A heart-led leader
A heart-led leader is someone who puts purpose and passion over profit and who measures success on how they impact others, individually and collectively. Such a leader puts great focus on loving what they do, how well they do it, and for whom they do it. Ralph Weaver, founding president and CEO of East West Connection (EWC) is that kind of leader, and his leadership attributes trace back from his youth to the present. Faith, joy, and giving are the main ingredients that characterize Weaver as a person, and they are also in the DNA that runs through East West Connection’s founding 29 years ago and how it is managed today.
Headquartered in Pittstown, New Jersey, EWC is a full-service meeting, events, and incentive travel company that has organized programs for groups as small as 10 to several thousand participants. It has established a global presence delivering unique and memorable experiences, from strategic concept to successful completion, for its clients.
Among the services that make EWC stand out is its commitment to ensuring that even with today’s technology, there’s always staff on-site to provide the “human touch of support.”
The excitement, joy, and distinctiveness of EWC events come from the heart of its founder, who as a youth escaped to interesting and exotic corners of the world through library books and photos that a Sunday school teacher who had travelled the world extensively shared with him. “Those encounters painted a picture that my world was bigger than where I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland,” Weaver reminisces.
Weaver’s parents—especially his mother, Viola—started him on the road to exploring and embracing other people, places, and cultures. She was a spiritual woman whose faith, pride, dignity, and prayer helped her navigate rough waters and instill lessons that would take Weaver, his brother, and two sisters far.
“‘Dare to dream, have faith in God and others, have fortitude, set your own path, and always know that I believe in you,’ she would tell us,” he says. “My mother always prayed for me and encouraged me to do the same for myself, others, and situations. Prayer made me determined, fearless, value, and be thankful for my blessings.”
Those lessons were gifts that form the cornerstone of how Weaver manages himself, his employees, and the company. The EWC team of nearly 80 experienced and skilled diverse professionals is the engine that keeps the company growing. “Over the years, we’ve learned that while talent and skill are important, the ability to embrace EWC’s philosophy, culture, and mission is equally important,” Weaver says.
Weaver sought to establish a company that brought the Far East and Western cultures together—ergo, East West Connection. The company began in 1990 when he and his partner, Douglas Keene, traveled the world purchasing distinctive merchandise with the goal of opening a boutique.
Unfortunately, that plan was sidelined alongside Weaver’s work life when a car accident put him out of work for about two years. Having been employed as a marketing and communications professional at several pharmaceutical industry companies, Weaver began to develop a plan for the business. By the time he recovered, his position had been eliminated. Instead of sinking into depression, he dusted off his plan and leaped out on faith.
After nearly 30 years, EWC’s mission has been a constant: to be a best-in-class meeting, events, and incentive travel company by consistently providing strategic solutions, creativity, and superior service. “What keeps us in the game is to never rest on our laurels and always look ahead for what is next—for how we can enhance what we do,” he says.
EWC is strong and viable, but still something of a “best-kept secret,” Weaver says. The company previously secured most of its business via word-of-mouth. As a minority business enterprise, a challenge it continues to face is “being given the opportunity to distinguish ourselves from others, as prospects are increasingly relegated to pitching electronically rather than sitting with buyers to build relationships and demonstrate firsthand what we offer, how we price our work, and how we do our work,” Weaver emphasizes.
Weaver has a plan for expanding the business in Atlanta and on the West Coast. For the past two years, he and his team have been “working on increasing the company’s size and doubling its revenue (to 100 people and $20 million) in 2020—its 30th anniversary year.”
Reflecting on his life and the lessons learned, Weaver equates EWC’s “secret” status to the times in his youth when people underestimated him and picked him last for a team or project. “People didn’t think I could deliver, and that has shaped my life as a person and a business leader,” he says. “I learned early that sometimes there’s a hidden gem underneath what people may represent. Whether it’s pitching for business, helping others in need, mentoring employees, or satisfying clients, I let my work speak for me and EWC.”