Interview with Nick Candee

The following is an excerpt from a conversation I recently had with my Social Enterprise Alumni Mentor, Nick Candee (MBA 1978), about his career in the social enterprise sector.

What is your role in social enterprise?
In eight years at the National Fire Prevention Association (, my challenge as Director, Global Operations, was to accomplish “mission” goals while finding funds to achieve those goals.

This was a combination of “business” and “mission”. The internal slogan was “We Save Lives,” and the board’s vision for NFPA was to be the world’s leading source of information on fire and life safety. To deliver the mission, I initiated several micro-enterprises, such as a new magazine, tradeshow, and series of training seminars. NFPA, through partners in Ibero-America, ran 48 seminars this year, with a separate set of programs in Asia.

How did you make the transition from for-profit to nonprofit?
After my Cabot Corporation business was dissolved, I looked for a job in publishing. NFPA happened to be non-profit, and the CEO had just signed an accord to translate works to Spanish and Portuguese, and needed someone to get things done. I was not seeking a non-profit, but the opportunity was plausible. A key issue was salary, which required re-negotiations since NFPA was not an MBA recruiter.

What challenges do you see in such transition; what advice do you have for HBS students?
A downside is that recruiters may not look to nonprofits for excellent managers, so “exit strategy” from nonprofit back to for-profit may be tougher. For the process of deciding on transition to the nonprofit sector, intelligence is available today: discloses non- profit financials and salaries of the 10 highest paid employees. Not all nonprofits pay low salaries; in fact, some pay very well.

What did you like best about social enterprise?
I got a huge kick out of what we did, especially in the field. I had a lot of fun in creating programs in other countries, and took satisfaction in what we did. “We saved lives.” It is not easily measured with crisp metrics like sales and profits, but there is accomplishment in getting programs underway, for example, creating 3-day conferences in Singapore or Buenos Aires. It required enlisting volunteers, who were interesting people at high levels in their country. I stay in touch with these people.

Especially among Latin countries, people decide to work with you because of the kind of person you are, not what your rank is. Social enterprise, in which people’s good intentions get delivered, differs from a typical short-term mechanical project. My instinct is that projects in social enterprise appeal to a higher goal: getting people to do what they would normally charge for, makes friends for life, as the work involved is fueled by goodwill.

Do you have any other observations you would offer to HBS students?
I encourage the concept of lifelong learning with colleagues, inspired by my colleague’s legacy to the Melbourne (Oz) Fire Department. Jeff Godfredson cloned an Aldrich classroom at his training center. He believes that training and mutual learning are the most powerful tools to bring to the team. This is the challenge of leadership – to encourage lifelong learning and understand mechanisms for delivering this to a wider pool of people.

This profile is part of a semester-long series that highlights the lives of HBS alumni involved with nonprofits, socially oriented for-profits, and government. Each featured alumni is a participant in the Social Enterprise Club’s mentorship program, which currently facilitates interactions between 35 mentor/student partners. For more information about this program, please contact Ted Hill at