Don’t Call Her a Philanthropist with Kris Engelstad (Ep. 394)

Sometime during the lockdowns, (hard to say when, really) my assistant called to tell me that somebody left a message at mikeroweWORKS, asking to speak with me.

“It was a man,” she said. “Said his name was Andre Agassi.”

“Do you really think it’s him?” I asked.

“Who knows?” she said. “Remember the lady who called last month? The one who said she was Scarlett Johansson?”

“Yeah,” I said. “That was disappointing. Can you play me the message?”

According to the man who called himself Andre Agassi, a wealthy woman in Las Vegas saw me interviewed on TV and liked what I had to say about work ethic. Apparently, this woman was interested in supporting The mikeroweWORKS Foundation, and asked her famous friend to arrange an introduction.

It was an odd request, but not unprecedented. My grandmother used to ask me to pass along messages to people like Dan Rather and Jerry Seinfeld. Like many other people, she believed that everyone on TV knew each other, and that we all hung out together. One time, she told me to say hello to Betty White.

“Tell her we should play bridge together,” she said. “I think we could be great friends!”
“Ok, Nana. I’ll tell her.”

Anyway, I got a Zoom invite from Andre, and sure enough, it was the famous tennis player. We had a nice chat about the state of the world, before he told me about Kris Engelstad, a local philanthropist who had been very supportive of his own foundation, and the remarkable school he built in Las Vegas to serve underprivileged kids.

“I just wanted to tell you face to face,” he said, “that Kris is the real deal, and if she’s taken an interest in mikeroweWORKS, you should take a meeting. She’s one of the very best people I’ve ever met, and she could help your scholarship program in a big way.”

Well, suffice it say, I took Andre’s advice and met with Kris Engelstad, who is indeed, the real deal. We had a great conversation, and quickly came to the conclusion that we were in violent agreement about a number of things important to me, and to the mission of mikeroweWORKS. We also talked in depth about her parents, her Dad’s remarkable success as a builder, and the responsibility of running a foundation that bears his name, along with a billion dollars now in her care.

That was three years ago. Today, with the help of The Engelstad Foundation, mikeroweWORKS has finally gotten our work ethic curriculum into a large public high school in Las Vegas. Better still, the top fifty students who complete the curriculum will receive a full ride scholarship to any trade school in the country. It’s a model that I believe can be replicated all over the country, and it wouldn’t have happened without Kris.

Obviously, I’m in her debt, and part of the reason I invited her onto the podcast was to thank her publicly for her support, and talk about how other cities might follow the example she’s set in Vegas. Mostly though, I just wanted you guys to meet a completely normal person who believes strongly in the value of hard work and delayed gratification, but just happens to control a billion dollars, entrusted to her by parents who were determined to make the world a better place, even after they left it.

It’s a great conversation with a woman we should all be so lucky to know. Assuming of course, Andre Agassi is willing to make an introduction…

A short clip is below. Our whole conversation is here.

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