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John Wood

Founder and CEO, Room to Read


John Wood is the founder of Room to Read, an organization that believes World Change Starts with Educated Children.® Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Since 2000, Room to Read has impacted the lives of nearly nine million children by providing increased access to high-quality educational opportunities through its network of libraries and schools, local language children’s books and its girls’ education program.

At age 35, Wood left his position as Director of Business Development for Microsoft Greater China region to form Room to Read. The business acumen honed there, combined with his passion and an unparalleled track record at changing the world, makes Wood a unique and inspiring speaker with universal appeal.

Wood’s award-winning memoir, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children (Harper Collins, 2006), tells how he raised over $350 million from a “standing start” to develop one of the fastest-growing nonprofits in history. The book was described by Publishers’ Weekly in a starred review as “an infectiously inspiring read.” Translated into 20 languages, it is popular with entrepreneurs, philanthropists and educators alike, and was selected by as one of the Top Ten Business Narratives of 2006 and voted a Top Ten Nonfiction title of 2006 by Hudson Booksellers. The book was also featured during Wood’s appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the resulting “Oprah’s Book Drive” with Room to Read raised over $3 million from viewers.

Wood’s follow up book, Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy (Viking Penguin, 2013), tells the story of how the organization successfully tackled the next steps of scaling beyond his wildest dreams while maintaining integrity and raising money in a collapsing economy.

Wood has been named by Goldman Sachs as one of the world’s 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs, has been a three-time speaker at the Clinton Global Initiative and is a five-time winner of Fast Company Magazine’s Social Capitalist Award. He has been honored by Time Magazine’s “Asian Heroes” Award, selected as a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum and is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute. He was selected by Barron’s as one of the “25 Best Givers” in 2009 and 2010, ranking 11th and 9th on the list, respectively. In 2014, Wood won the World’s Children’s Honorary Award Laureate through the World’s Children’s Prize, the annual educational program for the rights of the child and democracy — often called the Children’s Nobel Prize. In recognition of his passion to open libraries for the most under-served populations, he was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “the Andrew Carnegie of the developing world.”

John Wood holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Colorado, and honorary doctorates from McGill University and the University of San Francisco. He also serves on the advisory board of the Clinton Global Initiative and is a frequent lecturer at Harvard Business School and at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Policy.


10 Lessons Learned On the Way to Helping Ten Million Children

It takes a bold leader to publicly declare his intention to reach 10 million children with the lifelong gift of education. Especially when he is a newly unemployed former Microsoft executive without an organization behind him, or a single day of fundraising experience.

But based on his belief that bold goals attract bold people, John Wood set out to build a global movement. His rallying cry was that no child should be told “You were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you will therefore not gain an education.” The initial deadline for his ambitious goal was 2020. But Room to Read has scaled beyond his wildest dreams, and in 2015 the organization will reach their 10 million student.

John is often asked what lessons on leadership he has learned while building a global team and movement. In celebration of this year’s milestone, John has looked back and written a new presentation. Audiences will be inspired and motivated as they learn lessons from John’s journey, including:

  • Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
  • Think Creatively
  • Optimize Cause-Related Marketing
  • Innovate
  • What Gets Measured, Gets Done
  • Don’t Forget (Or Disempower) the Women
  • Never Be Afraid to Ask for the Order
  • Make Cost Cutting Fun
  • Embrace Social Media and Use It as a Competitive Weapon

Wood’s stories, metrics and examples will inspire every audience to think creatively and to motivate their teams to take their business to the next level. This is not a charity speech. It is instead a distillation of the lessons learned from Room to Read’s growth that for-profit businesses can take and use right away. The priority is to inspire business audiences with lessons they can utilize to build, retain and motivate high performance global teams.

John’s speeches to business audiences usually result in thunderous standing ovations, with employees buzzing for days afterwards with inspiration and immediate plans to implement new ideas.

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.

PURPOSE: The New Competitive Advantage

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