Jefferson Award Winners' Company Truly Gives Something BackBy Allen Martin

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) Who starts a business intent on giving away the profits? This week’s Jefferson Award winners not only started the business, they’ve been giving away the profits for more than two decades now.

Twenty-five years ago, Mike Hannigan and Sean Marx were selling copiers when they saw an actor put his name on a bottle of salad dressing, and thought, ‘Why not us?’

“We felt that we could do what we were doing in corporate America, but add what Paul Newman’s company was doing with donating the profits to community organizations,” Sean Marx explained.

And that’s how Give Something Back Office Supplies in Oakland began. Marx and partner Mike Hannigan also call it the beginning of the socially responsible business movement.

“So when we first started, this was a really alien concept,” Marx added.

Their concept? Sell office supplies and furniture, and give the profits to non-profits.

“How can you make a profit and then give it away and succeed in business?” posed Hannigan. “But it’s obviously possible.”

So possible, that over the past two and a half decades, while expanding their business from the Bay Area across the western U.S., Marx and Hannigan have been able to donate 73% of their net earnings, more than $6.3 million, to non-profits chosen by the company’s clients.

Those clients include the law firm Cotchett, Pitre, and McCarthy, which has been buying office supplies from Give Something Back for 18 year.

“Being a law firm we do go through a lot of paper,” said facilities manager Debbie Kiefer. “The fact that they were able to beat the prices that I was buying and knowing that that money that I’m paying them is going back out into the community to help, of course – it’s magnificent. Who wouldn’t jump on that?”

One of the very first, and now long time, recipients of Give Something Back’s generosity is the Alameda County Community Food Bank. And it all started with a fork lift.

“We had a forklift that died,” remembered the food bank’s Suzan Bateson. “Give Something Back swooped in and invested a pretty big amount, I think it was $5,000 to get us a new fork lift. Ever since then, they’ve volunteered here, they’ve been part of our DNA.”

For Hannigan and Marx, Give Something Back fills two needs.

“An opportunity to make a comfortable living doing something we enjoy and have an impact on the world we live in,” said Marx.

“His kids are my kids,” added Hannigan. “You can see those kind of values in what they’ve chosen to do in their lives.”

So for 25 years of giving their profits to non-profits, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Mike Hannigan and Sean Marx.