Hyundai's Zafar Brooks; Leading the Fight Against Childhood Cancer

Zafar Brooks of Hyundai Motor America shares how Corporate Social Responsibility helps to build Business Value.

by Stacy Straczynski

Zafar Brooks has managed Hyundai Motor America's corporate-social-responsibility initiatives for the last six years. He has successfully helped transform the Korean car manufacturer's philanthropic outreach into a multimillion-dollar initiative that drives brand advocacy and, most importantly, makes a difference. The Director of Governmental Affairs, Corporate Social Responsibility and Diversity Inclusion emphasizes that this success has been a team effort and that he has learned from others.

"There are many men and women who have been in this work a long time who have great lessons to teach," Brooks says. Compared to them, "I'm a novice," he says.

Personal Connection

When he started at Hyundai in 2006, after stints at Volkswagen and Ford Motor Company, Brooks says he did not have a direct connection to corporate social responsibility. Brooks had his aha moment when he went on a tour of one of the children's hospitals for which Hyundai provides cancer-research funding.

"I've done a lot of great things, from leading marketing departments and managing millions of dollars for divisions, but nothing that had this level of importance," says Brooks. "These were life-and-death issues, people for whom the alternative could not be any worse. That evoked and inspired a level of passion in me I had not had over a single issue before."

The experience of meeting the children diagnosed with cancer, and their families, recalled for Brooks a time when he felt equally powerless and needed to rely on the expertise of doctors. Brooks' son, who was only 14 at the time, contracted a terrible sinus infection that quickly became a concern, and it resulted in two emergency surgeries within days.

"They said our best-case scenario was he'd lose his eye, but said the infection could spread to his brain," said Brooks. "I was helpless. The only person I could rely on, in addition to my own faith, was this doctor." Fortunately, the surgeries were successful, and his son is now healthy and has vision in both eyes.

"We all have experiences that shape us in life. My experience with my son—as a worried parent—shaped me so I could have empathy for these families and understand what they are praying and hoping for," Brooks says.

Corporate Social Responsibility: Building Business Value

Brooks drives Hyundai's corporate social responsibility in these priority areas: educational success; helping children, which includes funding cancer research, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MAAD) and outreach to children with autism; environmental responsibility; and being a good community partner via blood drives, donations to local causes like Hurricane Sandy relief, and celebrating arts and culture.

The largest effort by far, according to Brooks, is finding a cure for childhood cancer via Hyundai Hope on Wheels. Brooks, who runs the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit foundation, holds one of two corporate seats on the eight-member board.

"It's a joint effort—we give plus we match contributions from dealers. By the end of 2013, Hyundai will have awarded $72 million in research grants since 1998," says Brooks.

Brooks feels that Hyundai customers understand that the company is trying to do social good, to be a part of the solution. "That's what differentiates our brand from other brands—we're committed to solving society's problems."

He adds, "Corporate social responsibility speaks to the heart of the human experience—and that means doing this work together."

Brooks' foray into corporate social responsibility began in 2007, following Hyundai Motor America's reorganization under President and CEO John Krafcik. Brooks was offered a new opportunity to manage the company's government leads, which he accepted, and additionally he volunteered to manage Hyundai's philanthropic initiatives. These included the Hyundai Hope on Wheels pediatric-cancer program.

"It was a very happy accident where government relations and diversity had been reorganized under my responsibility," says Brooks. "After a while, I started doing all corporate responsibility work and it just grew from there very organically."

BALTIMORE UPDATE: CVS Health to Rebuild, Invest

CVS Health will rebuild the two pharmacies devastated by fire during the Baltimore protests – and donate $100,000 to rebuilding the city.

By Barbara Frankel

Read More Show Less

Monsanto Donates $1 Million to Help Ferguson

Four nonprofits will be able to offer assistance to area residents and businesses with St. Louis–based Monsanto's support.

As Ferguson tries to heal the racial fractures that divided the community in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting, one DiversityInc Top 50 company is doing its part to help the area's residents.

Read More Show Less

Ask the White Guy: How to Implement Diversity in a Small Group

Only when values are in place can you implement a proper diversity-and-inclusion program.

Photo by Shutterstock

Read More Show Less

Ask the White Guy: Why Do People Get Tired of Diversity?

Are you concerned about "diversity fatigue"? Connect the dots between reputation and talent development, philanthropy and supplier diversity.

You should read David Brooks' recent column "The Great Migration" on the New York Times website. He lays out why and how more accomplished people are moving to places where there are other accomplished people. He describes the ramifications of "positive ecologies" and "negative ecologies." I believe this is mirrored in corporate "ecologies," that a company with a negative ecology puts itself in a death spiral—which cannot be reversed without a concerted and overt emphasis on strategic diversity management, reputation and ethics.

Read More Show Less

Georgette Dixon: How Wells Fargo Helps Communities Grow

This self-described former 'performing artist' has embraced the challenge of helping Wells Fargo educate and connect with underrepresented groups in its communities.

Georgette "Gigi" Dixon has been an active community leader, one who has tied community support to business goals—first at Wachovia and now at Wells Fargo, where she is senior vice president and director of national partnerships, Government and Community Relations.

Read More Show Less

Is This the End of Rush Limbaugh? Advertisers Flee Show

Rush Limbaugh learns the hard way after his "slut" comment that in today's social-media world, negative reactions are swift.

Photo by Getty Images

Read More Show Less

Why Julie Goodridge Might Be the Scariest Person in Investment Banking

With an all-woman socially responsible investment firm, the head of NorthStar Asset Management is a force to be reckoned with in corporate America. Luke Visconti gets her to open up about what she looks for when assessing companies and who is under her microscope.

Don't mistake her modest demeanor for softness; Julie Goodridge is a force to be reckoned with in the investment world. As the president and founder of Boston-based NorthStar Asset Management, an all-woman, socially responsible investment firm, Goodridge isn't afraid to stay on top of what's happening with the companies in her clients' portfolios.

Read More Show Less