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Mindful : October 2016
the kitchen, when, all of a sudden, it struck me that I was really free,” he recalls. “Nobody knew where I was. Nobody was dependent on me. I could take that ferry or that donkey cart and go wherever I wanted. It was the first time in my life when I felt this total sense of freedom.” The trip that followed helped Fischer “see the world in a global context. Everywhere I went you could see that people were the same, just trying to get through life and take care of their families.” When he returned, his family launched SerVend, selling ice-and-beverage dispensers worldwide, and he took over as president. After the company nearly went bankrupt a few times, Fischer started using Japanese management tech- niques, creating a high-performance organiza- tion based on giving his 300 employees a greater sense of ownership and a platform to realize their potential. Productivity tripled, profits soared, and average compensation rose more than 50%. More importantly, Fischer detected a “spark” in employees’ eyes as they got more engaged. At one point, Fischer asked his staffers to tell him how taking part in the company’s growth had affected them personally. One production worker wrote that once she got fully involved in the system, her view of herself radically changed. Recalls Fischer: “She said, ‘ You have to understand: I grew up in a family where I was abused. If I came home from school with good grades, my father would beat me because he said he didn’t want me to be better than him. But now I have wings and I can fly. My two girls are going to college and I never thought that was possible for someone like me before.’” Fischer read that and started to weep. Trying to instill the same kind of spirit into the metro area’s nearly 760,000 residents wasn’t going be easy. To be a successful mayor, Fischer says, “you have to have the head of a CEO and the heart of a social worker.” In business, you can pick your own customers, he adds, but when you’re a public official, you have to work with “the whole bell curve of humanity” and everybody is at a different point in the journey. “ You’re not going to flip a switch and have people automatically come along,” he says. “ You have to expose them to situations where they have some inner discovery. I battle every day with people not seeing each other as brothers and sisters. The best way to change that is to have them do some- thing with each other. The reality in America is that most of us run in our own silos. But the true richness of life exists in the mosaic.” One of Fischer’s first moves was to create a citywide day of service to give residents a chance to experience compassion firsthand. The event quickly grew into a weeklong Give-a - Day program, directed by compassion co-host Brenda Frank, and inspired the US Conference of Mayors to name Louisville the most livable large city in America in 2012. This year about 175,000 residents participated in the week’s Left: Mayor Fischer joins volunteers at the Build-A-Bed program. Right: The Compassion Walk is the highlight of Louisville’s annual Week of Service. 66 mindful October 2016