By day Gregory Yeadon, ’01, is an associate brand manager for Energizer. At night and on weekends he is a pro bono volunteer for Ben’s Friends, a rapidly growing and relatively new organization that develops and builds online communities for people suffering from rare diseases.

The organization was started after Yeadon’s close friend, Ben Munoz, suffered a brain aneurysm as a result of Arteriovenous Malformation, or AVM. Munoz and another friend started a network for AVM survivors and quickly realized there was a need for online patient communities for people with other rare diseases. The two started Ben’s Friends and asked Yeadon to join the management team last year.

It gives people with rare diseases a much needed place to connect, he says. “By definition, rare diseases are uncommon, so patients may have trouble obtaining advice or support from people who truly know what they are going through.”

Ben’s Friends is a group of social networks, but unlike other social networks, caters only to a specific group.

The organization now boasts 25 online communities, more than 7,000 users, over 200,000 page views each month, and has been featured by media outlets such as BusinessWeek. Yeadon’s role is to draw on his business and leadership studies backgrounds to build corporate partnerships and work on strategy and marketing.

“We have a philosophy that each person should work on something they’re passionate about and that can make a difference to the organization,” says Yeadon, adding that he sees a link between the goals of the organization and what he learned about servant leadership through his leadership studies minor.

“Servant leadership espouses leading by serving your followers," he says. "With Ben’s Friends, the most important thing is that patients are getting the support they need from our networks. In a significant way I see this business as based on the servant leadership model.

“By stressing ethical leadership and service, Jepson helped me develop a lens on leadership and management that is different from many individuals.”  

Yeadon also draws on his strong business background. He graduated from UR with a business administration major and later earned an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. In addition to working with Energizer he has worked with Ford Motor Company's F-150 brand and 3M's Post-it brand in consumer marketing.

His hope for Ben’s Friends is that anyone afflicted with a rare disease — which is defined as such in the U.S. when it affects less than 200,000 people in the country — will turn to the organization for support. He sees it ultimately as a “pro-social, mission-driven business.”

“People now are looking for companies to go beyond providing a good product or service, and to actually fulfill higher-level needs,” says Yeadon. “In our case we’re a business that really helps people cope with life-changing conditions.”

According to Yeadon, the ethics and values he honed in his leadership studies classes are part of what prompt him to spend most of his spare time volunteering with an organization like Ben’s Friends. And his business administration major, he says, provided him with the foundational tools to succeed in his career.

“I was initially attracted to UR because of the leadership and business programs. Now I regard my education as a significant component of my personal ethics and approach to problems every day.”

More about Ben's Friends