Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.
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In this episode of Third Act, Liz talks to one of her old bosses from Accenture, Tim Breene. She had lost touch with him after he retired, but learned from a colleague that Tim was using his pretirement to serve the global poor as the CEO of World Relief Services. Tim tells Liz about his journey from hard-charging Accenture executive to finding a common faith journey with his wife, and eventually becoming the CEO of the global Christian humanitarian organization. Tim talks about what it’s like to empower local churches to better serve people and to let go of being outcome-focused.
Tim continues to harness, as he describes, the best wisdom and practices of his Christian and secular experiences for the common good. He continues to be a prolific writer on issues of immigration and refugee resettlement. His work can be found in publications such as USA Today and the Washington Post.
(02:41) The original ad man
(07:51) Finding his faith journey
(10:29) World Relief
(16:20) The Clan Culture
(18:13) Shared Leadership with Scott
(22:09) Serving marginalized and vulnerable people
(25:09) A shared calling with Michelle
(29:54) The impact of climate change
You can connect with Tim on LinkedIn here. You can learn more about World Relief at on their website.
If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe and share a review at https://ratethispodcast.com/thirdact. Engage with more stories of those finding fulfillment in the third act of their lives on Liz Tinkham’s Third Act podcast at thirdactpodcast.com.
Liz Tinkham (00:18):
Hi, this is Liz Tinkham. And welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends, but your show is not finished.
Hello and welcome to Third Act. On today’s episode, I talk with Tim Breene, the relief pitcher. I met Tim during his days at Accenture, where he was the first person I know who ever talked about marketing and advertising as something Accenture might do. As the head of strategy for Accenture, he pitched the vision for what is now Accenture Interactive, a $10 billion plus part of Accenture. While his business success set him up for a successful retirement of advisory and board work, it’s his faith journey with his wife that has defined his third act. After several years working part-time with World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization, Tim took his time, talent, and treasure and became the CEO of World Relief. He served as CEO for five years, helping to empower local churches all over the world to better serve their people.
In this interview, Tim talks about what it’s like for a hard charging Accenture person to be less attached to an outcome. Something I can certainly learn to do better. Today Tim continues to harness, as he says, the best wisdom and practices of his Christian and secular experiences for common good.
Tim, welcome to Third Act. It’s great to have you on the show.
Tim Breene (01:49):
It’s great to be here, Liz.
Liz Tinkham (01:51):
So you are indefatigable. I was just looking at your LinkedIn, and you’re now an advisor to PCB partners, a global M&A advisory firm. So, is this your fourth act, fifth act, sixth act? When did you join?
Tim Breene (02:03):
Well, I have been exploring it for a little while, Liz. But I just formally joined in the last few weeks. And to your question, it’s not my fourth act, but I think it’s part of my fourth act.
Liz Tinkham (02:19):
Okay. Maybe we’ll have to come back. But listen, I want to go back and I really want to get into your work at World Relief. But I want to roll back and say, I met you at Accenture where I’ve met several of my guests because we have great people there. You were a member of our global management team and a very hard charger. So tell us a little bit about your background in business, and how did you get to Accenture?
Tim Breene (02:41):
Well, I started in business many, many years ago, 1971, actually. And that was still the era when people left college, they didn’t go and do MBAs. It was very much, join an organization for life. I started in Unilever’s detergent business as a management trainee. Worked my way up there, and at the Mars Corporation, in marketing and brand management. And then later left to join McKinsey, probably one of the last people at McKinsey not to have an MBA. And I was there as a partner through into the mid 80s. I left them because I really had a genuine passion for marketing and advertising, and joined a new age advertising group in the UK that was really seeking to emulate what the Saatchi’s had done in building a highly creative global network. And had a tremendous five years with them.
But after the stock market crash of ’87, and then in ’90 a recession, we didn’t have the cash reserves to keep growing that agency. And so we sold it to Havas. From there, I went back into industry. I was the global marketing director in the largest drinks company in the world, and then entered a retail conglomerate, on the board of that conglomerate, in the early ’90s. For a variety of reasons, that group ran into difficulties. There was a boardroom bust up. And I was pretty disillusioned with public company experience at that point. And it was from there that I joined what is now Accenture, but at that time was Anderson Consulting.
Liz Tinkham (04:34):
Yeah. So you mentioned your advertising/marketing background. And when I met you, probably, I guess it would have been about 2005. I remember you as the only person at Accenture who, number one, wanted to do M&A, which of course, Accenture is now one of the most acquisitive companies in the world, and the only person who knew anything about marketing/advertising. And you went on to found Accenture Interactive, which is now a $10 billion plus entity of Accenture. How did you have the foresight then to know that, as a consulting company that was so systems integration based, particularly at that point, that that could be a big growth driver for Accenture?
Tim Breene (05:13):
Well, I was trained as a strategist. And strategy is always about having foresight and being able to look far enough ahead to start something that in due course could become something great. I remember Jeff Bezos, in the early days of Amazon, saying that creating anything worthwhile would always take at least seven years. And so that ability to look beyond the immediate horizon and the pressures, that was something that I think just over the years became part of my DNA. But it was also, I think, I was very fortunate because of my mix of experiences because it was pretty clear that traditional advertising agencies would find it very difficult to create the culture or the technology expertise to respond to the emergence of the digital world and content rich, data informed, multi-channel universe. So the ad agencies were in a difficult spot. And the clients themselves, and you’ll relate to this, Liz, their IT departments and their marketing departments were culturally siloed and separate. And the IT departments were all about waterfall development methodologies. And really, the new world required agility.
So Paul Nunez and I, in our 2011 book, Jumping the S-Curve, talked about something that we named a BEMI, a big enough market insight to propel a journey to leadership. And that’s what it really was. We saw the convergence of the need for consulting, for transformation journeys, with a different approach to technology and data and the marketing and advertising world. And we said, no one is positioned to enter this. Let’s go. Let’s acquire some assets, some expertise outside the normative Accenture DNA. Let’s run some experiments. Let’s make some investments. And out of that, we grew the vision for Accenture Interactive.
Liz Tinkham (07:32):
Yeah. Which is amazing as you look back on it. You have to be so proud of everything that’s happened. This is incredible. So at the same time you were hard charging, you were also on this faith journey with your wife. Tell us about that.
Tim Breene (07:51):
Well, I need to track back a little, Liz. I grew up in the ’50s and ’60s in Belfast, brought up by a single mom. It was a time when it was still the early post-war years. There’d been a lot of suffering in my grandparents’ generation, who’d lost children in the war. And it was hard, actually, to think about a world where faith and religion were about bringing love to people. And then, of course, in the ’60s that turned into the Protestant Catholic division. And religion was, in a sense, weaponized, as we have seen so many times over the years. So by my early twenties, I was a declared atheist. I’d actually majored in existentialism, considered doing a doctorate in it. And so I couldn’t have been further away from the church or from God.
But in my late thirties, after I’d met Michelle, I began to open my heart and explore my faith. Obviously, I think she led me to explore my spiritual life. Also, we had children. I wanted my children to have a firm moral grounding in a world where it was increasingly obvious to me that success alone would not satisfy my soul, or indeed anyone else’s. And so I came to the conviction that if the story of Jesus was in fact true, my whole lens on life was too limited and too limiting.
Liz Tinkham (09:33):
Wow. And so as you retired, so you were on this journey, you retire in 2011 from Accenture. What did you plan to do after you finished?
Tim Breene (09:44):
Well, in the UK, they have this phrase, going plural. And I thought I would work half time. I dabbled in some early stage startups, sat on an advisory board of a private equity company, and got engaged in a variety of faith-based organizations, one of which was World Relief. But really, trying to bring what I had learned and what Michelle did in her career of which was around coaching and leadership development, to merge those two things with a particular focus on helping Christian leaders in the developing world.
Liz Tinkham (10:26):
So you found World Relief. And what do they do?
Tim Breene (10:29):
World Relief is a global humanitarian organization. It was founded just after the second world war. And over the years has worked in more than a hundred countries around the world. And really, through a church empowerment model, they tackle some of the greatest challenges of the world. So extreme poverty, disasters, complex humanitarian crises arising out of warfare and natural disasters. Really trying to care for people and put them on a path to dignity, to hope, and better lives, frankly. So we do that all over the world. And here in the US, since the days of the Vietnam boat people, World Relief has been one of the leaders in refugee resettlement and immigration work here in the United States.
Liz Tinkham (11:35):
So you’re in the middle of your happy plural retirement from 2011 to ’15. But then you take on the full-time role as the CEO of World Relief. So why did you do that? And why at that point?
Tim Breene (11:48):
Well, I’d been involved. My first engagement with World Relief really went back until the early 2000s. This was the time of the AIDS crisis. Our church had been a mission partner. Both Michelle and I had made multiple trips to see work in Kenya, and then later in Malawi. Through that, we had become more and more engaged with local African leadership, built relationships on the ground. Michelle, my wife, actually grew up in Kenya. So, we had a real affinity for the international side of World Relief. And in the period of 2010, really through the last decade, because my involvement with World Relief was book-ended by the original Haiti earthquake, and then the recent Haiti earthquake. I was being drawn more and more into really wanting to see some of the great injustices of the world and the extreme inequality, the gender injustice and the oppression of women all over the world, I was becoming more and more passionate about the importance of addressing that.
And the first half of the decade was actually a quite challenging one for World Relief because, in the first decade, the new millennium, they had benefited significantly from being one of the leading organizations in the PEPFAR programming, addressing HIV/AIDS in many, many places across the world. And that program came to an end. And so, there was economic pressure inside the organization that built up over time. And it just seemed that the time that I moved off the board and into the CEO position, that the kind of skills that I had built up through my business career would actually be helpful to taking the organization to the next stage. I remember thinking of the organization as a stool with three legs. The first leg being, its engagement with and witness for the church. The second being its program expertise and its model. But the third essentially being, the business and the economic structure and how you created a sustainable model for the conditions that we envisioned were going to come next.
Liz Tinkham (14:32):
So as you think about your skill set that you developed over all the years working and how that translated to the position at World Relief, what were some of the things that worked? And then what were some of the things you lacked? Because I see, as I think about and talk to people about their third act, we’ve had other people who’ve done that. But then I also run, or I’m the lead chair of, a big not-for-profit, not as big as World Relief. And it’s hard. I mean, there’s a lot of things that Accenture never taught me. So what did you find?
Tim Breene (15:03):
Well, I think that, first of all, the motivation of people at work in these organizations is, by definition, different. People come to organizations like World Relief with a profound sense of calling. And that’s a huge advantage. I think that in doing the work in as many places, you can’t bring a paradigm of organization as a machine. There are areas where you want the organization to be more machine-like. But really, it’s a living organism. And therefore you have to have distributed leadership across the organization to a really, really significant degree. And so, balancing how to drive change, how to break certain cultural preferences and habits, while at the same time honoring the cultural preferences. One of the cultural preferences of organizations, and I think this is true of most Christian NGOs anyway, is the term, the clan culture. Relationships are really the key to making things happen.
Liz Tinkham (16:17):
The clan culture? Is that what you said?
Tim Breene (16:20):
Yes. The clan culture, which is very different from a market culture or a hierarchical culture, or even an innovation culture. So trying to work with the cultural grain and the profound beliefs that unite people, and yet drive real transformation. I had a lot to learn. I was very fortunate to have, and Liz, you know this, a partner in helping me. So we split the CEO, president role into two, which is fairly unconventional. And I guess I would say I brought gifts of discernment and galvanizing change. But all was with an edge of being disruptive. And Scott, he’d come out of a background as a senior minister in a tremendous church in Milwaukee, had been on World Relief Board for many, many years. Scott brought the caring, the shepherding. And we just shared the same business judgments. And he was a wonderful external representative with government and with donors. And so our partnership really made this possible. I think if I’d had to do this on my own, I probably wouldn’t have succeeded.
Liz Tinkham (17:46):
I think it’s really interesting that you’ve found Scott. And when you and I were talking about it ahead of this call, the balance of his skills and him coming out as a pastor. If you were listening to this podcast and thinking, oh, I’m also a part of a big religious organization, now I’m thinking about doing something, is that a model you recommend or is it just the uniqueness of each of your skill sets that you think made it work?
Tim Breene (18:13):
I think it was pretty heavily dependent on the uniqueness of our skill sets, and a shared background but different background, and how that came together. But the general point about shared leadership, it might not be in two people. But I think that is really, really important. Lencioni has recently written about what he calls the six geniuses of a team. And when you look at how to navigate the kind of environment, and the fast changing environment, the unpredictable environment we live in today, I think it’s really difficult to find a single leader that has the requisite set of skills, perspective, training, and frankly, the time to deal with all the different constituencies. And so, personally, the shared leadership model was extraordinarily rewarding. And I think it was also very effective.
Liz Tinkham (19:17):
So you told me, when we were talking before, that you had to learn to be less attached to an outcome. So for an ex Accenture person, that sounds terrible actually. What does that mean? And how did you learn to do it?
Tim Breene (19:31):
The learning was forced on me because a year after I moved into the CEO position, we had the change in administration. And the new administration was very hostile to one of our two core ministries, the US ministry around refugee resettlement and immigration. And so, the organization came under intense pressure. At that time, we had 27 offices across the United States. I think we went down to 17 in a very short space of time. We had to lay off huge numbers of people.
Liz Tinkham (20:14):
I remember this.
Tim Breene (20:16):
The finances, like many nonprofits, we did not enjoy significant reserves. And we really were trying to live out the mission, the conviction, the witness, but never with complete certainty that we would have the resources to stay the course. And we examined many options. And we examined the possibility that we might have to close the organization, celebrate all the wonderful work done over many years and just say, it’s God’s will. This organization will be replaced by other people doing this work. But we have to be obedient to that. We were obedient to our sense of what we were called to do, the importance to advocate and witness for the policy issues that we felt were important and in line with who we were, and our commitment to how we saw the gospel, how we saw the power of the church, but accept that we might not succeed.
And so you learn, I think, in that kind of environment, Liz, just to say, we’re going to do everything in our power. But there are so many factors here that are outside of our control that if we are too attached to a specific outcome, it will actually corrupt the decisions we make. So we will make the decisions for what we believe to be right. And we’ll let the dice fall wherever they fall.
Liz Tinkham (22:01):
And looking back at the work you’ve done with World Relief, what are you most proud of?
Tim Breene (22:09):
I’m really proud of the organization’s profound commitment to serving marginalized and vulnerable people in all sorts of different places, and doing that in a way that is not a handout, but is a hand up. So a lot of our work is based on putting people on a path to, in religious terms, in Jewish terms, you’d say Shalom. So we’re really focused on the dignity of people, enabling them, through the work we do, to train the leaders in different communities and in different churches to move forward and move forward in healthy ways, spiritually, economically, emotionally. So a lot of our work, actually, grounded in helping people to recognize that there are many forms of poverty. Poverty is not just economic. In fact, relational poverty in many ways is even harder for people than economic poverty. And so, what is extraordinary about World Relief is that it has, today I would say probably 1500, 1600 staff, but it has 90,000 volunteers.
Liz Tinkham (23:34):
Oh my goodness. Wow. All over the world, right?
Tim Breene (23:36):
All over the world. And those are not a couple of times a year. These are people committing consistently, week in and week out, to be part of the model to bring the blessing of God into some of the darkest places in the world.
Liz Tinkham (23:59):
I love the fact that, when you and I were prepping for this, we talked about giving back time, talent, and treasure because we’re both gifted with that. And I mentioned that my husband and I are also thinking about doing something much smaller, much smaller scale, with the Catholic church in Western Washington. And we want to, because we want to do something together. So talk to us a little bit about, what advice do you have for couples as they navigate post big careers, getting more involved in whether it’s faith-based organization or some sort of not-for-profit? How did it work with you and your wife working together on that?
Tim Breene (24:38):
You really ask difficult questions.
Liz Tinkham (24:40):
I try. Thank you. Thank you. Well, I think this is important because I know when I retired, it’s like, well, I got to spend more time with my husband because I’ve deserted him for a lot of years. Well, you know what the career was like at Accenture. And I want to be with him. And so trying to figure out what do we do together? And I’ve been asking people that as they’ve been doing things together as couples, because I think it’s really hard. A lot of people get divorced once they retire.
Tim Breene (25:09):
Yeah. That’s so sad actually, when you hear anything like that. There’s so many different angles, Liz, that I could take on that. I think one of the challenges is that I’ve been blessed with what many people would regard as jobs of significance. And that’s really not what this next phase of life is about, in the traditional, worldly sense of significance. Significance now is about generativity, generosity, your time, talent and treasures. And it genuinely is trying to find the place that I think somehow enables you to be centered on who you have learned you are, who you believe God desires you to be, and the connection of that to different kinds of generativity.
And Michelle and I share passion around gender justice. She does an awful lot of work on that. And is continuing to do a lot of work on that around the world. And it’s also part of an organization that is scaling around gender healing and reconciliation with pretty intense healing of trauma wounds. I’m definitely coming alongside that kind of work, I’m not quite sure in exactly what way at this juncture, but that’s something that we’re going to work out. I think I’m also reminded that in Matthew 25, Jesus, when he’s talking about the separation of the sheep and the goats, and he talks about those who are his followers. And he talks about, whatever you did to the least one of these, you did to me. And Scott drew my attention to-
Liz Tinkham (27:18):
Scott was your co-leader, your co-CEO?
Tim Breene (27:20):
Yeah. Scott drew my attention to this because he said, we often think of that phrase as, whatever you did for the least of these. And we think we have to have influence or significance at scale. But actually, when we touch one person and help that person or change that person, that is significant.
Liz, the question about advice for other couples, Michelle is probably still, for a few years, going to be very much in the prime of her working commitment. I’m probably looking to go back to that halftime view of the world. And we’ve still got to work a lot out. But I think we’re not in a hurry to find the places where these different strands come together. So, again, scripture, one of the things I’ve had to learn is to wait upon the Lord. That goes back to the outcomes conversation, my desire to make things happen and get things done. Part of my journey now is letting go of some of that.
Liz Tinkham (28:38):
Yeah. I don’t think I’ve fully learned that yet. So back to your LinkedIn, as I mentioned at the beginning, which you must have just updated. You have a really nice paragraph that says, “Alongside my work with PCB partners, I will continue to engage with the causes about which I became passionate through my experience with World Relief, and will seek to harness the best wisdom and practices of my Christian and secular experiences for common good. So I usually ask my guests what’s next? You sort of said it here. Aside from the PCB work, do you have anything else specific in mind?
Tim Breene (29:10):
At this stage, I don’t. I would say that I’m really in that phase of deliberately stepping out and stepping back. I’d be very surprised if, going forward, my work does not involve gender justice. I’m also actually increasingly passionate about climate change because I just saw so much negative impact of that as I went around the world. And it was always heartbreaking. And so, I profoundly believe that’s something we have to, as a society, take on.
Liz Tinkham (29:51):
Did you see it worse in the areas of people who had the least?
Tim Breene (29:54):
Oh yes. Just stunning to see whole communities wiped out by more and more frequent and severe drought, especially nomadic people who live off the land, live off their goats or their cattle, and suddenly that’s decimated. And that’s still a lot of the world. A lot of the world is still predominantly rural subsistence farming. And so, I saw a great deal of that, and the effects and impacts of climate change. And I happened to be one of those that believes that change in that is needed urgently. And it’s something that all of us have to contribute to.
And I think finally then, Liz, I’m trying to work. One of the things that does happen. And one of the things that makes this Third Act Podcast, just made it appealing to me to participate in is, I think I probably have a sufficiently unusual background that I have a voice that is maybe a little different from most other people’s voices, just because of those very unusual mixture of experiences. But I’ve now lost my natural platform for using that voice. So I’m just beginning to wonder about, is that something I’m going to miss? And if so, what do I do about it?
Liz Tinkham (31:24):
Podcasting. You could start your own. I’d give you some tips. I almost named this podcast, I’m not done yet, because that’s the way I feel. So what aren’t you done with yet?
Tim Breene (31:35):
I’m not done with seeking to take on a culture that I think is increasingly difficult for the next generation when I compare what they’re facing with what I faced growing up. They may be economically a lot better off, life is a lot more convenient, but it is also more complex, more disrupted. There’s more psychic, negative pressure on the next generation. And so, trying to help think about what is a good life in the early, mid 21st century. What’s that going to look like? And what kind of wisdom is even relevant to that discussion? And it’s really all about what I think at our age, Liz, we’re called to, which is the wellbeing of the next generation, our children and our children’s children. And there’s a lot that, I think, most of us would sadly say that the kind of optimism we had as we came through the year 2000. The last 20 years has shaken that profoundly despite objectively good progress in many places and in many ways.
Liz Tinkham (33:00):
Well, Tim, thank you so much for joining us on Third Act. And we’ll let you get back to your plural status. You are a prolific writer. So I was Googling you. You have lots of articles out there. But in addition to looking up online and reading some of your editorials, where else can our listeners find you online?
Tim Breene (33:19):
Probably with difficulty. The World Relief website. Certainly, we have a news and blog placed on that. And over the last five, six years, we’ve probably published, I don’t know, several hundred points of view on different issues. And certainly, I’ve published on that, I don’t know, 10 to 20 times. But other than that, I would say I’ve become less prolific over the years.
Liz Tinkham (33:55):
LinkedIn. We can find you on LinkedIn, right?
Tim Breene (33:56):
You can certainly find me on LinkedIn.
Liz Tinkham (33:58):
Okay. We’ll publish all that in the show notes. All right. Thanks, Tim.
Tim Breene (34:01):
Okay. Thanks, Liz.
Liz Tinkham (34:05):
Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios, and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham. I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the Third Act of their life.
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