Seth Friedman, Chief Executive Officer of Passage Home, self-describes his office desk as a mess. “I try to do everything digitally, so when I get a business card or anything similar, I enter the info on my phone and throw it in a drawer,” he said. “That same drawer holds a toothbrush, wires, thank you cards, and more. It looks like the junk drawer we all have in our house.” Learn more about Seth in this Five Questions with an Executive Director feature.
What drew you to non-profit work?
My parents. They ran a residential summer camp and alternative education program in northern New Jersey. We lived there year-round and underserved kids from New York City, Philadelphia, and various New Jersey towns would spend weeks, months, or the entire school year at the facility. It was in the foothills of the Ramapo Mountains and provided an amazing experience for thousands of kids. It was where I was raised and what sparked the desire to serve others.
What’s the best career advice you ever received?
Ask questions—even if you think they’re dumb. When I first started my career, there were so many times when I would just sit quietly in meetings. I wouldn’t speak up or ask questions because I didn’t want to seem like I didn’t understand what was happening. I would leave the meetings and just continue to make mistakes. When I learned to ask more questions, I started getting the answers I needed. And if those answers didn’t make sense to me, I would just keep asking until I understood. I can’t tell you how many times someone approached me after a meeting and thanked me for asking the question because they didn’t understand either. No good leader or presenter will ever get mad at you for seeking clarity.
What’s your favorite sound?
The sound the net makes when a basketball goes through it so smoothly that it turns up, making a soft whipping sound.
Tell us about your family.
My wife and I just celebrated our 11th anniversary. We were married on Christmas Day in 2010. I think she chose that date to make it virtually impossible to forget the day or the number of years we’ve been married. She is an actress/singer who also works in the nonprofit space in North Carolina. I have an 18-year-old stepson who lives in Georgia and wants to become an underwater welder; a 10-year-old son who loves to play basketball, football, Dungeons and Dragons, chess, and acting; and a 7-year-old daughter who is either going to be an actor, singer, or veterinarian. My parents and three siblings all live within an hour of each other, and my kids get to see a lot of their cousins.
What’s the best change you’ve made at Passage Home?
Passage Home was an amazing organization when I arrived. They were doing amazing work in the community and had a strong organizational culture. Staff would always describe the culture as a family culture. And for the most part, that was true. Everyone looked out for each other, kids or grandkids were constantly running around the office—it was lovely. Except, no one ever disagreed. I don’t know about your family, but my family speaks up if we disagree. From day one, I encouraged respectful disagreement. Don’t just accept things you don’t understand or passively agree. Have tough, challenging conversations. Challenge me, challenge my decisions, help me get better—just do it in a respectful way. I think that’s an important part of any culture, and I brought it with me to Passage Home.