On many occasions, Casey Cortese, now Director of Community Relations and V.P. of The Janus Foundation (the charitable arm of the Janus organization) is the voice and face of mutual fund giant Janus Capital Group out in the community – both in Colorado and throughout the country.
You can count on Casey to have a clear picture of what needs to be accomplished; and her company knows they can rely on her to make a favorable impression whenever she conveys Janus’ vision and dedication to sponsoring and supporting numerous worthy causes.
Sensible, reliable and professional, this seasoned “event and marketing maven,” and 2004 Janus “Employee of the Year,” is a thoroughly modern girl – but with a classic style, enthusiasm and confidence all her own. These qualities help Casey perform and serve her company and the community with the highest level of integrity. In Casey’s words: “When I believe in what I am doing, I commit to it fully and always seek the highest pinnacle of excellence in my work.”
Going back to when you first started with Janus – to today, what do you feel has been your proudest personal accomplishment? Instituting a charity program called the Janus Charity Challenge which is held in conjunction with Janus’ sponsorship of the Ironman Triathlons. The program is designed to encourage more people to meet the needs of their own communities. We challenge Ironman athletes to use their race to raise money for charity.
The most unique thing about it is that unlike most other fundraising programs, we don’t determine where the money goes. Each athlete can choose to raise money for the 501c3 nonprofit that he or she is most passionate about. Janus provides a variety of fundraising tools and makes contributions to the beneficiaries of the top 50 fundraisers at each of six races annually.
Since its inception in 2001, the program has raised more than $14 million for hundreds of nonprofits throughout the country. It represents to me, the essence of responsible philanthropy because Janus has put both financial and intellectual resources to work. And when you see how much it means to these athletes to have used their greatest passion – triathlon – to serve their community, Wow! That’s pretty powerful.
What do you enjoy the most about your work? I really love the creative challenges that come with developing programs that are good both for our business and the community. I also love the people I work with. I think that Janus has a huge number of talented, committed and creative people, and I think our culture is fairly unique in the corporate world.
You are out in the public arena quite often; who is the most interesting person you have ever met? Canon Huata, the leader of the Maori tribe. I was hosted in his home in New Zealand when I traveled with a youth group called Up with People, and I learned first hand about the continual struggles facing indigenous populations world-wide. His commitment and vision for securing a better future for young Maori’s was tremendously inspirational, and I came away from that experience with a much broader and open-minded global perspective.
What program or event with your organization do you get the most excited about? There are so many – our involvement with the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, our Zoo partnership, and the many nonprofit organizations we support through the Foundation. But I think the one that I get most excited about is our sponsorship of the Ironman Triathlons. There is such a synergy between the two brands – the determination, commitment and tenacity shown by the athletes are the same qualities we at Janus strive for every day to serve our investors, shareholders, clients and employees. We have been able to create some very unique programs through this partnership, such as the Janus Charity Challenge (mentioned earlier) and inspirational messaging program, a unique client VIP event, and we’re now in the early stages of developing a new Ironman branded sales program.
When I see something that fits so holistically in our firm, I feel tremendously energized by it. On a personal level, the Ironman athletes are some of the must humble but talented athletes I’ve ever seen. The stories of what it takes to be an Ironman always leave me inspired to be better, not just at sports, but in all areas of my life.
You travel quite often in your position, what are the pros and cons of always being on the road? I love the stimulation of being in new environments and meeting new people. If I was at my desk all the time, I’d go a bit stir crazy. And travel is one of my main passions. The downside is that it is difficult at times to see my friends regularly. I’ve had to give up some things because I’m gone so much – like performing in community theatre – but at the end of the day I enjoy the balance (and some times the imbalance) it brings to my life.
What kind of things would you do if you had plenty of spare time? Travel more. See my family more often. Go out on the town. Take ballet class regularly. Get back into community theatre. Train for a longer distance triathlon. Should I go on? There are many things on this list!
How do you determine who will be awarded a Janus Foundation grant? We look to fund nonprofit organizations that are unique and visionary in how they serve their constituents. And we want to partner with nonprofits that are truly making a sustainable difference in their communities. I think too often we see nonprofits that duplicate the services of other organizations – this is inefficient for everyone involved.
So if we find a nonprofit that is very creative in their program offerings, it sets them apart from the pack. It shows that they are concerned about their organization’s development, that they are willing to evolve with the changing needs of the community, and I believe it gives them a stronger foundation for longevity and therefore success.
Is there a charitable event you really look forward to attending each year? I love the Do at the Zoo, but unfortunately it usually conflicts with an annual business trip I have. I also love Girls Night Out at Curious Theatre Company, the Booklover’s Ball. Mainly I’m attracted to events that have a signature feel to them, and those that strongly connect the audience to their cause. They have to be unique to break through the clutter of the many events that are out there.
What is your greatest strength(s) that makes you such an asset to your organization? I think my creativity would be first. It’s very important to Janus to differentiate ourselves from other financial institutions, and that helps me greatly. I think also my passion. I also believe in Janus – what it stands for, and how our investment products can change people’s lives.
How do you decompress after a hectic day? I love to go home and sit on my deck with a few good friends and a nice bottle of red wine.
Do you have a favorite vacation spot? No, although I do love going to the beach because its one place I can truly relax. One of my greatest passions, however, is travel, so my personal goal is to visit a new country every year. And when I’m in a new place I’m like a kid on a new adventure – I want to see, do and taste everything!
What do you wish you could have a never-ending supply of? Popcorn. French fries. Red wine. Time with friends and family.
What do you think is the biggest problem we are facing in this country today? Two things come to mind. In many ways I think we have a problem with the bipolarity of our political parties. I think often times we tote a party line and lose sight of what is really best for our country. Along with that, I believe we need to concentrate more on making sure our youth have a world perspective – that we educate them about political affairs, current events, and how what happens around the world affects people globally. We need to get them excited and involved from an early age, so that when it comes time for them to vote, to influence legislature, they can do so knowledgably.
I also think we continue to face a huge problem with our materialistic society. In our rush to always have more and get it quickly, I think we’ve made a huge sacrifice in our quality of life. Our work weeks are too long, our schedules are too hectic, we spend too much money on luxury items. We have become too egocentric, and that affects our ability to have a balanced life.
As Americans, how can each of us reach out to other people in the world in hopes of creating a better understanding among different races and nationalities? I think first we need to loose some of our arrogance as Americans. In general, the quality of life here is so much higher than many other places that it’s something too many people take for granted. Our ability to speak English almost everywhere we go is viewed as a given, not a luxury.
So we need to educate ourselves to be better global thinkers. I believe that every American should travel to a third world country at some point in their lives to get a better perspective on the world and everything that we have in this country. Every American should learn a different language and apply it. Self education and experience are the best tools we have for breaking down barriers. It is only through personal interaction with other races and cultures (and an open mind) that we can gain understanding.
What can make you cry? A lot. I can be pretty emotional. Everything from a tragic story on the news to a Hallmark commercial.
When you were a little girl, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up? I wanted to be an actress for the longest time. Then a dancer. I’ve been fortunate to be involved with both areas throughout my lifetime. It is important to me to embrace my passions and live them.
How do you want to be remembered by future generations? I would want to be remembered as someone who was sincere, loyal, passionate, and dedicated to making a positive difference in the world in my own small way.
Do you have a motto, or “words of wisdom,” that have guided you through most of your life? “Make your decision and make it work.” I learned this from my father. I used to get too caught up in second-guessing decisions I had already made, and that created a lot of negative energy and wasted time in my life. I learned quite a while ago that there are always plenty of choices, many good, some bad, but that once you commit to something, whether it be a hobby, a relationship, or a fitness plan, you can’t let yourself be distracted by all the other choices you could have made. Go with it and trust in the choices that you made.