19 May 2023
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Sometimes in life you come across someone who seems just too good to be true. For me, Chris West is one of those people. We were introduced about four years ago by our mutual friend Aaron Gordon, who recognized that we both want to lead with kindness and work to make a positive impact on the world. I just love spending time with Chris. He is a relationship builder — fun, genuine, trustworthy, kind and dedicated to a life of service. He knows everyone! He’s an inspiration, and has impacted more lives than most anyone else I know. There is no one I’d rather talk with about the importance of making meaningful connections.

Christopher West has spent his life building meaningful connections. The happy result is a web of community that continues to build as he takes on one project after another, each building upon the last. The outcome is a broad range of impact, motivated by kindness, empathy, and a commitment to making the world a better place.

Raised in the Northeast, Chris started his career in food by attending the Culinary Institute of America.

His family history in the food industry, (his grandfather invented a snack called Doritos, and his father made his living in bottled water), instilled an intergenerational connection that drove him to pursue work that would create healthier connections to food and build positive conversations about food’s central role in the community.

Chris has toggled between the East and West coasts, taking on an ever-evolving series of projects. On the East coast, he worked with the Cabbage Hill Farm Foundation — a family-run non-profit organization — to help kids make healthier food choices, then relocated to California to run the Kitchen Project, before moving back to the East coast to work for a private family office to establish a permaculture homestead and eventually manage the estate, bridging the food and family realms.

His last move took him to the West Coast once again to help his brother — who is also a mission-driven chef — establish a healthy, fast-casual, plant-forward cuisine concept meant to disrupt the food industry.

In California, he discovered a new landscape of entrepreneurialism. He worked with a private family office to help create a space to host events, fundraisers, and build bridges between communities, then went on to manage a number of large private family estates, forging relationships across disciplines with businesses who helped support the family operations.

He quickly recognized he had the ability — based on the strength of his relationship-driven mission — to shift from managing family estates to helping match those estates with the people they needed to run them.

He founded Bespoke Private Service, an executive search firm for single-family offices, foundations, and companies, with a mission of serving those who use their resources to drive positive change in the world.

With each pivot, Chris has built meaningful connections, scaling up his impact and furthering his goal of service and leaving a positive imprint on the world.

You are a connector. Does it come to you naturally?
I’m an identical twin who is also a triplet, (my sister was conceived six weeks before my twin brother and me, but born at the same time), so I guess you could say it’s in my DNA. As a triplet, I had deep connections from birth, and I saw early in life that things I said and did could have a profound impact on the lives of others. I wanted that impact to be positive.

How do we set about making meaningful connections?
I approach relationships with blue sky thinking — there are a million ways we can make connections and be friends!

Tell me about your favorite book: ‘Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Meyer.’
His philosophy is this: if an employer takes care of his employees, his employees will take care of their customers, and the profits will take care of themselves. It’s all about taking care of people.

You started in food, then segued into private service, but always focused on making connections…
Food brings people together. I started my career in food, but food was always a medium to connect with people. Moving on from food as work allowed me to spend more time cooking for those I love. I now form those connections and relationships through other work.

Win-win relationships are central to nearly every one of your stories…
The core of my belief system is built upon relationships of mutuality. My goal is to foster relationships where everyone feels they got the better end of the deal.

Can you define what makes relationships meaningful to you in your work?
There is a thread of service that runs through everything I do. I think it comes from my mother, who has spent her whole life taking care of people.

At Bespoke Private Service, we are of service to those who use their resources to serve others. It maximizes our impact.

How do you take what you learn in this latest phase of your work, and parlay it to others?
Through my work with abundantly resourced families, I’ve gained a first-hand understanding of what — regardless of wealth or privilege — makes people happy. Those who were the happiest were those who had the strongest connections to family, friends and community.

Your career has been propelled forward by a series of meaningful connections…
I like to live where preparation meets opportunity. Community to me is a piece I don’t talk about enough. I like to create communities with shared core values. I have those resources because I’ve invested in great relationships.

I know your work with the Guardsmen is important to you…
When I moved to San Francisco, I joined the Guardsmen. It’s a group dedicated to helping young people who lack advantages make connections — with nature, education, community — that help propel them forward. The individuals we help will go on to help others. As a Guardsman, I was asked to be the chair of the VIP section for the organization’s big fundraiser.

The concept of a VIP section seemed inherently at odds with our mission. The kids are the VIPs, and I wanted to create an opportunity to bring it back to that. Permaculture farming taught me a lot about patience, and the concept of ‘sleep, creep, and leap.’

So I followed that guide: in my first year as chair I watched, then in the second year I shifted the narrative, changing the name of the VIP section to the ‘Changemakers Cellar,’ which allowed the kids to become the VIPs.

I asked Carlton McCoy — a CEO, sommelier and star of Nomad with Carlton McCoy who received support from a changemaker — to be our honoree, shifting the focus from honoring the donors to honoring the opportunity, as well as Carlton’s efforts to pay forward what he had received.

What will you do for the third year? What is the Leap?
The third year is about leveraging the bridges built between communities: foundations, other non-profits in the space, and other changemakers. I invite you to join me at the table and in doing so, uplift our entire community.

The concept of paying it forward has come up again and again. It seems like meaningful relationships are with those you know, and those you haven’t even met…
We move forward by impacting the next generation, leveraging our relationships for good. We have benefitted from the support of those who came before us. We are paying it forward while paying it back. It is not linear, but rather cyclical. Permaculture taught me that.

Tell me about The Greenhouse…
What do I do to bring people around to my values? I cook. Food is a connector. I want to build longer tables instead of higher walls. In San Francisco, I have a lot of dinner parties, and I made it a rule to only invite back those who were good guests. After a while, about 90% of my dinner guests were women, and I realized there was a problem to be solved here. I wanted to form a social club focused on creating a more positive culture around men. Men like to give, and if you give them an opportunity to do so, they will. But then I started to realize that focusing solely on men was excluding a whole lot of people.

So I’m incubating a new idea. The Greenhouse is a safe space that forms a new way to show up in society.

In our current society, we need a philosophy of shared values that is not a religion. A place where we can share basic information about how to be a positive human being, and make meaningful connections. That way we can build the future we want to see.