John Wood


About John Wood - Inspirational Leadership Speaker and Founder of Room to Read®:

John Wood is the founder of Room to Read®, an organization that believes World Change Starts with Educated Children. From its humble origins as a cash strapped and unknown organization, Room to Read has now reached over 10 million children in developing countries with a focus on literacy and gender equality in education.

At age 35, John left an executive career track at Microsoft to follow his passion that “no child should ever again be told they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time and therefore will not get educated.” The business acumen honed in the fast paced world of technology, combined with his passion to change the world, makes John a unique and inspiring speaker with broad appeal.

John’s award-winning memoir, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World tells how he raised over $400 million from a “standing start” to develop one of the fastest growing nonprofits in history. The book was described by Publishers’ Weekly as “an infectiously inspiring read.” Translated into 23 languages, it is popular with entrepreneurs, philanthropists and educators. Amazon named it one of the Top Ten Business Narratives of 2006 and Hudson Booksellers voted it to their Top Ten Nonfiction list. John’s author interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show raised over $3 million from viewers.

John’s latest book is entitled Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy. Kirkus Reviews called it “an absorbing personal account of a remarkable achievement”. It was endorsed by Bill Clinton, Melinda Gates and Sheryl Sandberg.

John is a five time winner of Fast Company Magazine’s Social Capitalist Award and is one of Goldman Sachs’ 25 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs. He was named an Asian Hero by Time Magazine, selected as in the inaugural class of Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum and is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute. Bill and Melinda Gates presented him with the first ever Microsoft Alumnus of the Year medal. Barron’s twice named John to their list of the 25 Best Givers. In 2014, John was awarded by Queen Silvia of Sweden with the World’s Children’s Prize. The WCP is often called the Children’s Nobel Prize, and in the same year Malala Yousafzai was a fellow honoree. He has also won the Asia Society’s “Service to Society” award and was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Tribeca Film Festival.

Room to Read has been voted by the Young Presidents Association as their Social Enterprise of the Year, was awarded the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy, and was chosen as the inaugural winner of the Library of Congress David Rubenstein International Literacy Prize.

John holds a MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, a bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in finance from the University of Colorado, and honorary doctorates from McGill University, Westminster College, Wofford College and the University of San Francisco. At the invitation of former President Bill Clinton, he served three years on the Advisory Board of the Clinton Global Initiative. John is a frequent lecturer at Harvard Business School, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Policy. He is a former Board member of the College Advising Corps, Net Impact and the One Acre Fund, and serves on the Advisory Boards of Global Citizen Year, Possible Health, and the “Getting to Carnegie” competition.

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What John Wood Talks About:

Purpose: The New Competitive Advantage
John Wood didn’t set out to change the world, he set out to take a vacation. But a trip to Nepal turned into a book drive, which turned into Room to Read, one of the fastest growing and most acclaimed charities of the past decade. John has always said that the key to his charity’s success is that he treated it like a business, and has spoken frequently about what the non-profit world can learn from the corporate world. 

But now, on the eve of Room to Read reaching its 10 millionth young student, John has written a new presentation, this time illuminating what businesses can learn from the social sector.

In a word: PURPOSE.

John argues that corporate social responsibility is more than just a buzzword or a publicity stunt, but instead represents the new competitive advantage; a way to re-engage both customers and employees, and improve the bottom line. John will recall his own experiences using the‘power of purpose’ to on board resistant communities, motivate volunteers, and enlist high-profile investors, while also pointing to the growing number of corporations – like IBM, General Electric and Coca Cola – that have begun building a ‘higher calling’ into their products and services.

This powerful new presentation shows business audiences big and small, new and experienced, that “cause” is no longer the enemy of commercialism, but the key to it. Audiences will be inspired to re-think old assumptions, to dream big, and to take immediate and concrete steps to be aligned with the business world’s newest – but often overlooked – competitive advantage: Purpose.

Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone

In 23 years split between Microsoft’s executive suites and the crammed school rooms of the developing world, John has come to understand the perils of the comfort zone and the empowerment that comes with leaving it behind. We get soft. We get complacent. And that’s the death knell for soon-to-be-great organizations. John speaks from experience – in swapping the boardroom for the schoolroom, he stepped further out of his bubble than he’d ever thought possible.

Today, after helping educate nearly 8 million children in 10 developing countries, John is living proof that opportunity awaits those with the audacity to venture beyond familiar boundaries. Companies, like people, can be drawn to the habitual and the routine. But in his talks to audiences around the world, John dares his listeners to look beyond business as usual, and argues that while good organizations find strong solutions to old problems, the great ones find exciting new problems to solve as well. He draws on his experiences to fi re up the crowd with examples of what’s possible when “safe thinking” is left behind.

Re-imagining Leadership

Today’s world faces an unprecedented crisis of leadership. From our financial institutions to our governments, faith in our leaders is at or near an all-time low. At the same time a war for talent rages, with the most visionary and inspiring leaders building the most effective teams. In this ever-changing environment, it isn’t enough for us to simply rethink leadership, we must re-imagine it altogether.

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 uncompromising transparency. The result is one of the fastest-growing non-profits in history, with an army of more than 10|000 volunteers and supporters who share Room to Read’s private-sector pragmatism and John’s burning drive to change the world.

Now John 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.

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 life long 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 are 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 millionth 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; and|
  • Embrace social media and use it as a competitive weapon.

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 Recent Publications

John was a big hit at our Software conference, where he received a standing ovation (the only one in the history of the conference) from over 1|000 CEO's, VP's, and venture capitalists.

Sand Hill Group

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