Vince Proffitt, Founder and CEO of Proffitt Brothers Foundation was born and raised in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the youngest of three siblings. In his later adolescence, Vince was necessitated to secure his own living accommodations and largely supported himself while staying with friends. His excellence in football, along with his perseverance in academics, afforded him the extracurriculars and SAT scores he needed to get into the United States Air Force Academy. Along the way, Vince maintained his own business, “Vinnie’s Landscaping” shoveling snow and cutting grass around the greater Mt. Lebanon community. Today, he supports the Pittsburgh Penguins from outside of Washington D.C., where he runs the medical device company he created called Spartan Medical Inc., of which Proffitt Brothers Foundation (PBF) is the charitable arm.
We got a chance to speak with Vince about his time in the Air Force and how that influenced his business practices today, what the future holds for Proffitt Brothers Foundation, and why he chose to sign on as our Live Water Luau title sponsor.
Can you tell us a little about your time at the Air Force Academy, and your experience in the military?
I went off to the Air Force Academy at 17 and did my four years there. I played a little bit of football and was on the boxing team for a little while, but that place is so difficult academically that I realized, my freshman year, I better just focus on studying and getting through these things, because freshman year is very difficult. One of the most important positions I was able to apply and compete for was squadron commander. At the time, there were 40 squadrons at the academy, about 103 to 106 cadets in each squadron. We really learned peer leadership, which is pedagogically one of the most difficult types of leadership. That was one of the greatest experiences I had, and the officer who oversaw everything gave me the freedom to generally run the whole operation for a semester. It was an amazing leadership opportunity. I got to have a lot of other terrific opportunities — I flew gliders, jumped from planes, I was involved with basic Cadet training both as a flight commander and a Squadron Commander — but that experience [as a squadron commander] was phenomenal and stuck with me throughout my business career.
At the USAFA, you pick what you want to do – your Air Force Specialty Code – based on your class rank, so the majority of us that were at the top of the non-rated section of the class, meaning that couldn’t fly, went to intel school. It always seemed very interesting, and it is. It was a terrific, terrific choice. So about 20 of us went to the first available class after our summer off to intel school for a nine-month course in Goodfellow Air Force Base and it was, again, just fascinating. My last command in the Air Force was to go back to the schoolhouse and teach. I would attempt to make [the lessons] more tactical based on what I had learned in active duty with the B-1 bombers as a Squadron Intel Officer. My team of noncommissioned officers and enlisted instructors were just the most amazing group in the military I’ve ever, ever seen. All of them went on to have great careers. I learned in that command to put the right people in the right place at the right time and help them maximize their potential and watch what happens. I just felt blessed to be a part of that team and to have the honor of leadership and collaboration. All those things have propelled me to be able to do what I do now, because it’s not very different. You’re combining academics with leadership opportunities, both in the military and the civilian world. But in the military, you’re motivated by ideology, not bonuses, pay and quotas, etc.
Proffitt Brothers Foundation is the charitable arm of your business, Spartan Medical. Can you tell us a little about Spartan, and what sets you apart from other medical device companies?
When I began Spartan Medical in 2008, after the military, I’d already worked in the industry for several years, learning the trade. I created my own company with the thought process that was, “I understand how they motivate and incentivize in the civilian world, but why not use the same military ideologies I learned in the Air Force, and apply the same care, dedication, motivation and commitment to the mission? Why can’t that happen in the civilian world as well?” I looked at the principles of war and how they could be applied to business. Things like our code of conduct came from methodologies used in the military, and I think it’s a testament to our success. We’re not here to move a widget, we’re here to solve genuine problems and the problems we solve can have life or death consequences. From medical devices, implants, biologics, to Covid testing and vaccinations, we’ve had a huge amount of success in our operations, and it’s our ability to manage any project at any time that differentiates us. That’s the way the military works, every two to three years you get a completely new job assignment.
We understand that there’s a personal story behind the founding of Proffitt Brothers Foundation, can you share that with us?
My brother Greg was one of the first five employees I hired for Spartan medical, and we built it into a very successful business together. And then in 2018, very suddenly and unexpectedly Greg passed away. Obviously, it was very hard. Greg was an amazing guy, and a big-hearted guy. It was his vision to help people, and I wanted to realize that vision for him. That’s where I came up with the name Proffitt Brothers Foundation. Our Mission for PBF is to honor the vision and mission of Greg Proffitt by raising money and awareness for nonprofits who are on the front lines making a positive impact on the communities they serve.
What does PBF look for in a nonprofit that they’re going to fund?
It’s got to be a nonprofit who is on the front lines. We call it the front lines, which ties back to our history of being a veteran-owned and operated company, and having a workforce that’s nearly 50% veterans. It’s got to be an organization on the front lines, actually making a positive impact on the communities they serve. We typically don’t want to fund organizations whose majority of the donations go towards the administrative side of the nonprofit, and line the pockets and salaries of the administrators. So, we try to find nonprofits who spend most of their money on making a positive impact. We primarily focus on veterans’ issues in the DMV, but the Foundation is open to helping nonprofits across the country covering different issues.
Where do you see the PBF in 5 years?
The vision is to make it a nationally recognized name that veterans will know, and we’ll have the ability to help people all across the country.
Tell us about your proudest achievement. What is something that really motivates you?
What motivates me is when any of the people that I have the privilege and the honor of leading are able to maximize their personal and professional potential. That’s what I care about. You can get awards, I put mine in a corner somewhere. It doesn’t really get me all that excited, I’m happy to be recognized. But when my people – anyone who trusts me and the leadership team that we work together with – are recognized and awarded, that is really what motivates me, because it’s an honor and a privilege to lead and it’s a sacred duty. If every leader treated it that way, as the sacred duty that it is, I think we’d have a much different world today. If you treat it as a sacred honor, to make sure that your reports, your troops, and anyone that works with you (I hate to say “for” you) is maximizing their personal professional potential, and that they understand what the mission is and how to move forward, and supporting them the entire way, then you’re doing your duty as a leader.
Finally, what compelled you to sign on as a title sponsor for the Live Water Luau?
Live Water is a great organization that aligns with all of our criteria. They’re focused on veterans, they are on the front lines, and they spend most of their money on supporting their communities and making a positive impact. Live Water was actually one of the four beneficiaries of the Proffitt Brothers Foundation’s inaugural fundraiser last November. It was a two-day event on the Annapolis City Dock with a gala on Friday and a festival on Saturday. It was an amazing weekend and we got to know Brian and the rest of the Live Water staff, all of whom are great people. It’s just a great organization to work with, so when we were approached about the Luau, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to help out.