Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?
Years ago, a pastor posed these questions to his congregation in a Sunday sermon. Chris LeGrand, in high school at the time, happened to be sitting in a pew that day, and decades later, those questions still echo like guiding hymns in the back of his mind. Now the CEO of Futures Group, a global health consulting organization committed to working toward transformative change in 35 countries at any given time, he has found that answering these questions is a lifelong process that keeps both his personal and professional paths developing in tandem.
With over 540 staff members worldwide, Futures Group obtains consulting contracts from developed country governments like the US, UK, and Australia to assist developing countries with public health infrastructure and programs that benefit their citizens. By providing assistance in this manner, Futures Group helps to promote positive American influence around the world, helping developing countries veer toward capitalism, free democracy, and equal rights. Aside from the altruistic component of their work, Americans want safer, more secure countries with good economic growth, which are less likely to breed terrorist cells. Through its assistance, Futures Group helps to promote this stability and achieve this national goal.
Futures Group was launched in 1971 by two gentlemen who were true futurists—big thinkers, economists, and modelers who were looking into the future (hence the organization’s name) and trying to predict trends. They began consulting with Fortune 500 companies at the board and C-level to help those businesses navigate the road that lay ahead of them, planning for changes in technology, foreign policy, and anything else that might affect them. They began developing models to help with these predictions, and the company still maintains that core today, using evidence to inform good decisions. In the late 1970s, they began looking at trends like family planning and fertility in developing countries and whether birthrates would outstrip their economy’s ability to educate and care for the population.
Chris first became involved with the company in 2005 after seeing Futures Group from the outside and admiring its tremendous reputation and global impact. The company he was with, Constella Group, was doing domestic public sector health work, getting contracts from US government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. They acquired Futures Group, and as President of Public Sector Business, Chris became very passionate about its international endeavor. “I began helping to integrate the two companies, and its mission never left my blood after that,” he affirms.
Two years after Constella Group acquired Futures Group, the entire organization was sold to a large publicly traded company in the D.C. area, but after a year, it was clear that the Futures Group component of that sale wasn’t a good fit. “With its low margin work in high risk areas like Afghanistan, Futures Group was not going to do well within that larger company,” Chris explains. “So we pulled together private capital and, along with the chairman of the original company, we executed a management buyout in the fall of 2008 and took Futures independent again.” Chris became CEO, and with a senior management team that had equity in the business, they were motivated by the chance to be entrepreneurial and to have a positive impact on a global scale.
When Chris took over as CEO, he was focused primarily on reinstating its reputation, infrastructure and stability. There were certainly obstacles—making payroll, designing the HR philosophy and systems, getting corporate insurance—but he never regretted the responsibility. “We knew it was us making the decisions, and by that point, I had enough experience and confidence to run with it,” he affirms.
As a for-profit organization doing public sector work, Chris and his team do well and do good at the same time. “For developing countries we go into, we can be a positive influence by demonstrating a successful capitalist economy in a democracy in which people are free to pursue their dreams and where hard work pays off,” he points out. “We’re a mission-driven company, but the addition of a profit motive drives transparency, efficiency, and innovation that many nonprofits don’t have. We can, for example, incentivize our employees and give them equity shares, granting them more reason to deliver better for our clients.”
With a background that is strong in mathematics and analytics but even stronger in mission and a globalist view, Chris leads the company with both of these vital influences in mind. He is hardwired to perform the most thorough analysis possible, but as the company’s lead decision maker, he often finds himself needing to make quick choices. “This means that I have had to rely much more on my gut, and I am now very comfortable making quick decisions with little data,” he explains.
And then there’s the mission. “I consider myself a globalist,” he affirms. “I think of myself as being part of the world, first and foremost. I’m driven to help people connect internationally across cultural and language barriers to find those common threads of humanity.” This drive is mirrored not only in his professional life, but also in the most fundamental currents of his personal life, as evidenced by the choice that he, his wife, and daughter made to expand their family in 2000 by adopting their son from Russia. “He’s an integral part of who I am,” Chris confirms. “While we’ve made a difference in his life, he’s transformed our lives.” As a family, the LeGrands are genuinely citizens of the world.
Chris’s cultivation as a globalist began through the ample international exposure he received growing up, as his father traveled extensively designing textile manufacturing plants around the world. “I saw the world through his eyes,” Chris remembers. “He would come home with those 35 millimeter slides, and on Saturday nights we’d just sit and look at those together for hours on end.”
Chris also recognizes his lifelong faith journey as playing a pivotal role in his passion for Futures Group. Growing up in a Christian home, he knew his life was driven by a unique purpose, but he didn’t know what. “I was very focused on finding my core purpose for being here on the earth,” he says. “I believed I was here for a reason, and I needed to find it.”
In the early nineties, he began to seriously feel that this purpose lay in international affairs, and this feeling was cemented when Chris traveled to Russia and Latvia in 1994 with his church choir. “I had grown up thinking of Russians as my enemies, but there I was, sitting across from people from a “different world” and singing together. I saw that they cherished family and relationships and had hopes and dreams for their children. They cried, laughed, and loved,” he recalls vividly. “It had a transformative impact on me, because when you actually get beyond nationalistic thinking and sit down one-on-one with people of another culture, you see that the connection of humanity is far stronger than the cultural differences. It’s extremely powerful.”
To further this vision of unity, for the past 10 years, Chris and his family have been deeply involved in the mission of a faith-based non-profit in India, ServeTrust, which provides food, shelter, health care, job training, and unconditional love to the most marginalized people in India. With visits to India to see the work first hand, and in helping lead an international advisory board, his whole family gets involved and sees the world through the eyes of India.
Raised in South Carolina, Chris was a singer, a strong student, and loved sports, but was haunted by his small stature, which was daunting in high school. In college, however, he joined the chorus, which gave him a whole new lease on life. “I ended up being president of the chorus and found that I truly enjoyed leading groups of people toward a vision,” he recalls. “I realized I was very comfortable with public speaking, especially when it was something I was passionate about.”
In college, Chris majored in mathematics like his mother, who was a math professor. He then moved to Washington, D.C., and took a job doing statistical analysis on weapons test data for BDM International, a large defense contractor. His first boss at BDM was a retired lieutenant colonel—a calm, quiet, caring man who was deeply committed to his family. “He was a great example of how to live a good, balanced life between work and family, and how to treat people like individuals and with dignity. I still remember those things to this day,” Chris observes.
When he came to Washington in 1987 at the age of 22, Chris thought he’d move back to South Carolina within a year. That didn’t happen. After several years as a statistician and analyst, he decided to try something new and accepted a position in the corporate finance group of the same company. He stayed in corporate finance for three years doing financial forecasting, analysis, and budgeting, where he was thoroughly educated about how a business is run from a financial standpoint. He then transitioned back into their technical line organization and got involved in health-related projects with the FDA, Department of Defense, and Health and Human Services, which nurtured a passion for health and health data. Even though he was working full time with a new baby at home, Chris attended night classes and earned his masters in Information Management and Information Technology from the George Washington University during that time.
Chris was with BDM until it was acquired by TRW in 1998, and at that point, he and his family were ready to try a new geographic area and lifestyle. He began looking for companies in different regions and found a position with Constella Group, a small 150-person firm in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina. “It was a big leap for us,” he remembers. “It was like pulling the net out from under us. But the chairman and primary owner of the company was an engaging entrepreneur, and we made a great team. From the beginning, he said that nothing was off limits and that I could have as much leadership as I wanted to take. Every time I expanded my role, he backed off a little more. We dreamed big. That was a great move, and we had a blast.”
In their quest to create results as big as those dreams, Constella Group brought in an executive coach as they tried to grow the business. With that coach, they developed a leadership philosophy that permeated deeper and deeper into the organization. “I am absolutely sure that that’s why the company was so successful, and I still work with that coach to this day,” Chris remarks now.
One of the Group’s greatest successes came in the aftermath of several acquisitions aimed at building out a commercial practice supporting pharmaceutical companies. The organization bought several companies and attempted to merge them together, which wasn’t working as planned, so the CEO asked Chris to take on the challenge as the acting president of the commercial business. He jumped in without hesitation and managed to turn the business around completely. “It was a near disaster,” he recalls. “We were losing money, key staff were leaving, and there was no strategy. But I put the pieces back together, earned the trust of the staff, and got a clear strategy for how to move forward. The business went on to be very successful.”
Ultimately, Constella Group grew from $14 million to $200 million in revenue while Chris was onboard, and he grew along with it. He had begun in a smaller role running the information management division and ended up serving as chief operating officer of the company, and then president of their Public Sector business. He helped close on and integrate the company’s eight separate acquisitions, and just as the chairman had said in the beginning, nothing was off limits. Futures Group was Constella Group’s largest acquisition, and the rest is history.
In advising young entrepreneurs entering the business world today, Chris stresses the importance of remaining open and malleable. “Don’t get pigeonholed in one thing early on, despite the pressure to do so,” he says. “Taste a lot of things. In your 20s, you have a whole lifetime ahead of you, and the reality is that what you think you want to be doing at 22 probably won’t be what you want to do at 45. So get as broad an experience as you can, and know that there are very few decisions that can’t be undone. Don’t fret so much about forks in the road. Make a decision, start down a path, and in almost all cases you can undo it and start down a different path.”
Along with that, he would pose to any young person the same three questions that were posed to him long ago. These queries place the questioner on a journey of self-awareness, and self-awareness is among the most crucial components of leadership. “Learn who you are and how you want to occur in the world,” Chris emphasizes. “Know what’s going to have an impact and what will give you energy and passion.”
In answering his own set of questions, the matter of “Why am I here?” is clearly laid forth in Chris’s mission to promote human connection across a global sphere—a vision that blurs the line between personal and professional for him. “I don’t distinguish much between personal and professional because who I am is a whole person,” he affirms. “Being a part of Futures Group has allowed me to connect my personal passions with my professional world, and that’s really powerful.”
When it comes to “Where am I going?”, Chris notes that Futures Group merged with an Australian company in 2011, so they are now focused on streamlining the enterprise and positioning themselves on a bigger platform. They’ve also been looking at franchising the Futures Group name to work through other organizations in developing countries that are already local, thereby empowering those countries from the ground up. “Furthermore, we know that focusing on technology and informatics can multiply the effectiveness of foreign assistance,” Chris says. “With this in mind, we’re looking at new business arrangements and models and embracing new technology that can help get decisionmakers the information they need in even the most remote locations.”
That leaves the last question. Who is Chris LeGrand? “I’ve come to realize that the answer to that question is not static,” he avows. “It changes over the years because life experiences evolve you. That’s what this life journey is all about—continuing to grow who you are.” By doing well, doing good, and asking the right questions in this manner, one can ensure that the answers will be right as well.