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Forty Under 40: Benjamin Donlon – The Business Journals

Benjamin Donlon
Job: Chief analytics officer, Metro United Way
Age: 32
Hometown: Danville, Kentucky
Lives: Jeffersontown 
Education: Bachelor’s degree in actuarial mathematics with a minor in finance, University of Louisville; MBA, University of Louisville; studied computer engineering, University of Louisville 
Describe yourself using three words: Service, adventure, thinker 
Hobbies: Traveling, trying bourbon, attending horse races, spending time with family and friends, exploring the city, volunteering, getting the most out of this short time we call life 
Favorite restaurants in the Louisville area: Havana Rumba, Steak & Bourbon or Highland Morning
First job: Land surveyor for an engineering firm 
Why did you choose your career path?
I chose my current career path long before it was an option. I grew up in service and around a family who cared deeply about the community they lived in. While attending the University of Louisville, I ingrained myself in the campus community through involvement in many organizations.
One of these organizations introduced me to a mentor my senior year who was the chief strategic officer at Metro United Way. Through our conversations during the year, there seemed to be some good that I could do at MUW. I honestly felt very short-sighted at the moment, but as I became part of the organization, I learned even more about the Louisville community and its needs. Over the next year, I understood more and more about how I could turn my skills into a career that would genuinely help people. 
What’s the most challenging task in your career you’ve had to tackle?
The most challenging task so far in my career that I have had to tackle is the one that I am hopefully coming to the end of now in navigating the Covid-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly, our lives changed during the Covid-19 pandemic, and mine is no outlier.
Navigating the overall organizational shift from an in-person to a virtual setting and then back to an in-person hybrid model has created complexities in my work that I didn’t expect. Given that my team and I view ourselves as a startup operating in a 100-year-old organization, we are currently fighting heightened challenges that we had previously overcome. We have realized that in a time of crisis, people tend to revert to a mindset that focuses on efficiencies and tends to sacrifice essential tasks like data entry and new technology uses.
As we were on-boarding multiple new technology platforms, internally and externally, we saw a significant drop in uses which caused the information we could share to be minimized. This has wholly caused a shift in mindset to figure out how to lead with empathy without sacrificing effectiveness. 
Describe your biggest career achievement. 
The creation and development of the team I have today. I was thrusted into a leadership position at 27 and given the keys to the car with very little gas. I inherited two individuals already in the organization and was tasked with figuring out how to support the entire organization’s data and analytic needs.
Over the years, we have grown into an 11-person team, making up around 15% of our staff — compared to 3.5% when I started — and partnering in database, analytics, technology, operation and building support throughout the organization. I have learned much about myself, my leadership style and, most importantly, who I want to be as a leader through this journey. 
My entire team has stuck together as we have navigated the pandemic, only losing one individual to a fantastic opportunity within the organization. I am so proud of my team and how, through the pandemic, they navigated, stepped up and supported the organization and community.
Whether that is through moving completely remote and then returning to the office. Or providing data to many entities to better inform decision-making as funding became available through the pandemic. To date, my most significant career achievement is not one that I can take sole credit for, but one that I am by far the proudest of.
What’s the hardest you’ve ever worked? 
I would have to say that the hardest I have ever worked would be when I was 13 years old on the family farm, baling hay. Ultimately, it is taking grass after you have cut it, compressing it into 50 to 80-pound bricks using a baler, and then manually taking those bales and stacking them five-six high on a wagon. Doing hundreds of bales a day in the scorching July sun during my middle school and high school years taught me many lessons that have been baked into my DNA.
The main lesson was that I wanted to get a degree and not do this my entire life. Throwing bales that were half of your weight 10 feet in the air gives you a completely new premise on life and is the hardest I have ever worked. It makes the worst Monday in an air-conditioned office look like a blessing.
What gets you fired up?
Anyone or anything that creates restrictions or places barriers on the ability for people to have the opportunity to succeed gets me fired up! My mission is to help people see the opportunities that they have in their present to become the person they want to be. So, the barriers and restrictions are in complete opposition to my mission. My work, social and volunteer lives have all been focused and targeted at trying to break down some of these social and systematic barriers that hold groups of people back.
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