|Unconventional businessman invests profits in others|
Instead of driving a car, Harold Taussig bikes to work in his
hometown of Media, Penn. Taussig and his wife, Norma, live simply,
donating all profits from their travel company to help others. A UMNS
photo by Mark Melchiorre.
By James Melchiorre*
July 18, 2007 | MEDIA, Penn. (UMNS)
Clad in blue jeans and a T-shirt, Harold Taussig, 82, rides his bicycle to work every day and hasn't owned a car since 1971.
Taussig runs Untours, an unconventional travel agency that places
travelers in private homes instead of touristy hotels. A UMNS photo by
"I gave my last car away to a hitchhiker," recalls Taussig.
He does, however, own Untours,
a hugely successful travel company. And he has done the same thing with
$5 million in profits over the past 15 years that he did with his last
He gave it away.
Taussig's Untours Foundation loans money to low-income people trying to start new businesses or otherwise improve their lives.
"It wasn’t a vow of poverty, I didn’t do anything like that," the
United Methodist businessman says of his modest lifestyle. "I said I’m
never going to have any money in the bank, no money collected in the
bank or have anything in my name. And whatever’s left over at the end of
the month, whatever’s left over, I get rid of it."
Taussig and his wife, Norma, founded Untours in the mid-1970s. Their
goal was to provide a service to travelers wanting to stay in private
homes instead of touristy hotels in order to get to know the people and
cultures they visit.
In other words, they serve folks who are really kindred spirits with Harold and Norma.
"We wanted to know the ordinary person in Europe instead of knowing
just those that tourists got to know when they were just spending
money," recalls Norma.
The two defining characteristics of Untours — bypassing "tourist" luxury
to live among the people and donating all profits — ensure that
Taussig’s business reflects his values.
Marilee Taussig, an artist working for Untours, chats with her father at the office. A UMNS photo by James Melchiorre.
So does his personal lifestyle. He and Norma live in a narrow
wood-frame house on the outskirts of Media and dry their laundry from a
clothesline running from the back porch.
"I have a mission to fight this consumerism," he says. "I think the
direction we’re heading in is catastrophic. If we keep taking things out
of the earth at the rate we’re doing now, there’s going to be no
society as we know it."
Taussig got the idea to donate profits from Untours five years after he and Norma started their business.
"I had been aware of the rising gap between the rich and the poor,
which I believe is not sustainable," he recalls. "I think that can be
addressed only by economic means. My idea is to get capital to poor
people rather than charity."
As part of its philanthropic mission, Taussig’s Untours Foundation
has made hundreds of loans to small businesses, including Home Care
Associates of Philadelphia, which provides health care services to
patients who remain in their homes rather than enter the hospital. Many
of the company’s employees once received welfare payments.
"Paul Newman and JFK Jr. had given me this award — Most Generous
Business in America — and we had $250,000 in award money," he recalls.
"We decided to loan that to Home Care Associates, and they doubled their
staff that first year and from that year on they’ve made a profit.
There are 50 people who came off welfare and they get dividends now."
The Taussigs attend First United Methodist Church in Media. The pastor there compares Harold to a walking Sunday school lesson.
"You talk about your heart breaking for homeless people and (how) the
church should be outraged about poverty, hunger and war," says the Rev.
Maridel Whitmore. "Here’s a person doing what we preach and I think
he’s made us all straighten up a little bit and look at ourselves …. If
this is what Harold’s doing, maybe we should be following his example."
Taussig jokes that the travel business is his third attempt at a career.
He first worked as a cattle rancher in his native Colorado and later
was a college professor and high school teacher.
Harold and Norma Taussig, married 61 years, have traveled the world together. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Taussigs.
He and Norma have raised three children. Their son is a United
Methodist minister and a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New
York City. One daughter was ordained a Lutheran priest, and the other
daughter is an artist who works for Untours.
"If he decided to leave all his money to his children, I wouldn’t
argue a bit. I’m not quite the saint maybe that my dad is," jokes
daughter Marilee Taussig, the artist, who also lives across the street
from her parents.
"But I’m also aware he taught me other things that are going to last
longer than any amount of money. He took me all over the world and he
continues to reach out to different kinds of people, and I think that
lasts longer than any amount of money."
Not surprisingly, Harold Taussig is not comfortable being viewed as a role model.
"I don’t particularly like being made the center of attention as I am
right now," he says. "I’m only doing this (interview) because I like to
have people discuss the problem of poverty — world poverty I find so
disastrous — and finding a new way to solve it."
*Melchiorre is a freelance producer based in New York City.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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