try to remind folks of all the time is less than two percent of our entire population serve in the military in one way or another. They’re responsible for defending our nation on a daily basis. While the little work we do is impactful, we need people to be thinking of how to support our military, active and veterans.

Next, you don’t have to sacrifice profit to be a kind, generous and genuine company. You don’t have to sacrifice being a kind, generous and genuine company for profits. They can be synergistic. In order for a company to be truly great, they have to be synergistic. All too often in our country, especially with publicly traded companies, we get so hung up on quarterly reports and results that we don’t see all the real benefits that a lot of great companies are doing beyond just the profit motive.