Beyond the Sun
Three Square food bank CEO Brian Burton has only been in Las Vegas for a couple of months, but the nonprofit star with more than two decades of experience is already making quite an impact. With an MBA and a Master of Divinity degree to his name, this guy isn’t a typical CEO. Burton spoke with VEGAS INC about his impressions of his new city, and about his nonprofit’s resilience and relevance during the recession.
Do you have a business motto?
My style is “servant leader.” It’s inclusive and means leading by example. While I was in the seminary, one of my favorite words in Greek is paraclete, which means “to come alongside.” We all come at and challenges from the same, perspective.
What was your first job?
I worked for JC Penney in the back warehouse in Little Rock where I’m from. It was a good lesson in why I really wanted to go to college.
What was your worst job?
I worked in a retail store in Louisville for about six hours. I’m really not one to just quit, but everybody there hated each other. It was a toxic environment.
Best advice your mom gave you?
Love God, love your family and love others. My grandmother used to say “No fool, no fun.” I got my sense of humor from her. People who hate each other need to get around a bowl of chips and queso, smile and learn to love.
You’re new in town. What do you think of Las Vegas?
I’m so amazed by this community. There’s so much generosity and determination to persevere and grow and do one-of-a-kind things. I see Las Vegas as the best place to be for nonprofit work. There’s so much need and pain, yet so much giving..
Restaurant Week, which benefits Three Square, is coming up August 29-September 11. What restaurants are you most looking forward to going to?
There’s Todd’s Unique Dining in Henderson. I’ve heard it will change my life. I’m from the South, so I can’t wait to go to some of the steak places, too. I see myself eating my way across Las Vegas. (laughing) I’ve got a friend who says he’ll help me work off the extra calories.
What are the two albums you’d want with you on a desert island?
Madonna’s classics, definitely, from the mid-’80s. I also love a Christian singer named Cynthia Clawson. The runner-up, of course, is Cher. Cher is the ultimate pop star.
What’s the one show you have to DVR?
This is embarrassing. I don’t have a DVR. But I do love to watch the History Channel.
What’s your favorite vacation spot?
I love to go to Maine during the summer. I’m a nature person.
What’s your most valuable possession?
Probably a wooden bread bowl that’s been passed down in my family for 150 years. My grandparents were poor farmers. It represents the legacy of my family to me.
What’s the best thing someone can donate to you?
Cold, hard cash. We’re able to multiply dollars here.
How are things going at Three Square during the downturn?
Organizationally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better nonprofit, and I’ve seen quite a few. The magnitude of need is so enormous—we’re only meeting about one-third of the people who are food insecure. We’re going to need greater resources and commitment from all levels of society. But What’s great is that hunger is something we can triumph over.