Culture / Profiles

Reality TV Doctor, a CEO and Texas Children’s

How Direct Energy’s Record-Breaking Gift Changes Everything

BY // 12.12.16

Jen Arnold became a doctor long before she become a reality TV star. That’s the context in which I first met her and her husband, Bill Klein. We were partnered up in the Bad Pants Open, the annual golf tournament fundraiser for Texas Children’s Hospital — and all Arnold wanted to talk about (besides a little amusing golf chatter) was the hospital where she worked. It quickly grew apparent that this was her real passion.

“It’s just a special place,” Arnold said more than once.

Spend much time in Houston — or around anyone who’s come in contact with the fourth-rated children’s hospital in the entire country — and this becomes a recurring theme. Texas Children’s has a way of touching people. Whether they’re a brilliant doctor who once had an interesting moonlighting TV gig, parents of a kid who gets sick or the CEO of an energy company that does things a little differently.

Badar Khan — Direct Energy‘s president and CEO — experienced his own Texas Children’s moment in a rather unexpected way. It happened while he shared a ride in a company van with an air-conditioning technician. As the two talked about their families, the technician told the CEO how Texas Children’s doctors saved the life of his daughter Camilla when she was born with a life-threatening heart defect that required surgery when she was a mere two weeks old. The man told Khan, “Texas Children’s — they do good. We should support them.”

Direct Energy CEO Badar Khan's own family has benefitted from Texas Children's care.
Direct Energy CEO Badar Khan’s own family has benefitted from Texas Children’s care.



Holiday Gifting

  • Bond No 9 - Candle
  • Cle Du Peau - Lip Gloss
  • Wayne Smith
  • Museum of Fine Arts Houston
  • Bond No 9 - Perfume
  • Asher Gallery
  • Cle Du Peau - Nail Polish
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Cotton Club
  • Loeffler Randall - Shoes
  • Oscar De La Renta - Earrings
  • Wayne Smith
  • Cotton Club
  • Mariquite Masterson
  • Elaine Turner - GiGi Flats
  • Elaine Turner - Felicia Stole in Magenta
  • Oscar De La Renta - Clutch
  • Loeffler Randall - Clutch









Like many parents in Texas, Khan had already been touched by Texas Children’s himself — and that conversation spurred him further. Direct Energy would make a $5 million donation to Texas Children’s Hospital’s Promise Campaign, the largest corporate gift ever to a Texas Children’s campaign priority (Direct Energy’s promise is supporting the expansion of the Texas Medical Center campus and the Heart Center in particular).

“In today’s environment, where oil and gas prices aren’t where they used to be, it’s incredibly important for companies that can give to step up and provide leadership,” Khan told Aspire, Texas Children’s hospital magazine, of the donation. “I feel proud, I feel lucky to work for a company where we’re able to make this kind of commitment, and to an institution as great as Texas Children’s.”

It’s a commitment that powers scores of doctors like Arnold and makes the vision of Mark Wallace, the longtime president and CEO of Texas Children’s, possible. Spend any time with Wallace — and the far-reaching scope of his vision can be overwhelming. He’ll bring out plan after plan. But they’re all linked by one singular drive: Making sick kids better. Donations are the financial lifeblood of most of these efforts.

Volunteering in local communities is part of Direct Energy's company DNA. Jeanette Sooley (Direct Energy), Camille Landry (Texas Children’s) and Badar Khan (Direct Energy) are shown here.
Volunteering is part of Direct Energy’s company DNA. Jeanette Sooley (Direct Energy), Camille Landry (Texas Children’s) and Badar Khan (Direct Energy) are shown here.

For Direct Energy, the $5 million commitment isn’t a one-time spur of the moment thing. It’s reflective of a longstanding company-wide commitment to helping out in the communities where it turns the lights on. More than 6,000 Direct Energy employees support causes and charities, using their free time to make a difference.

In October, the company got inducted into the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Miracle Million Club, an honor reserved for companies which have raised a million dollars or more in one year for CMN Hospitals. Direct Energy employees took it a step further when 3,000 of them took part in various fitness challenges that contributed even more money to the hospitals (for every challenge successfully completed, Direct Energy made an additional donation to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals).

In a way, you could say volunteering is Direct Energy’s company DNA. That directly impacts doctors and medical scientist who deal with actual DNA. Take Huda Zoghbi — the founding director of Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital. Zoghbi just won the prestigious $3 million Breakthrough Prize, the richest award in science for her groundbreaking work with rare brain disorders, one that’s unexpectedly led to advances that could change the way autism is treated.

Donations to a pioneering hospital effect so many things — and have the potential to help change so many lives. That’s the real reality show.

Jen Arnold's a doctor first — and is committed to saving lives at Texas Children's.
Jen Arnold’s a doctor first — and is committed to saving lives at Texas Children’s.

While many in America know Arnold from her longtime TLC series The Little Couple, Arnold’s life work is the Pediatric Simulation Center, where she serves as the medical director. This innovative center helps eliminate medical errors by giving doctors training in an ultra-realistic environment. Listening to Arnold talk about how it saves lives and eliminates deadly mistakes is inspiring stuff.

“I know what we’re doing is making a tangible difference,” Arnold told me on that golfing day.

The more companies that latch onto this feeling — recognize the truth that they can impact the communities where they do business like Direct Energy, the better off everyone will be. It’s about building an army of volunteers and donations, one company at a time.

It does not matter if it starts with an unexpected conversation in a van ride, at a golf tournament with funny pants, or in a personal trip to Texas Children’s Hospital with a sick child, what matters is that it does happen.

“Direct Energy’s generous support will help ensure Texas Children’s is able to continue to provide highly specialized care to each and every child who comes to us for help – and particularly to those who are the most critically ill and have the most complex needs,” Wallace says.

Doing business the right way means helping out in the cities where you work. With the holidays approaching, giving tends to be on everyone’s minds. It’s the spirit of the season. But hospitals like Texas Children’s depends on the spirit of the city all year long.

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