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Opus Corporation Founder Empowers His Brood of Seven

Never underestimate the power of a parent, especially when it comes to inspiring charitable deeds. Gerald Rauenhorst, the 77-year-old founding chairman of the $1.1 billion, family-owned Opus Group, a Minnesota-based design-build developer that has delivered more than 2,100 projects nationwide, learned his early lessons of philanthropy from his father, Henry Theodore Rauenhorst, a tenant farmer. In 1929, my father had no real money and yet he pledged $2,000 toward the construction of his parish's new church, Rauenhorst relates. I have never forgotten that story, knowing what a sacrifice that had to have been for him. Who knows how long it took him to make good on that pledge, though I have no doubt that he did.

Such dedication to charitable causes stuck with the younger Rauenhorst. In 1953, with only $354, he founded a construction firm out of his three-bedroom bungalow. When the company became, as he puts it, viable, he established a company policy to contribute 10 percent of pretax profits to community and religious organizations. I'd sooner give it to good causes than to the government, he laughs. Between 1 percent and 2 percent of the company's profits are distributed to local causes through the company's foundation; the remaining 8 percent is divided among three other foundations.

Dedication to charitable causes has long since become an institutionalized value and is now carried out in dozens of ways, not only through corporate activities in the 26 Opus offices nationwide, but also through the work of four foundations, each with its own focus and objectives. About four years ago, according to Rauenhorst, he divided up his brood of seven children and their respective spouses into groups and assigned each of them to a foundation. Then he told them to elect their own chairs and develop their own criteria for giving away the money. The way you get something done is to empower people, he says. There are four foundations I have nothing to do with anymore.

The Opus Foundation has existed almost since the inception of the company to support community organizations. In 1970 the company created its 1/40 policy, whereby every executive donates one out of every 40 hours of work to a charitable cause. This policy gave rise to Progress Valley, an Opus-sponsored, nonprofit organization that provides comprehensive residential services to chemically dependent adults after they complete primary treatment.

About 20 years ago, Rauenhorst started the Sieban Foundation (Sieban is German for seven), which initially was run by his children. They had to get together on their common causes, Rauenhorst explains. They fought a little, but they also learned by doing. A third foundation, called A Better Way, in which his youngest daughter is heavily involved, is devoted to serving children victimized by the AIDS pandemic in Africa. The newest foundation, the Opus Prize Foundation, grants an annual $1 million faith-based humanitarian award to an individual or organization, of any religion, anywhere in the world.

Modeled after the Templeton Prize, the award was conceived by Rauenhorst and designed to recognize those who are motivated by their faith and who are both innovative and resourceful in combating poverty, illiteracy, disease, starvation, abuse and other social dysfunction. The first prize was recently awarded to Monsignor Richard Albert, a New York born clergyman who has spent nearly three decades helping the poor in Jamaica's shantytowns. Two of Rauenhorst's children serve on the board of the Opus Prize Foundation. The chair is the middle child of seven, his proud father relates. He recently told me that his involvement was the best thing he had ever done in his life.

While only two of Rauenhorst s children have a direct role in the business his oldest son is the president and CEO, and another is the president of Opus South all have an equal say in the philanthropic deeds of their family. Serving on a foundation allows those outside the business to have a sense of making a meaningful contribution to the things we care most about as a family, Rauenhorst elaborates.

And Rauenhorst is making sure that the legacy of giving continues into the next generation. Just recently, he formed the Enkel Foundation (Enkel is German for grandchildren) and appointed his four oldest grandchildren to its board. I told them to invest their money well, to give it away well, and then I walked away, he said, laughing. So far so good.

They added one more grandchild to their board, spent a little time with the finance guy and decided to sell all the stock, the proud grandfather reports. Now they're working on giving away the money. I'm proud of them.

 

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