Operation_hope_ribbon_cutting_cer_2Every now and then you come across a truly extraordinary human being; someone who, well, is who they say they are. Plain and simple. I have found just such a person, in one Arlen Gelbard.

Pictured here with me, cutting the ribbon to our new Harlem HOPE Center, which Operation HOPE opened on October 3rd, 2007, in Harlem, New York, supported by lead partner E TRADE FINANCIAL, JP Morgan Chase and others. Arlen Gelbard is president of E TRADE Bank, and is the chief administrative officer for E TRADE FINANCIAL. In short, he is a little busy — but never too busy to come out and join me in the community, from Anacostia, just outside of Washington, D.C., to Harlem, just outside of New York, Arlen is there.

Ribbon_cutting_03Arlen, now a member of our national board of directors, and I first met at a luncheon meeting for bankers where I was the keynote speaker, somewhere in one of the Southern states of our country.  He gave me his card as he and I were both running for an elevator. The card said "president," and he said "call me." I had heard that before, but ever the optimist I called on Arlen in any regard, and Arlen Gelbard answered his own phone. Back then E TRADE Bank alone was almost $20 billion in assets, so we are not talking about a man with nothing to do with his day or time.

Arlen invited in to see him, and then he invited me to share my vision with him; what could I do with some key support? And so, after a great deal of thought,  I drafted something up and sent it over to Arlen. I waited for him to tell me about the committee process, and how there would be this difficulty, and that, but mostly I waited for his sticker shock. I asked him for $2.5 million, cash, over 5 years to build our first HOPE Center on the east coast, and the largest in our system, and to launch our financial literacy movement for youth, Banking on Our Future, on the ground in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland. Within a week Arlen and I were on the phone. It was the quickest, most no-nonsense conversation, and agreement, I can recall. I promised, from that day forward, to never disappoint one Arlen Gelbard, nor any of the others who would become friends over time within the extended E TRADE FINANCIAL family, starting with the chairman and CEO, Mitch Caplan (who Arlen also introduced me to), on down to the countless E TRADE volunteers who fill the ranks of our HOPE Corps, teaching children financial literacy.

Last week E TRADE, again led by Arlen, announced a sweeping 10 year, $10 million commitment to our work, and simultaneously challenging 1,000 of America’s largest and most prominent companies to follow suit.  What else needs to be said.

Arlen Gelbard embodies the John Hope Bryant quote, "you don’t do business with companies, you do business with people." Thank you Arlen Gelbard, and by extension, the entire E TRADE FINANCIAL family — you are good people.

Honored to know you. Honored to call you my friend.


John Hope Bryant

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