The commitment to being world class is a challenge you may have for yourself. The vision to be world class may be a concept we hear about in our profession. The objective and goal of being world class can be inspiring when we hear it or read about it. 

David Harrison (right) traveled to Africa to meet Kip Keino, once the fastest man in the world.

The commitment to being world class is a challenge you may have for yourself. The vision to be world class may be a concept we hear about in our profession. The objective and goal of being world class can be inspiring when we hear it or read about it. We all respect the drive of what we believe are world-class companies. Don’t we all want to achieve world-class results? Wouldn’t it be a privilege to be part of a world-class organization or team?

But, with all of the talk about world class - what is it? How will you know when you’ve achieved it? What do you have to do to obtain it? Why is it so desirable and at the same time so indescribable?

Throughout my career, I have wondered, studied, and strived to be part of and contribute to world-class teams. But each time somebody asked me to define world class, the explanation could be elusive. You just felt it. Recognized it. Appreciated it. I shared that like the person you fall in love with, you’ll know it when you witness it.

In December, I was given incredible opportunity to travel to Kenya for several days. The person who provided me this enormous privilege is himself an individual who has achieved world-class results in his life. Many of us in this industry are aware that Barry Segal is the brilliant entrepreneur that built Bradco Supply into one of the most successful distribution companies in North America that serviced roofing and home remodeling contractors. But most of us are unaware that Barry Segal is also a world-class humanitarian.

Keino talks with a childhood friend. The two ran to school together with a dozen other children to avoid being attacked by leopards.

Barry Segal and his family have established two foundations. One is the Segal Family Foundation. The Segal Family Foundation is an angel organization achieving efficient investments and effective charitable solutions that improve life in Sub-Saharan Africa. The second foundation is Focus Autism, Inc. This organization focuses on improving services and encouraging research to slow the growth of Autism. Autism afflicts around one in every 100 children in the United States. Both foundations utilize a pragmatic and creative business approach that provides direct investments for specific projects. Neither foundation accepts donations from outside the Segal family.

The purpose of my trip to Kenya was to meet a man named Kip Keino. The objective of my visit was to help develop marketing strategies and implement tactics directly for and with the Keino Foundation that will eventually help them become more self-sustaining, including the capability to directly raise funds for their expanding initiatives with orphans and schools. The Segal Family Foundation is currently active in supporting orphanages and constructing schools that Keino is involved with. If you’re over the age of 50, you are more likely to have heard of Kip Keino. If you’re under age 50, you may not know his name but are likely familiar with achievements that he’s inspired.

Keino was a world-class athlete, competing as a runner in the late 1960s through the early 1970s. In 1965, he broke world records in both the 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter events. He was the first African to break the 4-minute mile. He won a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics in the 1,500-meter run despite a gallbladder infection. In 1972, he set an Olympic record in the steeplechase. In 1987, he was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated, which recognizes “Athletes Who Care.” He was the first African to become known around the world for his athletic accomplishments and inspired generations of Kenyans and literally hundreds of Kenyan athletes who have established world-class accomplishments in sprints through marathons.

Honestly, when I went to meet Keino in Africa, I expected to find a stereotypical athlete using his celebrity name to generate donations for worthy causes that he believed in. What I found was a world-class individual that we can all learn from. As a result of observing him, I gained more insight into the concept of world class in all aspects of life.

Simply, Kip Keino is world-class in three areas: as an athlete, as a businessperson and as a humanitarian. Clearly it is this common bond of a balanced life involving athletics, business and humanitarian efforts that has led to an extraordinary relationship between the Keino and Segal families. The story behind Keino’s world-class accomplishments provides some clarity and enriched perspective about the very concept of being world class.

Keino visits the site where he grew up tending the family’s cows.

Keino's Story

Picture a child growing up in a family that defines poverty well beyond anything that you might ever imagine in the slums of the United States. Through most of his younger years, he made his own clothes from animal skins. He was responsible for feeding and watering the family cows beginning as a small child, which meant hiding and sleeping with the animals each night to help prevent their theft. At age 12, he was able to convince his father to let him attend school. That required running 8 miles with 12 friends every Monday morning with enough food and milk on their backs for the week and running back every Friday night in order to help with family responsibilities and to try to earn a few cents to help pay for school. Why run the whole way and with 12 friends? Because as a pack, they were much less likely to be attacked by leopards. However, on two occasions, Keino had to get a burlap bag around the head of a leopard and use a small knife to eliminate the threat.

Keino established himself in school as a superior athlete in multiple sports, and following graduation became part of the Kenyan police. It was in this capacity that Keino found three orphaned children literally eating dirt and decided that day to help others throughout his life. He not only adopted those children, but for the past 20 years he has often supported more than 90 orphans living in his own home at any given time. He also built an elementary school for 300 children and a new high school that will grow from 150 to 300 students. These schools are recognized as two of the best schools in the entire country. Keino demands nothing but the best from himself and the people and causes he’s involved with.

Keino is also an extraordinary businessperson. Beginning with just $40,000 in 1975, he has invested well, including acquiring thousands of acres of farmland where he grows various crops and has hundreds of farm animals. He can tell you exactly how many of each animal is on each property where he has investments. He has established various farm cooperatives which have improved the economy, including milk, corn and wheat processing and distribution. He knows the numbers of each and is constantly looking to improve their results.

And even with all of these activities, he finds the time to serve as Chairman of the Kenyan Olympic Committee and as a member of the International Olympic Leadership Committee.

Does it make you exhausted just thinking about all that this man accomplishes in a day? I witnessed it - and this 70-plus-year-old man is truly inspiring. And, frankly, I’ve just scratched the surface of things I heard about and witnessed about Keino’s daily activities.

Barry Segal and Kip Keino look over the athletic fields at Kip Keino High School in Eldoret, Kenya.

Thoughts on World Class

So what can we learn about world class from Kip Keino? Here are some thoughts that Keino shared:

• Life. Anybody who meets Keino will hear this mantra: “We enter the world with nothing and we’ll all leave the world with nothing. An accomplished life is finding a balance in health, family and using our God-given skills to make the world a better place.”

• Outlook. World class has nothing to do with what we don’t have. Keino believes that those who appreciate and fully utilize what they do have, regardless of how little, are those that are truly world class.

• Attitude. World class has nothing to do with the size of your organization or the amount of capabilities you possess; it’s about your attitude. Keino specifically believes that just taking the situation that you face and making the best with that is in itself world class. When you are sincerely doing your very best, you are accomplishing world-class results.

• Responsibility. World Class has nothing to do with what you acquire but has everything to do with what you contribute. The reality is that people are gifted with different God-given skills. Keino believes that those of us fortunate to be gifted in whatever way have a responsibility to use those capabilities in a disciplined fashion and be stewards to the community, making the world a better place because we were there.

• Teamwork. World class is not generally an individual accomplishment. Keino believes that group efforts in thought and actions always create superior results.

• Talent. World class has nothing to do with just using a variety of capabilities. Keino believes that the key to world-class performance is identifying the individual and team talents that are truly extraordinary, then using discipline and focus to develop and use those talents to their fullest.

• Results. World-class success is not primarily accomplished based on our capabilities; world class is 75 percent attitude. Ask Keino why he has always been willing to share his secrets with his competitors, whether its athletics or business, and he responds with a simple explanation: by sharing, the world is better off. In his specific competition, he believes (and knows) he will still likely win because his advice only affects their capability, not their underlying attitude, where he always excels.

• Obstacles. World class is not about breaking down every barrier. Keino believes that results are best achieved by not forcing things, but either going around issues or just returning at a later time when achievements are more easily achieved. He believes in the importance of leverage. Use your best capabilities where they are more likely to achieve results rather than wasting efforts in activities that have significant barriers.

• People. World-class leadership is not about focusing on fixing people. Keino believes that great results come from focusing on what people are best at, inspiring them, encouraging them and supporting them and not trying to fix their weaknesses.

• Setbacks. World-class accomplishments always have a graveyard of disappointments. Keino believes that through challenges we become better, but only if we learn from and leave behind frustrations and just move forward, every day and with everything.

So in summary, since my return from Africa, how would I now share a synopsis of world class? I think it’s simpler than I previously thought. Every one of us contributes to world-class results when we do the right things, in the right ways, for the right purpose based on our unique abilities to contribute and make the world a better place because we were there.

For more information about the Kip Keino Foundation and High School and/or how you might be able to help support these troubled children, please go to: