People who throw themselves out of airplanes aren’t like everyone else. As an Army paratrooper in Afghanistan, Nick Black ’13 (MBA) routinely jumped into situations without knowing what he’d find when he landed. He continued to do that metaphorically upon entering business school and after he launched a series of entrepreneurial nonprofits.
His challenge for the past two years has been as CEO of GoodUnited, a venture-backed start-up that uses automated email personalization technology to give every donor a meaningful experience with the nonprofits they support. A natural entrepreneur, Nick could have been quite successful in a for-profit venture that would create wealth and jobs, but he has chosen to give back in a different way.
In 2010, even before he had completed his five-year commitment as a company/battalion fire support officer, Ranger-qualified and with the rank of captain, Nick and two other veterans, including a buddy with whom he’d gone through ROTC at Johns Hopkins University, co-founded Stop Soldier Suicide to ensure that military men and women who struggled after leaving the service got the help they needed. The organization continues to thrive, and he remains vice chair of its board.
Next, through Victory Social Capital, which he started with two Kenan-Flagler classmates, Nick saw the potential to scale a nonprofit model through an innovative public-private partnership investment model. He led a team of four to restructure a 500-person therapeutic community. That effort led to an additional $8 million in public investment.
Then Nick moved on to start InKind, a nonprofit that enabled donors to pay for specific items that a home-improvement store would deliver to a nonprofit. That good idea harbored customer-service issues that InKind couldn’t control. As a testament to his leadership, Nick motivated the InKind team to morph the business model into what is now GoodUnited, rather than ruing the tremendous effort that had been put into getting InKind off the ground.
Nothing builds leadership like being responsible for the lives of hundreds of soldiers in high-risk situations. Nick came through and emerged from the Army with many medals for his valor and efficacy, not the least of which was firing 100 tons of ordnance in combat without a single civilian casualty.
Kenan-Flagler recognized Nick’s extraordinary leadership early on. He was named a Kenan Institute Leadership Fellow, received the Rollie Tillman Leadership Award, was appointed to the school’s leadership advisory board and served as a leadership coach coordinator. He was one of 62 Presidential Leadership Scholars in the country in 2016. He serves on the boards of Ally Research and Life Skills Foundation.
Leadership is something of a family value for Nick. Both of his parents made their careers in the intelligence community, and Nick grew up in Africa, Europe and Central Asia as the family moved to follow his parents’ service in the U.S. government. He took advantage of travel opportunities to visit some 40 countries before returning to the U.S. to complete high school in Virginia. He enrolled at Johns Hopkins, where he played football and was president of Alpha Delta Phi.
Nick says he has never applied the word “career” to his life. He is really good at chasing down problems and understands that not every solution involves a frontal assault. He learns best by running into walls and finding ways over or around them and emerging more capable when the next wall looms.
That mindset fit in well at Kenan-Flagler, where he tapped into a network of professors and entrepreneurs who have mentored him on his journey, and he was able to learn by doing.
Smart, thoughtful, flexible, Nick takes nothing for granted. He connects easily with people and encourages those he works with to take ownership of their decisions. He makes sure they have no culture of “whoever works longest and hardest wins,” a coworker said.
He balances building his business with time spent with his wife, Amanda, daughter and an infant son, jumping into family life, as he does everything, without knowing what awaits.