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John Wood

Founder and CEO, Room to Read


At age 35, John Wood left an executive career track at Microsoft Corporation to form Room to Read, a nonprofit organization that “combines the heart of Mother Teresa with the scalability of Starbucks” to help children across the developing world break the cycle of poverty through the power of education. Razor-sharp business acumen honed at Microsoft, combined with a passion to change the world, makes Wood a unique, inspiring, and popular speaker with universal appeal.

Since its start in 2000, Room to Read has sponsored the opening of more than 1,443 schools and more than 12,000 multilingual libraries across the developing world. The organization has distributed over 13 million children’s books in multiple languages and supports nearly 13,500 girls with long-term scholarships. Wood describes these results as “total tip of the iceberg” as Room to Read plans to increase this literacy network to 20,000 libraries and schools serving at least 10 million children by the year 2015.

Wood’s role in building one of the fastest-growing non-profits in history has earned him broad acclaim, including a nod as one of Goldman Sachs’ 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs of 2013. He 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. Wood 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.”

In his award-winning memoir, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, Wood tells the story of how he raised over $125 million of financial commitments from a "standing start" to develop one of the fastest growing nonprofits in history. His latest book, Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy, hit the shelves in February 2013.

His latest book, Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy,
hit the shelves in February 2013.

John holds a master’s in business administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of
Management at Northwestern University, a BS in finance from the University of Colorado, has
received three honorary doctorates, and teaches at Harvard University’s Graduate School of
Education and NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

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Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Wood first delivered this speech at a Microsoft sales conference. With sales reps facing an increasingly competitive and ever-changing economy, Microsoft’s sales leadership team requested that Wood speak about “what’s possible when a committed person dares to take risks and leave their comfort zone.” At the conclusion of the talk, Woods will lead audience members through a short exercise with a big impact. As a result, hundreds will leave the room with a commitment to breaking old habits, innovating, and taking risks in a way that will drive progress in their teams, their divisions, and their company.

Re-Imagining Leadership

Eager to implement his own vision at age 35, John Wood left an executive career track at Microsoft to build a new kind of non-profit – one founded on the principles of ROI maximization, massive scalability and absolute uncompromis-ing transparency. The result is one of the fastest-growing non-profits in history.

Now, Wood 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.

Scaling Success

In this presentation, Wood 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. Wood’s insights on the promises and pitfalls of rapid expansion – gleaned through experience, intuition, and trial and error – are sought by leaders everywhere. Key points in this talk include bold goals attract bold people, the war for talent, and doing more with less.

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