Noah Thomas Leask has always been a man with a plan. Case in point: Well before the technology entrepreneur and company founder achieved his current – and covetable – level of success, he was already primed to give back.
Now, he is doing so on behalf of the College with the creation of the Noah Thomas Leask Distinguished Professorship in Information Management and Innovation. Philanthropy has long been a priority for him and his wife, Lisa.
“On our way up, we believed that as you could give, you give,” says Leask. “We’ve always done that.”
The Leasks first did so by donating their time. As they were able, they began offering financial support.
After all, the father of three knows what it feels like to go without. Leask recalls that while there was plenty of love to go around his childhood home, a modest trailer in Michigan, there was far less in the way of creature comforts. Ever one to give credit where it is due, he cites his mother for providing him with the boundless support that ultimately helped him achieve his outsized goals. His mother’s emphasis on helping those in need also endowed him with the empathy that propels him to give back.
It’s true, technological acumen also factored into Leask’s ever-escalating rate of success.
“I’m a super geek,” he grins.
During his service in the U.S. Navy, Leask honed his expertise in cybersecurity, serving as a deployed member of the U.S. Naval Security Group Command and the National Security Agency. Those contributions did not go unnoticed. The veteran received the Navy Commendation Medal and four Navy Achievement Medals.
Shifting those skills to the private sector in 2006, the high-energy Leask took on a new challenge. It was then that he co-founded Charleston-based ISHPI Information Technologies Inc., a cybersecurity firm powered primarily by government contracts that has landed on Inc. magazine’s annual list of the country’s fastest-growing businesses for the past seven years. Leask has since stepped down as ISHPI’s CEO, but continues to serve as the company’s chairman. Never one to sit still, he has continued to distinguish himself in the digital space by serving as an active investor in tech startups.
Leask’s involvement with higher-education philanthropy started with his own Native American tribe, the Sault Ste. Marie, through which he has funded scholarships for fellow tribe members. When the Leasks moved to Charleston in 2005, they discovered the College of Charleston by way of their daughter’s participation in the College’s REACH program, which supports students with special needs. Impressed with the program, the Leasks have since provided scholarship support for REACH students.
“We really liked the College of Charleston’s program because of its commitment to inclusion,” Leask says, adding that his daughter’s experience with the program has been life changing. “One of the things we believe in is that if we’ve been able to benefit from something, and others can’t afford it, it’s our job to put money in place so that they can have a hand up and experience the same things we have.”
That, however, was just the beginning of an ever-evolving relationship with the College. His initial interactions prompted him to think more closely about the school’s role in his adoptive city of Charleston, Lisa’s hometown.
“Our move to Charleston has been an amazing experience,” says Leask, noting how he is particularly taken with the city’s startup scene and wants to support technology-driven economic development. It was then that a plan started percolating in his mind, one shaped mainly by the impact that the College has on the city.
“I had three goals,” says Leask. The first? “I wanted to contribute to the national and international prominence of Charleston. I really like the way the College of Charleston is bringing together information management and innovation – and investing in people that can work today.”
This dovetailed with Leask’s second philanthropic objective: to support the IT industry and the software companies that account for Charleston’s rising status as a technology hub – and its nickname of “Silicon Harbor.” Leask determined that the forward-thinking, integrated approach of the School of Business offered the most efficient, effective place to bolster technology entrepreneurism at the college level – and thereby elevate the technology sector throughout the city.
His third goal was to further a longtime commitment to lifting up the socioeconomically disadvantaged, informed by his personal story of starting out with very little and working his way up. By creating the professorship, the College will be able to further opportunities in the field of technology, which was transformative in his own career trajectory.
The plan comes together seamlessly with the Leasks’ gift of $1.92 million and the newly created Noah Thomas Leask Distinguished Professorship in Information Management and Innovation, which will enable the College of Charleston to create a new position in the School of Business that both attracts and develops top technology talent.
“We are a destination,” he says of Charleston, noting that the School of Business is uniquely positioned to leverage the city’s appeal. “If we do this right, we’ll be producing not just job-ready, but job-dominating students.”
With this deeply considered plan, both the College and the city are teed up for limitless achievement. And Noah Thomas Leask is just the man to make that happen.
Featured image by Mike Ledford