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Warren Featherbone Company Leader Shares His Philanthropic Journey


Gus Whalen and Judy Hawkins meet briefly before Gus' presentation to members of the Corporate Philanthropy Roundtable.

The Corporate Philanthropy Roundtable recently invited Charles E. “Gus” Whalen, Jr., chairman of The Warren Featherbone Company, to Santa Barbara to share the unconventional journey of his family’s business from corsets to corporate giving. The master storyteller gave presentations at CPR’s business member kickoff as well as at a special event for San Marcos High School’s Entrepreneurship Academy and Kids Helping Kids Foundation, sponsored by CPR and Deckers Outdoor Corporation.

Throughout its 130-year history, The Warren Featherbone Company has adapted to changing markets and technologies in manufacturing, agriculture, banking, and publishing to positively impact multiple generations. Its diverse products have included whips, featherbone for women’s corsets, the first waterproof diaper cover, and baby apparel. “The Dakota Indians have a saying, ‘If the horse is dead, dismount,’” said Gus. “The Warren Featherbone Company has survived over all these years because on a regular basis, we asked, ‘What’s next?’ and kept looking for opportunities to adapt to changing times.”

Alongside its evolving corporate presence has been a commitment to improving the community through its philanthropic wing, The Warren Featherbone Foundation. Originally founded in 1917 by Gus’s great-grandfather Edward K. Warren to preserve parklands and wilderness areas in the state of Michigan, Gus later reestablished the foundation to focus on expanding educational opportunities in Gainesville, Georgia.

“The Warren Featherbone Foundation exists for three reasons: to raise awareness about the importance of manufacturing, to support community education, and to democratize philanthropy,” said Gus. “Many people think that philanthropy is for rich people, but real giving is done by people with modest means who have a heart for giving. My great-grandfather had a heart for giving, and founded businesses to support that.”

In 2005, the foundation launched Featherbone Communiversity, a unique collaborative learning community located on the 128,000 square foot, former Featherbone manufacturing site. Featherbone Communiversity’s founding members include the Brenau University Department of Nursing, the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, and the Lanier Technical College Manufacturing Development Center. Additionally, The Warren Featherbone Foundation has supported business incubators that have in six years received 14 patents, launched 18 companies, and generated $42 million in revenue.

“There are three stages in everyone’s life,” said Gus. “The first is about watching, the second is about doing, and the third is about teaching. We have learned so much in our company’s 100-year history. Now, it is our time to teach.”

In addition to inspiring Santa Barbara business leaders, CPR also invited Gus to speak to San Marcos High School students working to develop their own business marketing plans. As a parting challenge, CPR provided each student with a crisp $5 bill, encouraging them to make meaningful contributions or grow the investment for community impact in the next 30 days. To both groups, Gus emphasized the importance of helping others and participating in their communities.

“Get up early in the morning and come to a roundtable like this. See what we can do in the community that we have not done before,” said Gus. “Participate. That is the only way that whatever genius is in us – and it is there – can be expressed.”

CPR was created to engage Santa Barbara County businesses in the process of giving and resource sharing as part of a community-wide approach to business development and corporate citizenship. For more information about upcoming CPR events or business membership, please visit sbfoundation.org/cpr or call (805) 963-1873.

In Their Own Words
Chairman Charles "Gus" Whalen, Jr. shares his knowledge on outcomes and the importance of embracing and managing change for the benefit of business, community, and economic vitality with Santa Barbara's Corporate Philanthropy Roundtable.

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