Anthony D. Parks has been receiving a lot of attention lately. Sure, he's a dotcom multimillionaire-but this Internet success story never let greed get in the way of his lifelong mission to give back.
In November 1999, Parks hit the jackpot after taking his Foster City, California-based grocery company, Webvan, public-and is now in the process of giving away 30 percent of his good fortune in the form of stock, primarily to those who had helped him and the needy he met along the way. Having grown up in a single-parent home in a low-income area of east Oakland, California, Parks worked extraordinarily hard from age 11, doing everything from sweeping floors to owning a hair salon at 21 (which left him $55,000 in debt). In 1993, Starbucks hired him to open 20 outlets, and he discovered stock options. Then, in 1996, he became one of the founding members of Webvan. Parks left last year to pursue other ventures, including restaurant consulting. He spoke with us recently about his philosophy of philanthropy in a time of unprecedented wealth:
Who have been your role models in helping others?
Martin Luther King has been my greatest influence. He spoke and wrote about the importance of giving back and the biblical idea of even the greatest becoming servants. My mother's work ethic was my model-my brother and I often didn't see her 'til 11 p.m. She taught us the right values.
What would you say to those who don't feel they've achieved enough success to start being generous?
It isn't the nature or amount of the gift that's important, but the act of generosity. You don't have to give money; you can make time to help others no matter how busy you are. For example, I started a group called R.E.A.L. (Real Examples of Actual Life) Role Models (www.bereal.org) and I bring successful people to talk to kids about setting realistic goals. You should get started experiencing the benefits of philanthropy by finding something that touches you.
What's been the reaction to the attention you've received?
It's been embarrassing sometimes, but I appreciate the need for public role models. After I appeared in The Wall Street Journal, I received hundreds of responses, many from other entrepreneurs and executives in Silicon Valley who said they were inspired by the story. [But] you can't do this for the attention. [It's] much more satisfying to consider the joy you gave without having your ego stroked.
Scott S. Smith writes about business issues for a variety of Web sites, including Office.com.