By Steve Eaton
Greg Carr, Photo by Jeffery Barbee
There aren’t many millionaire philanthropists who still live in the basement of their mother’s house.
But there aren’t many millionaire philanthropists like Greg Carr.
It’s not that Mr. Carr, who graduated from USU in 1982 with a degree in history, doesn’t have anywhere else to go. He’s got a nice place in Manhattan and another in Sun Valley. And he spends much of his time in Mozambique, although one wouldn’t call his minimal accommodations there ritzy.
It’s just that when he’s in his hometown of Idaho Falls, where he says he spends 51 percent of his time, he likes to be with his mother.
“Those two are buddies,” said Jeff Carr, a nephew. “They go to Taco Bell together. They go to movies together. He’s fantastic at getting her out of the house and making sure she has fun.”
Greg made millions in the 1980’s and ’90s when the company he co-founded, Boston Technology, developed a way to make digital voicemail available through the public telephone network.
One of Greg’s first employees at Boston Technology was Katherine Raphaelson. She has since worked with him on many projects and became a good friend. She says the money and the trappings that can come with success were never the real motivators for Greg.
“Greg really cares most about people,” she said. “When we were at his first start-up and it became wildly successful — and he became wildly rich — he was most gratified by how much people loved working there. He felt his greatest accomplishment was creating jobs that were satisfying and fulfilling and exciting.”
Jeff said if you met Greg you might never guess he was wealthy.
“If you had a lineup of people and you were asked to pick out the millionaire, he might be last on your list,” Jeff said.
One could say Greg is into appearances — just not his own. The appearances that stoke him are found deep in the jungles of Africa and in the lives of the many people starting to benefit from his latest undertaking.
Photo by Paul Kerrison
In 2008, the Carr Foundation, which he founded in 1999, committed to invest $40 million over 20 years to help restore Gorongosa National Park in Central Mozambique. The foundation now co-manages the 4,000-square-kilometer park, which was ravaged by nearly three decades of revolutionary and civil war, leaving it without many of the animals that had for centuries roamed its diverse landscape.
“It’s a joint management with the government; and the whole point is that at some time, I slip away and everything keeps going,” he said.
Since 2006, Greg has been working with park officials to reintroduce animals such as cape buffalo and wildebeests to Gorongosa. His efforts have been featured on “60 Minutes” and in many major publications. Greg is publicity-shy but agrees to do such interviews in hopes the press will encourage more support for his efforts and fuel ecotourism that will help sustain the economy.
One might expect someone playing such a key role to have a lofty title that would command respect, but Greg’s title in connection with all of this is that he is a committee member of the Gorongosa Restoration Project.
“Gorongosa is a national park in someone else’s country,” he said. “And let’s face it, the best of all possible scenarios is that they have a successful national park, managed by Mozambicans and financed through its own activities.”
That vision may take a few years to realize, Greg said. However, the park now has more than 400 employees, and 99 percent of them are Mozambicans.
“Right now they don’t have the financial or management capability to do everything they might want to do with a national park,” he said. “And to add to that, this is a particularly complicated national park because it needs a restoration, so it’s not even a business-as-usual national park.”
Huntsman Professor Stephen R. Covey says there are leaders who have moral authority and leaders who must borrow from their formal authority to get things done. Greg appears to have made leading by moral authority a fine art.
In addition to winning over government, community and tribal leaders, he has had to help other people with varying interests and goals work together. There are ecologists, wildlife biologists, veterinarians, economists, agricultural specialists, health care professionals and educators all in the successful mix.
Greg says sometimes the various groups can be fixed on what appear to be differing goals, and historically they haven’t gotten along well. He said the focus can’t just be on saving plants, animals or even biodiversity in general.
“In a really poor country, you can’t ignore hundreds of thousands of poor people who live right next to your national park,” he said. “You can’t say that this is only about trees and animals.”
Greg said he’s learned from mistakes as he sought the best ways to bring people together.
“In the beginning, I did not understand enough about the local politics,” he said. “I didn’t understand enough history of Mozambique and what they had gone through in different parts of the country. People in the cities of Mozambique don’t have the same view as people who live in the country in Mozambique.”
Photos by Jeffery Barbee
It’s all proven to be a huge undertaking, but that’s what Greg was after. Before this project, he had long been involved in charitable causes but wanted something more.
“I needed something where I was going to roll up my sleeves and get to work,” he said.
Greg said it is rewarding to see children benefiting from a new school or health clinic. He also gets excited to see what’s happening out in the jungle.
“It’s tremendously rewarding to be out in the jungle and to see a rare bird or an elephant, or anything in between, and to think, wow, we are helping to protect these,” he said.
He’s also recently been learning about plants and the various roles they play in the ecosystem.
“Plants do a lot for us,” he said. “It’s not just that they are beautiful, or nice, or fun or whatever. They do things for us. Plants clean our air. They provide our food. They clean our water. They provide us medicine. If we lose 20 percent of our plant species to extinction in the next century, our planet is impoverished.”
Greg’s vision and project might overwhelm some, but those who know him have confidence he can do what he sets out to do. Jeff said the Greg he knows is full of energy and must always be doing something productive.
“You just look at him and you can tell there’s a lot going on inside his head,” he said. “He’s just obviously brilliant. His mind is always, always working.”
Ms. Raphaelson said that when she works with Greg for a day or two, it takes a few days for her to recover.
“Meeting with him and being with him is exhilarating and exhausting,” she said. “For as long as I have known him, he has been the kind of person who can walk into a room and immediately energize it. He can sell anything. I know many, many people — employees, investors, vendors — who have succumbed to his enthusiastic sales pitches and cannot explain why. He is very, very persuasive.”
Ross Peterson, USU’s vice president of University Advancement and a longtime friend, calls Greg “creative and fearless,” but said his success stems from his capacity to care for others and their needs.
“His passion about human rights is coupled with his care of the land,” he said. “His vision is long and very idealistic. More than anything else, he cares.”
It’s easy to pick up on Greg’s passion. For him, none of it appears to be about his ego but rather about what he’s doing for the planet and the people who live here.
“That’s a big dream, that’s a big goal to say we want to save biodiversity,” he said. “It’s not just a nice thing to do, it’s essential.”