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7 Questions with Benjamin H Treuhaft

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Jonno White

7 Questions with Benjamin H Treuhaft

Name: Benjamin H Treuhaft

Current title: President & CEO

Current organisation: Helpful Engineering (Helpful)

I lead Helpful Engineering (Helpful), a new distributed nonprofit supporting a community producing open innovation. Our work is accessible, available, and accessible; it is efficient and interoperable and leads to the development of capacity and resiliency.

Helpful PPE designs have seen more than 50 million units produced since our establishment in March of 2020, and countless more units have been donated globally, realizing impact far beyond the less than $7,000 we spent on the design.

Prior to Helpful, I provided solutions to global advertisers, developing products from digital capture devices to software systems and workflow design and implementation.

7 Questions with Benjamin H Treuhaft


1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

Helpfully scaled to over 13,000 contributors in just three weeks. Our principal challenge was communication, and how to craft messaging to this rapidly growing corps of volunteers to make it understood what we needed to do, why we were doing it, and how we needed to go about it in such a way that we could rapidly achieve buy-in from contributors. Our workforce is entirely voluntary - they want to do what they are doing and are not bound by a paycheck - so they have to agree that the course I've identified is the optimal use of their time and effort.

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

When Helpful spontaneously formed at the beginning of the pandemic, it was an amazing thing - many thousands of highly skilled individuals across diverse fields of science and engineering instantaneously networked together to combat the pandemic. The talent was boundless when it came to designing and making effective solutions. What was in short supply were individuals who understood operations and leadership.

This was something I had some experience with, and so the founding CEO and Board asked me to assume the challenge of leading the organization.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

My workday starts at 8 am, and I end my office hours pretty promptly at 6 pm. Because we have an international presence from North America to Australia, I do participate on calls at odd hours, but largely try to keep boundaries intact. I try to spend 30% of my time working within the org - having 1:1s or checking in with project teams to see how things are going. I spend 40% of my time doing outreach, which is a combination of research and partner/funding generation. The remaining time I spend developing and communicating logic solutions, and doing additional research both for my own edification as well as to identify new areas of interest for the org.

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Lead by example, not directive.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

To be honest, I rarely read books on business leadership.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

1. Establish a common framework for interaction
2. Observe everyone's most effective qualities
3. Use all those qualities in the context of the team.
4. Support that team in doing the same thing with the teams they support and manage.

People catch on quickly, by and large.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?

In the early days of Helpful, I went looking for a Quality Assurance Process Engineer to assist with ventilator projects we had underway.

I ended up on a call with the gentleman who was responsible for making sure the Voyager Probe had been assembled correctly.

It took this engineer (who was about 70, with wild white hair and beard, and surrounded by 7 white poodles running around his garden cottage in England) about 15 minutes to explain to me the process for how they put the thing together. It was so dead simple I was dumbstruck: they had distilled their assembly process into a checklist of instructions which were easier to follow than what you get from IKEA.

Not only was it incredible to meet a part of that historic effort, but in mere minutes he taught me more about engineering and communication than just about any other interaction. Plus, he was such a happy guy, with all those poodles running around!