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Food industry exec leads hunger-fighting nonprofit

A food industry exec once focused on selling food is the new leader of Heifer International, which gives away animals so families worldwide can feed themselves.
Pierre Ferrari on Thursday was named CEO of Heifer International.
Pierre Ferrari on Thursday was named CEO of Heifer International.Heifer International
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A food industry executive once focused solely on selling food is the new leader of a nonprofit organization that gives away animals worldwide so families can feed themselves.

Little Rock, Ark.-based Heifer International on Thursday introduced Pierre Ferrari as its chief executive officer.

He replaces Jo Luck, who stepped away from the CEO duty in January but remains president of the organization, which provides cows, goats, water buffalo and other livestock to thousands of people in more than 50 countries, including the United States. The charity focuses on helping the poor become self-sufficient and urges the people it helps to go on to train others.

Luck, who is writing a book on her 20-plus years with Heifer, plans to retire in 2011 and hand off the president's role to Ferrari.

Charles Stewart served as interim CEO.

“I am excited about, joyful and inspired by this incredible opportunity and just as much so by this amazing organization,” said Ferrari.  “Key for me is to honor the amazing legacy of Jo Luck and the thousands who have built Heifer to date.

“But I now come along at a time where the urgency to end poverty is even greater. Heifer has a totally relevant set of values and model for today. My task will be to serve our various communities to empower more people much more rapidly, with a sense of passionate urgency,” he said.

Ferrari is a former senior vice president of Coca Cola USA and is chairman of the board of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream. He plans to step down as chairman but stay on the board as he devotes time to Heifer.

Ferrari said in his introductory speech Thursday that he is not related to the automaker of the same name but drew a connection to racing and Coke.

"One thing I can claim, dare I mention my decades with Coca-Cola, is that I know about scale and speed. We will need a passionate urgency to succeed. For those of you who are car-racing fans, a quote by Mario Andretti captures this idea of passionate urgency. He said: 'If things seem under control, you’re just not going fast enough!' So in this increasingly chaotic world ... we will need to dream more, learn more, do more, become more."

Coca-Cola recently was cited by Melinda Gates in a TED video as a model from which nonprofits can take a cue. Gates, as co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said she travels around the world and sees lots of poverty and people living in homes with dirt floors, no running water and no electricity.

"I'm startled by all the things that they don't have," she said. "But I am surprised by the one thing that they do have: Coca Cola."

She termed its presence "ubiquitous" and goes on to recommend applying Coke's innovations in getting products to far-flung locations to helping the public good.

Ferrari on Thursday also cited innovation.  

“One of the questions that’s come up is to what degree should Heifer partner or collaborate or work with other organizations? I think we should approach our work with a great deal of humility that sources of ideas, innovation, progress are all around us. It’s simply stupid to cut ourselves off from ideas. ... It’s silly not to understand what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, reject what doesn’t make sense or fit our deeply held beliefs and values. That said we then absorb as quickly as possible what is working.”

Ferrari was born in 1950 in what was then the Belgian Congo (today the Democratic Republic of the Congo and from 1971 to 1997, Zaire). He has more than 40 years of business experience, but in 1995 began focusing his energy and business acumen on helping others.

"It took me decades but I have come to know that the only way to happiness and joy is to be of service to others," he said.

Ferrari left Coke in 1995 and joined CARE, where he worked as special assistant to the president.

He is a board member of the Small Enterprise Assistance Fund, which provides equity financing to small and medium enterprises in developing countries. Ferrari also sits on the advisory council for The Emory Ethics Center in Atlanta and on the board of an Atlanta nonprofit that raises funds for Maji Mazuri, a Kenyan organization that helps children overcome poverty.

Ferrari holds a master’s degree in Economics from The University of Cambridge and a MBA from Harvard Business School.

Heifer receives donations and keeps accounts for each type of animal or program it offers, such as "llama/alpaca," "tree seedlings," or "bees."

Money raised is used to purchase and transport food and income-producing animals to families as well as providing intensive training in animal husbandry, sustainable farming, community development and global education.

Generally animals are purchased as closely to a project as possible from Heifer partners where animal quality and health can be monitored. Animals are not sent from the U.S. overseas, but purchased in a country, or nearby if necessary, to save transportation costs and stress to the animals.

Heifer raised more than $101 million in its fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, according to its latest published annual report.

It did not release Ferrari's salary on Thursday but notes in its financial reports that management and general support took up 6.2 percent of its expenses.