Tom Gayner is one of the best financial minds in Richmond and across the country, serving as Co-Chief Executive Officer of Richmond-based Markel Corporation. Tom moved to the River City in 1983 with the goal of staying as close as possible to his beloved alma matter, The University of Virginia. This year, Tom begins a two-year term as chairman of TCF's Board of Governors. We recently sat down with him to see what's on his mind. We were easily won over by Tom's astute observations of the world, his witty sense of humor and his seemingly endless supply of quotes, metaphors and anecdotes to illustrate a point.
What is your favorite part of living in Richmond?
Richmond has 75% of the advantages a big city has to offer, with only 25% of the hassle. Perhaps, Richmond’s greatest feature is also its worst – it’s so nice. On one hand, our city is a great place to raise a family, build a career, make friends and enjoy food, culture, and the outdoors. On the other, we may experience a lack of creative tension because life is easy here.
What is your favorite book?
It’s hard to choose just one. If I could only read one author for the rest of my life, it would be Mark Twain. His books are funny and his commentary on human nature is timeless. Twain was both broke and rich multiple times throughout his lifetime, which I find highly entertaining and illustrative.
How do you want to make a difference?
I believe in the power of elementary education to change a child’s life before negative patterns and behaviors get baked in. Life traumas can strongly impact our path in life, so providing support during a child’s early years can positively impact their future.
I also stand by the Foundation’s four areas of focus - cultural vibrancy, economic development, educational success and health and wellness. They are interrelated. The Community Foundation is about making Richmond a better place to live. Incrementally, one project at a time, we are working to improve the quality of life in our region.
Why is giving back important?
Giving back is a fundamental aspect of what it means to be a human being. Not only that, but giving is fun! There are 7 billion people in the world and the notion of giving back, sharing what you have, leads to a healthier, fulfilled and successful life.
What stands out to you about The Community Foundation?
I like the idea of sustainability, and how the power of endowment to address the community’s most pressing needs is the core of what the Foundation does. Fifty to a 100 years from now, our community will still have problems, but The Community Foundation will have a talented group of individuals to address the issues at that time. Both immediate and long-term actions are needed to solve deep rooted challenges.
What are the top reasons individuals or businesses should consider partnering with TCF?
I talk a lot about directional correctness. It’s a matter of art and tone. It defies precision. While we cannot predict the future, we at least need to be moving in the right general direction…or trying to.
The Foundation’s team is working to make things happen in the community and they provide expertise to help individuals become more directionally correct. They help add structure to one’s own thinking. The notion of perpetuity also resonates with me, and the continuous nature of giving throughout a lifetime and beyond.
What do you consider to be the greatest threats to local philanthropy?
As the competitive landscape changes, TCF must be able to adapt. We need to remain cost effective. We must be good at what we do and always add value, and we must maintain our focus on the Greater Richmond region.
How would you describe TCF’s long-term investment strategy?
A long-term strategy is key. Our goal is to take advantage of the compounding effect, in which our investments return additional resources for the community year after year and generation after generation. It is important that, as a Board, we are making rational, long-term decisions that will continue to grow our portfolio value.
What does TCF need to do to remain a dynamic force for good?
The Foundation should avoid getting too top heavy. We need to stay lean and stay hungry. As long as we are quick to adapt, we will be ready for new conditions and circumstances as they present themselves. The rotation of board members, as an example, supports this kind of flexibility as new members bring fresh ideas.