Published May 19, 2009
Volume 17, Number 5

Brian Carbine, Dianne Adair Enrichment Programs’ CFO, Guides Nonprofit to Growth       

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

Brian Carbine’s life veered off in an unexpected direction in 2003, when he took a chance and ventured into unfamiliar territory. The decision, to move from a dozen-plus years in a stable corporate environment to the helm of a small family nonprofit business, a multisite daycare, was not one to be made lightly. True to his professional training as an accountant, Carbine first took a long look at the numbers on the balance sheet. He also mulled over the impending change in family relationships. The business, Dianne Adair Enrichment Programs, had been started by his step-mother and had been operated by her and Carbine’s father for close to 20 years. When the couple wanted to retire, the board asked Carbine and his step-brother, Todd Porter, if they were interested in taking over.

The opportunity was tempting. The business had been built to a point where the original owners were satisfied. Aware of the area’s increasing need for before- and after-school care, as well as preschool, Carbine saw plenty of room for growth. “We had seven buildings on seven different sites that were sitting empty during school hours. The light bulb went off to utilize the space by building a preschool program,” he says, adding, “It was also a great opportunity to contribute to the community.”

Carbine confirmed that Porter, then vice principal at a local high school, was equally interested in expansion. “It was a tough decision on my part,” Carbine recalls. “I had always been in the corporate world.” Still, it was business, something he knew well, and the partners would be able to run their own show, so the arguments in favor mounted. The final considerations were personal. Carbine worried about disrupting the family dynamic, but he and Porter would each have clearly defined roles, as CFO and Chief Executive Director, respectively; and both were committed to respecting the original mission, “to bring safe, affordable daycare in an educational environment to working parents of school-age children.”

The fact that the owners were truly prepared to hand over the reins clinched the deal. “It’s been a great transition, and the key was that my dad and step-mom were serious about letting go,” Carbine relates. “Their position was ‘you guys are running the business now,’ from day one.”

Despite the differences in environment, Carbine was well prepared for the new challenge. A native of Clayton, he graduated from Brigham Young University with a major in finance and a minor in accounting. He spent a year working at technology provider EDS, and then joined the staffing firm Robert Half as an accountant. The company was just centralizing many functions, and the small accounting department allowed Carbine to wear multiple hats. “It was a great opportunity to learn and grow,” he muses.

During that time he decided to further his knowledge by going back to school for a master’s degree. In addition to the professional advantages, he had a lesson to impart to his three children.  “I wanted them to learn the importance of an education, so I decided to lead by example,” he explains.

In the meantime, however, Robert Half was expanding. As the company got bigger, roles became more focused, and some of Carbine’s multiple hats went away. “When I came on board, the department probably had about10 people, and when I left 13 years later it had grown to a couple hundred.” Contemplating the invitation to take over the daycare business, “I realized that I missed the diversity of responsibilities.” 

There was another influence that propelled Carbine to shift course. After his freshman year in college, he had followed his church tradition and went on a two-year mission to Argentina. “It was a defining moment,” he observes. “I had already left home for college, but this was a whole other view of the world.”

He spent anywhere from two to five months at a time in a succession of different cities. Some were quite remote, reached after hours of bumping over dirt roads in a bus. What surprised him was the almost complete absence of a middle class. “It was like dealing with two different societies,” he comments. “The people were either very rich or dirt poor.”

Most of his time was spent with the latter, teaching religion and helping on service projects. “It really opened my eyes,” he points out. “There would be a family of five or six living in a hut the size of a small bedroom, but they were happy. These experiences really helped to develop my character and create the desire to make a difference in the world.”

When Carbine and Porter moved into their new positions, the business comprised seven daycare centers and one preschool on elementary school campuses in the Concord-based Mount Diablo Unified School District. That affiliation is the result of a “unique partnership,” in which the district leases the property to the nonprofit, which in turn builds and runs its own facilities. 

The two men turned their attention to updating operational systems and increasing space utilization by adding more preschools. In establishing the pre-k curriculum, they worked closely with principals and teachers to determine what the children needed to know. They have since opened two new sites, for a total of nine centers, each of which now has a pre-kindergarten program along with before- and after-school care.

The next step has been building a “kids’ night out” program, an occasional Friday or Saturday night when parents can drop off their school-age children for an evening of entertaining projects and fun with their peers. The first one debuted at the Walnut Creek site, with more to follow. 

Throughout the expansion, Carbine and Porter have been committed to delivering the same safe, high-quality care that has characterized the centers since their inception. The teachers have all been trained to interact with their charges. “These children are the future, and we are always asking how we can help them grow, feel good, and be productive in society,” Carbine notes. Along with more formal criteria, he has his own personal benchmark of success. “When a parent comes to pick up a child, and she asks for a few more minutes to finish up a project, that’s when I know we’re good at what we’re providing.”

A Pleasanton resident, Carbine moved his office into a suite in Hacienda, at 4733 Chabot Drive, this past February. While he has his eye on expanding into the local school district, the convenient location and minimal commute have already paid dividends, giving him more time to spend with his wife of 23 years, Sandy, and their two children still at home. Their daughter is a junior in high school, and their younger son is finishing up eighth grade. The eldest is now midway through his own South American mission, in Uruguay, and in their correspondence Carbine has found that “he is having a lot of the same experiences I did 25 years ago.” 

Asked whether his daughter will also follow the mission tradition, Carbine displays the insight of a true educator. “In my business, I see many differences among children. She will be making her own decision. What’s important is that it works for her.” He knows from his own experience that it is often worthwhile to explore the unexpected.

For more information, visit www.dianneadair.org.


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