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San Diego Philanthropist Malin Burnham On Putting 'Community Before Self'

September 5, 2016 1:25 p.m.

San Diego Philanthropist Malin Burnham On Putting “Community Before Self”

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Malin Burnham, author, "Community Before Self"

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Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

This is Kpbs Midday Edition I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. And real estate developer of philanthropist sailor and author. At age 88 Malin Burnham has written a book about his life and about living. San Diego residents are already familiar with his name on many nonprofits. He was pivotal and bring in the USS Midway Museum to San Diego and the Olympic training Center. And he is a champion sailor. His book is called community before self, 70 years of making waves. Malin Burnham joins me now.
Thank you it is nice to be here.
What is the significance of the title community before self.
Probably a dozen years ago I sort of got -- I don't want to say stymied but a little bit frustrated with people coming up with ideas that were pretty self-serving. So I said how do we do away with that. Somehow I came up with these words and put them together community before self. I tried to think myself what does the community involved. By the way I describe community in two different manners. Geographically it is neighbors city state County the country and relationships it can be customers or partners or shareholders and I think those commit -- people are more important than me. I try to put their interest upfront.
I will ask you a question about yourself. I spoke about your many charitable and civic involvement in San Diego. Can you describe the satisfaction you get out of philanthropic work. What is in it for you.
That's a good question. Obviously it is not monetary.
So what's in it for me is the satisfaction of seeing something done that might not have been done if I had not been involved. I don't take credit for all of these things. I have never ever accomplished anything by myself. Sometimes I am the leader and sometimes I'm in the back or in the middle of the team. Selected Midway the ones that were introduced to the concept and it took us 11 years to get the ship here. The world -- there were a lot of people involved. They were critics that said it was going to be a flop. It happens to be a sensational and wonderful asset.
So it's the satisfaction of seeing the plans realized.
I don't get a 100% accomplishment and I'm willing to take a risk. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I say failure is just one step closer to success.
In your book community before self talk about pivot point and how they can have a major impact on your life. What was one of the greatest pivot point in your own life.
Probably when I came home from the East Coast. After winning the world championship in Long Island sound sailing my parents picked me up at the train station in Los Angeles. The first thing they said is congratulations son. The second thing my father said is you are going to Stanford. I said no dad. I was one of the younger ones in the class but all my buddies in high school graduated and they went into the Navy. So I was intending to do that. He said the war is over. They won't need you as much. I was a graduate of high school and has a good record and he's a walk on.
That's the first important pivot that I said in my life. Completely unexpected.
Given all the boards and committees you been involved in what are some of the qualities.
I think an effective leader has to have compassion for what is going on in his or her life and community. So it's getting partners and working together. Teamwork, never give up, work hard and you can accomplish a lot.
You have been a prominent businessman in San Diego and a prominent Republican for many years and you are successful businessman like the man who is heading the Republican Party nomination for president. Just wondering what is your feeling about that.
Back in 1985 and 86 I had a relationship with Donald Trump. I attempted to get his financial help in our campaign for the America's Cup and after we had one it he treated us to a parade of Fifth Avenue in New York so I spent time with them on the float and then we went to dinner. So I have a little personal knowledge but recent years, no. I would say the following. This is my big disappointment in our political system. We should make our lives in surrounding country a better place. After 50 years of laboring how could we come to the point where we have the two least qualified candidates for the presidency of the United States and we have gone off track somewhere along here. That is the way I described the current situation.
Your virtues of excellent that you list and community above self are things like teamwork commitment dedication. They might be described as old-fashioned. Do you think it's all applicable in the 21st century?
Absolutely. When you get up in the morning Howdy discipline your mind and your body. If you don't to will not live a healthy life. The things that I believe are very healthy for our mental exercises and then they translate into physical things and to me that's all part of discipline. I think there are too many people that don't think about discipline and life.
I've been speaking with Malin Burnham his book is called community before self 70 years of making waves.
It's been a pleasure thank you for having me.
You can listen to more of my conversation at a PBS.org and -- including his thoughts on building a new airport in San Diego.