Read in English Leer en Español

Mel Katz: Thinking Big for a Better San Diego

Mel Katz still laughs when he thinks about the president of Manpower selling the company’s San Diego office to two 25-year-olds who had never owned a business — himself and Phil Blair — 45 years ago.

What Mel didn’t know at the time was just how much that move would impact his future philanthropic endeavors.

Manpower has become San Diego’s fourth-largest local for-profit employer, providing approximately 2,500 jobs daily through its six countywide branches. The company offers employment opportunities, training and workforce solutions for individuals pursuing their careers.

Mel’s devotion to advancing economic equity for working people and civic improvement is reflected not only in his own work, but in his volunteerism and leadership across San Diego and as a Board Member at The San Diego Foundation. 

Community First, Business Second

Mel was 14 years old when he moved from his home in New York to Las Vegas, where his parents were launching a Manpower franchise. Mel’s father quickly got involved in the local community and generously gave his time and financial support to organizations that were making an impact.

Thereafter, Mel moved to Phoenix to work as a buyer at a large department store where he met his future wife, Linda, and his business partner, Phil. When Mel and Phil became owners of Manpower San Diego, his father advised them to join local organizations and boards to show the community what they could do.

“Don’t sell your business,” Mel recalled his father saying, “but show them the kind of person you are, and business is going to follow.”

This mantra has guided Manpower’s work and impact, and the company has been actively involved in the San Diego region ever since. Over the 2021 holiday season, the Manpower San Diego team collected and donated over 80 cartons of diapers for the San Diego Food Bank’s diaper drive. The company also focuses on causes ranging from homelessness to K-12 and post-secondary education.

Alongside his Board membership with The Foundation, Mel serves as a board member with the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center, San Diego Water Authority, University of California San Diego (UCSD) Foundation, and e3 Civic High, of which he is also a founder.

He previously served as chair and was a board member with San Diego Workforce Partnership, a local nonprofit that empowers job seekers to meet the current and future workforce needs of employers in San Diego County – right in alignment with Manpower’s work.

Giving of his time, talent and treasures to myriad organizations has kept Mel in a continuous loop of learning about community needs and developing the skills needed to take part in addressing them.

For Mel, philanthropy is just an extension of his career.

Committed to Change

“It’s an exciting time to be at The Foundation,” Mel shared, reflecting with pride on the reach and impact of the COVID-19 Community Response Fund, the Community Scholarship Program and the recently launched Black Homebuyer Program.

Mel added that more unrestricted dollars, like the surprise $8 million unrestricted gift from author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, will help The Foundation make an even greater impact, aligned with its new strategic direction.

Mel expressed his excitement that more people with a large capacity for giving, like Ms. Scott, are learning about The Foundation and taking notice, but emphasized that “we have to think big” to reach a wider audience and turn more philanthropists into advocates.

“If we think big enough and have a big enough vision and put together the plans, what can we accomplish here?” he wondered.

Mel believes that The Foundation’s new Strategic Plan is thinking big.

Fostering equity of opportunity, one of the Strategic Plan priorities, aligns with Mel’s passion for equitable early care and education and enhanced opportunities for underrepresented San Diegans to pursue higher education.

Building resilient communities, another priority, aims to increase access to education and skill-building to meet local workforce needs, in step with Mel’s pursuit of workforce equity through Manpower San Diego.

Mel’s continued involvement in addressing the region’s greatest needs demonstrates the many ways he is committed to big change in San Diego.

Related Content