Posted by TAG Admin
Combat Flip Flops is part of TA Group Holdings, but was something of an outlier for the company’s portfolio, which mainly focuses on the staffing and sales industry. It was also something of an outlier for Sercu, personally.
“I got out of the military when I was 26 and put it out of mind until 2013 when our marketing director, Cheryl Tullis, introduced me to Griff,” says Sercu, who joined YPO in 2004. “Cheryl, Griff and a guy named RJ were the ones who inspired me to do what I could with the access I had, to benefit veterans and family members of veterans who are as important as the veterans themselves.”
“Once Cheryl told John what we were doing, 12 hours later we were sitting together in a café sucking down carafes of coffee at six in in the morning, making a plan to take over the world of flip flops,” recalls Griffin.
Since these former-United States Army Rangers joined forces, they have flipped the script on war, providing economic opportunities to those affected by combat by turning the weapons of war into weapons of change. And not just via flip flops; every sale of one of the beautiful, handmade sarongs made by local Afghani women, puts one Afghan girl into secondary school for a week. For every sale of a bangle made by artisans in Laos and fashioned from bombs, three square meters of unexploded ordnance is cleared from a region rocked by long-term war.
“Basically we find somebody making a consumable product that we like at an affordable price we think people want,” explains Griffin. “The biggest challenge in that it’s a new paradigm; instead of buying products in Asia, selling them for a huge margin and then giving a portion back to a non-profit, we want to go from farmer all the way to finished product and vertically integrate it all into the nation where it’s created.”
By tapping into the workforce of veterans transitioning back into civilian life, Combat Flip Flops has created a completely holistic circle, connecting those affected by combat in a country, with those who have returned home and are looking for meaningful and sustainable work in a world they understand and that understands them.
“Once you get on that C17 leaving from Afghanistan and land back in America into daily life, it’s really hard to get back out there and help the people you saw suffering,” says Griffin. “We figured we could reach a lot people who were willing to do that, who were hard workers, who were going to get out there and get into the communities and make a change.”
For Sercu, a strategic, longtime absence from anything military-centric made getting re-involved difficult, but ultimately, life affirming and rewarding.
“Deciding where to do good is a difficult decision that a lot of business leaders face,” says Sercu. “You wonder, ‘How much do I give and where do I give? Do I do it directly, to an agency, or to a foundation that distributes it, or do I start my own family foundation?’” Sercu pauses, then adds, “I asked these same questions all the time and now I know I want to give to veteran’s organizations.”
He encourages others who want to give back to see if there’s a space where they have direct experience and try to combine that with a passion for that experience.
“That’s a good place to start focusing your philanthropic efforts,” says Sercu. “If you don’t have that, look at your family members or close and dear friends and colleagues and see if there’s something you can be tied to. Ask yourself, ‘What can I do to connect people? What can I do to contribute? What can I do to inspire others?”
Watch Griffin’s TEDx Talk about Combat Flip Flops: