Founder and Board Co-Chair of Room to Read,
Philanthropist, and Literacy Advocate
John Wood is the founder and board co–chair of Room to Read, an organization that seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. At age 35, Wood left an executive career track at Microsoft to form Room to Read. The business acumen honed there, combined with his passion to change the world, makes Wood a unique and inspiring speaker with universal appeal.
Wood’s award-winning memoir, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children, tells how he raised over $200 million from a “standing start” to develop one of the fastest-growing nonprofits in history. The book was described by Publishers’ Weekly in a starred review as “an infectiously inspiring read.” Translated into 20 languages, it is popular with entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and educators alike, and was selected by Amazon.com as one of the Top Ten Business Narratives of 2006 and voted a Top Ten Nonfiction title of 2006 by Hudson Booksellers. The book was also featured during Wood’s appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the resulting “Oprah’s Book Drive” with Room to Read raised over $3 million from viewers.
Wood’s latest book is entitled Creating Room to Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy. This sequel tells the story of how the organization has successfully tackled next steps–including “scaling beyond my wildest dreams” while maintaining integrity and raising money in a collapsing economy. Kirkus Reviews calls it “an absorbing personal account of a remarkable achievement.” Room to Read has been voted by the Young Presidents Association as their Social Enterprise of the Year, was awarded the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy, and was chosen as the inaugural winner of the Library of Congress David Rubenstein International Literacy Prize.
John is a five-time winner of Fast Company Magazine’s Social Capitalist Award and is one of Goldman Sachs’ 25 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs. He was named an Asian Hero by Time Magazine, selected as in the inaugural class of Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum and is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute. Bill and Melinda Gates presented him with the first-ever Microsoft Alumnus of the Year medal. Barron’s twice named John to their list of the 25 Best Givers. In 2014, John was awarded by Queen Silvia of Sweden with the World’s Children’s Prize. The WCP is often called the Children’s Nobel Prize, and in the same year Malala Yousafzai was a fellow honoree. He has also won the Asia Society’s “Service to Society” award and was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Tribeca Film Festival.
John holds a MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, a bachelor’s degree magna(cum(laude in finance from the University of Colorado, and honorary doctorates from McGill University, Westminster College, Wofford College and the University of San Francisco. At the invitation of former President Bill Clinton, he served three years on the Advisory Board of the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a former Board member of the College Advising Corps, Net Impact and the One Acre Fund, and serves on the Advisory Boards of Global Citizen Year, Possible Health, and the “Getting to Carnegie” competition.
Today, Wood focuses full-time on long-term strategy, capital acquisition, public speaking, and media opportunities for the organization. John is a frequent lecturer at Harvard Business School, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Policy and serves on the Advisory Board of the Clinton Global Initiative.
Leaving Microsoft to Change the World
At age 35, John Wood left his job as director of business development for Microsoft Corporation'reater China region to form Room to Read, a nonprofit organization that promotes literacy in impoverished parts of the world. In his inspiring presentations, John describes how he founded Room to Read after becoming concerned that nearly a billion people in the world lack basic literacy, 'I was blessed with a great education, and as a result I had a great career and made some money. I started Room to Read as a way to give that same opportunity to children in some of the world?s poorest villages.' Leaving Microsoft tells the story of Room to Read's infancy, the early successes, and lays the groundwork for the long-term vision of world change. John vividly chronicles Room to Read's beginnings, from his life-altering decision to leave the corporate world, to his quest to create a non-profit with a strong business ethos, and continuing until the present day. John Wood' work has been profiled by Bloomberg Television, CNBC, CNN, Fast Company, Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and USA Today. He holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Northwestern University and a Bachelor's of Arts degree in Finance from the University of Colorado.
Purpose: The New Competitive Advantage
In this keynote, Wood discusses how corporate social responsibility represents the new competitive advantage; a way to re-engage customers and employees and improve the bottom line. He recalls his experiences using the ‘power of purpose’ to onboard resistant communities, motivate volunteers and enlist high-profile investors, while pointing to the growing number of corporations—like IBM and GE—that have begun building a ‘higher calling’ into their products and services. Wood demonstrates that “cause” is now the key to commercialism and inspires audiences to re-think old assumptions, dream big and take steps to align with the business world’s often-overlooked competitive advantage: purpose.
As our world faces an unprecedented crisis of leadership, a "war for talent" rages, with the most visionary leaders building the most effective global teams. In this keynote, Wood inspires audiences to think differently and more boldly about what they can accomplish as leaders, talking candidly about his evolution as a leader, mistakes he's made along the way, and the lessons he's learned during two decades as a fast-rising Microsoft executive and as Founder of Room to Read.
“John spoke at our 500-person Starbucks marketing conference and was an amazing inspiration to our global team. Here is someone who is literally changing the world, and he invites you to participate! He does so with humor, energy, and no guilt. If you want to hear a story that will end with a standing ovation, invite John to speak (and then donate to his organization)!"
- Anne Saunders | Senior Vice President, Starbucks Coffee Company
“John is a breath of fresh air to executives and professionals who are typically caught up in their busy lives. He connects with people’s natural desire to do good for society. John was a big hit at our Software 2004 conference, where he received a standing ovation (the only one in the history of the conference) from over 1,000 CEO’s, VP’s, and venture capitalists. He is an engaging speaker who is guaranteed to make people passionate about life.”
- MR Rangaswami | Founder and CEO, Sand Hill Group