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Humanitarian co-chair knows highs and lows

Gary Poth

Gary Poth knows extremes. His career has taken him to the deepest reaches of the ocean, and to one of the Midwest’s highest buildings. But he has achieved consistency in several aspects of his life, including his outlook on philanthropy.

“This is home for us; this is our community,” said Poth, executive managing director and head of Key Family Wealth. “The rising tide should lift all boats, but it doesn’t always. We as leaders have an obligation to help those who are in need. It’s not just the right thing to do — it’s good business as well. What is good for the community is good for business.”

Poth, a northeast Ohio native, is co-chair of United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Humanitarian Society. Humanitarian Society members, who donate from $1,000 to $9,999 annually, typically represent 25 percent of the campaign total each year.

Poth’s co-chair is P. Kelly Tompkins, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Cliffs Natural Resources, Inc.

Poth studied engineering in the late 1980s, but a fateful read through Tom Clancy’s “Hunt for Red October” led to an interest in submarines. He joined the Navy as a submarine officer and served for months at a time on the ICBM-carrying Trident nuclear submarine USS Alaska. He served six years and left the military as a lieutenant.

He acknowledges a connection between military service and philanthropy. “In the military, there is an appreciation for people from all socioeconomic backgrounds,” he said. “And the military supports its communities.”

Poth married his wife Rajini in 1990 and after leaving the military, he earned an MBA from the University of Texas and entered the world of finance. He returned to Cleveland, working with various banks as a consultant with Ernst & Young; he eventually joined KeyBank. He ran his own consulting firm for a few years and worked at other financial institutions, but eventually found his way back to KeyBank and Key Tower, the tallest building in Ohio.

Poth said giving to others in need has always been part of his family’s values; his own United Way relationship began while he was in the military. Now that he and his wife are raising three teenagers, he focuses on kids and hunger and faith-based causes. He said United Way is one of his primary charities because of its expertise in identifying the community’s greatest needs.

“I have my own priorities, especially kids and hunger, but I’m not as plugged in to all the needs in the community as United Way is,” he said. “United Way can fill in the gaps and put the money where it will do the most good. Giving back is important to me and it’s an important part of the culture of KeyBank. “

You may never know where that specific dollar goes, but you can be sure it helps somebody in our community,” he said. “It makes a difference.”

Learn more about United Way of Greater Cleveland’s Humanitarian Society >>

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