Quarterbacks are almost always the leaders of a football team. Why? The position calls for certain skills: authority in the huddle to communicate the play call, decisiveness in throwing the ball to an open receiver, the ability to inspire when the chips are stacked against the team and a short memory when things go wrong.
For the same reasons, quarterbacks often make great leaders off the field too.
“When you’re on the field, you need a quick thinker and someone who is decisive, clear cut and straightforward, and that definitely translates into who [Matt Kaulig] is as our leader at Kaulig Cos.,” says Stacey Langal, vice president of philanthropy at Kaulig Cos. “He empowers us to go forward and do our work without micromanaging.”
Kaulig was a quarterback, playing four seasons of Division 1 football at the University of Akron. Today, as executive chairman of Kaulig Cos., he quarterbacks 142 employees and a family of five companies. Those same skills that made him successful on the football field have propelled him to extraordinary heights as a businessman and philanthropist.
“It’s all leadership,” he says. “Being a quarterback in college made me comfortable in a leadership role and having people follow me.”
Kaulig started LeafFilter in 2005 in the basement of his Stow home. LeafFilter Gutter Protection is now a brand under the parent company Leaf Home, along with Leaf Home Water Solutions and Leaf Home Safety Solutions, which offers “aging in place” consumer products such as walk-in bathtubs, wheelchair ramps, stairlifts and handrails. With a revenue of $1.1 billion in 2020 and 117 offices, the company is one of North America’s largest direct-to-consumer home product companies.
But Kaulig Cos. has grown beyond Leaf Home. Today, Kaulig calls Hudson home, as does his single-member family offices in a series of complexes along Georgetown Road. Within a series of open-concept workspaces — modern with glass-door offices, financial tickers streaming across the wall, stocked breakrooms with full kitchens and a sophisticated multimedia space — Kaulig Cos. has tentacles in media, financial services, philanthropy, sports, entertainment, events and marketing.
The company’s involvement in sports has probably been most notable as of late. Kaulig Racing has been #TrophyHunting since launching in 2015, and the team of eight drivers has racked up nearly 20 wins in NASCAR’s Cup Series and Xfinity Series. In July, Kaulig Cos. signed a deal to take over as title sponsor of the Senior Players Championship and keep the tournament at Akron’s Firestone Country Club through 2023. In June, a group of investors led by investor David Blitzer and including Kaulig bought a 25% ownership share in the Cleveland Guardians.
A rare opportunity, the ownership of the Guardians is a result of the Kaulig Foundation and Kaulig Giving, a wing of Kaulig’s company that perhaps means just a bit more to Kaulig than the rest of his endeavors.
“When we do philanthropy, we like to get involved in a big way,” he says. “Mostly because it’s fun and we care about the city. But we’re also able to help with the organization, teach them how to raise more money and run things like a business. We’re not just writing checks.”
Kaulig’s relationship with the Cleveland Guardians started organically when a call about suite tickets turned into an opportunity to present the annual giveathon. Since 2018, the weeklong fundraiser has raised more than $1 million for Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the city of Cleveland recreation department’s youth baseball and softball programs.
“We just fell in love with everyone, from the ownership to the players to the people working in the ballpark,” he says. “Most of them have been there for years, and they like being there.”
Many, if not most, of Kaulig’s causes have some personal connection.
Akron, specifically the University of Akron, holds a special place in Kaulig’s heart. After being born in Columbus and raised in Cincinnati, Kaulig moved to Chicago. An injury during his senior year of high school limited the young quarterback’s college options, but the University of Akron’s football program took a chance on him. Not only did the school bring him back to his beloved Ohio; it introduced him to his wife, Lisa.
So Kaulig has found ways to give back to the school and community. Most notably, Kaulig Cos. built a state-of-the-art media center at LeBron James’ I Promise School and bought its at-risk students school supplies. Kaulig has also funded the University of Akron’s football team and other athletic programs as a spokesman in commercials and by hiring more than 100 alumni from his alma mater.
After six years of trying to get pregnant, the Kauligs turned to in vitro fertilization (IVF). Three rounds of IVF later, Lisa finally became pregnant in 2007 with Samantha, now a freshman in high school who participates in theater and band. However successful, the process was harrowing and expensive — modern procedures can cost as much as $40,000. It inspired the couple to start Samantha’s Gift of Hope, a charity that offers monetary support to couples in need of an IVF procedure. So far 14 babies have been born. Similarly, after Samantha spent time in the neonatal intensive care unit upon birth, Kaulig and his family participated in charitable walks for the Akron Children’s Hospital’s NICU unit. His company also heads the NASCAR Foundation’s Speediatrics Fun Day Festival, which raises money for children’s medical and health care services.
In all, Kaulig has given to more than 200 nonprofits. Langal, who has worked in nonprofits for more than 20 years, including 15 leading the local chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, says a businesslike approach to philanthropy makes all of the difference for Kaulig Giving. When considering a philanthropic partnership, the company
ensures it not only matches the Kaulig mission but also that donation dollars are making a difference — not just funding an exorbitant event budget.
“Lisa and Matt Kaulig want to stay in the space of being uplifting and providing hope and opportunity,” says Langal. “He doesn’t want to just write a check. He loves to be hands-on.”
Kaulig has seen how giving back has created a culture of positivity throughout his company. Now, as his company’s local impact grows, Kaulig hopes that culture can permeate Northeast Ohio.
“This is where we’re from,” says Kaulig. “So since we’re here, we give back to the community and help it grow. Somebody has to step up and help.”