A Victor of Circumstance
From the Record, Spring 2022
By Alexandra Evans
“Always be near the CEO.” Words of wisdom from his grandfather that Barron Segar ’84 took with him as he climbed the corporate ladder from his first job in banking to his time as chief development officer and executive vice president of UNICEF USA. These days, it’s easier than ever for Segar to put this dictum into practice because he is himself the CEO.
In January of 2020, Segar stepped into his dream job as president and chief executive officer of World Food Program USA. Based in Washington, D.C., World Food Program USA mobilizes American policymakers, businesses, and individuals to support the United Nations World Food Programme’s mission to end global hunger by 2030. In his first 18 months at the helm, Segar ushered in a period of unprecedented organizational and charitable growth.
Upon its fiscal year-end on September 30, 2021, World Food Program USA had brought in $60.4 million in revenue with 74,000 constituents giving and approximately 250 of those constituents being considered major donors—or donors who give at or above the $10,000 level—as compared to $29.8 million in revenue at the end of fiscal year 2020 with 64,000 constituents donating including 115 major donors.
With success like that, it would be hard for Segar to go unnoticed. On August 2, 2021, The NonProfit Times named him to its 2021 Power and Influence Top 50 list out of a field of 300 top executives. The announcement notes that this year’s honorees “have distinguished themselves as initiators, innovators and leaders.”
“I’m incredibly honored to be recognized among such a distinguished group of nonprofit leaders. But for me, what matters most is not the accolades but the impact we’re making and the lives that we are changing and saving,” Segar says. “In the end, the ultimate gratification for any nonprofit leader is the knowledge that your work helped make life a little better for someone else. This is more than a career; it’s a calling, and there’s no other work I’d rather be doing.”
Segar’s technical proficiency in fundraising andnonprofit management is attributable to his previous professional experience as an executive with Nations Bank (now Bank of America) and UNICEF USA, but his immense personal compassion for the people whom the organization serves is the true driving force behind his every move.
“My mother always told me, ‘You can’t choose where you’re born. You were lucky enough to be born in America to a family who can provide for you,’” Segar recalls. He keeps this in mind whenever he meets new people whom World Food Program USA supports, calling them his brothers and sisters.
If one were to judge by his resume or public profile, Segar has lived a charmed life. Born into a tight-knit family in Norfolk, he was a popular student at Norfolk Collegiate Academy, became a Sigma Nu brother while at Hampden- Sydney, rubs elbows with A-list celebrities, has achieved professional success, and is happily married.
But Segar has had more than his fair share of trials through the years. In addition to overcoming a speech impediment and a fiercely shy nature, Segar almost failed out of college, battled suicidal thoughts, and has experienced discrimination both personally and professionally—including being the victim of a hate crime.
“We’re all a product of our experiences,” Segar says, and he has made the most out of all his experiences—the positive and the negative.
COMING INTO HIS OWN
Segar describes himself as a rebellious child—never doing anything too crazy, but always pushing the boundaries. “My parents had a very hard time keeping a babysitter around,” he laughs.
That rebellious streak threatened to cause a rift in his family at the end of Segar’s high school career as he contemplated his next steps. Despite being close with his father, Segar knew that his dad’s wishes for his future were not in line with his own.
“I had a Virginia Military Institute Class of 1984 pennant above my bed throughout my entire childhood,” Segar says. The pressure on Segar, the only son of Nancy and Samuel Barron Segar, Jr., to attend VMI was so intense that his father threatened to not pay for his education if he enrolled anywhere but Lexington.
“I’m a very curious person, and I knew a liberal artscollege would give me a much broader education,” Segar says of his decision to forge his own path. “Hampden-Sydney was the only college I wanted to go to that I felt could give me that.”
Luckily, Segar’s grandfather stepped in and helped with tuition, saying, “VMI is my first favorite school, but Hampden-Sydney is my second favorite school,” Segar recalls.
Although H-SC was indeed the right place for him, Segar was not immune to the challenges of the home-to-college transition, eking out just a 1.6 grade point average his first semester. Knowing he needed help fast or he would be returning to Norfolk without a degree, Segar sought the advice of Hampden-Sydney’s counseling services. “The counselor helped me figure out what I needed to be successful,” he says, which included moving off-campus to create some much-needed distance and structure in his life. But perhaps more importantly than helping Segar turn his grades around, the counselor helped Segar come to terms with his sexual orientation—a secret which he had carried throughout his young adult years.
“I was very lucky that Hampden-Sydney had a resource center that could give me someone to talk to,” Segar says. “I went to the counseling center a lot because I was struggling. Through this counselor, I made a 180-degree shift. He really helped me in a non-judgmental way to self-identify with who I was, help me create boundaries so that I could succeed at Hampden-Sydney, and get my life back on track. I continued to see him multiple times a week the rest of my time at the College.”