Perhaps no business consultant enjoys higher esteem in the corporate world than Jim Collins. Over three decades, he has sold millions of...
GOOD and IBM have teamed up to bring you Figures of Progress, our new platform that explores the different ways that information has revolutionized our world. Through videos, story profiles, and infographics, we're sharing stories about the power of data and how today's leaders in business, city government and nonprofits are finding innovative ways to use it. Here's our latest Figure of Progress interview.
Hilco Trading LLC has bought $130,000 worth of "academic-quality" books they determined would be useful to schools. The books cover everything from science to poetry and Chicago history to computer programming. Hilco president Jeffrey Hecktman made the donation announcement at Chicago's Carl Schurz High School during a panel discussion on education attended by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Senator Dick Durbin, Governor Pat Quinn, and a slew of local education leaders. Hecktman said it's his company's "first step in a continuing commitment to align our corporate resources with the needs of public education."
Hollender had been planning to transition out of day-to-day management of Seventh Generation for some time. That transition did not go as planned. Though Hollender was initially excited when the company hired Chuck Maniscalco, a former PepsiCo executive, to take over as CEO, he has come to regret the choice of leadership he once supported. Hollender retained the title of Chief Inspired Protagonist and remained the company’s moral compass.
“I think that, while the idea to bring in a CEO was the right idea,” he says, “bringing in someone who didn’t have any corporate responsibility experience, bringing someone in who came from such a big company was not the right decision.”
For example, Hollender says, one of the most successful ways that Seventh Generation grew was by building a loyal and passionate customer base, not through advertising or traditional marketing but through a consistent commitment to transparency and specifically talking about what’s wrong with the products and what’s wrong with the company. “That’s not something that most people at large companies are comfortable with. They are surrounded by lawyers who tell them not to talk about those things,” Hollender says.
Senior Director of Corporate Consciousness, Dave Rappaport says the company has no intention to backtrack on any of those transparency habits. “There’s been no change to all the things we’ve been working on.” (Read more in part two of this post about how Seventh Generation is re-affirming its commitment to Hollender’s values, and what Hollender suggests customers can watch for to be sure.) Rappaport adds there are plans to become even more transparent with an initiative to be announced later this year where the company will make raw data available on responsibility and sustainability. He compares it to how data.gov makes government data available.
But the divergence between Hollender and his former company seems to run deeper than transparency, touching on a perennial question for successful values-based businesses: how to scale without sacrificing standards, be they product standards or investor standards. Hollender built the company into a $150 million a year business, and Maniscalco’s appointment was meant to signal a new era of growth, to transform Seventh Generation into a $1 billion sustainable business. That’s a kind of scale that has scuttled the best-laid plans of other iconic business leaders at companies like Ben and Jerry’s and the Body Shop.
Hollender was careful not to reveal too much when asked about money. “What I can say, is that over the past couple of years, not directly related to hiring a new CEO, I would say the board and I increasingly began to see things a little differently. And my interests for Seventh Generation, which produced pretty good financial results, I think, perhaps, began to diverge with what the board wanted to focus on.”
Hollender confirms this divergence of vision with the board happened as the company brought in more private equity money to fund the expansion of the company, including a recent $25 million round of funding that Hollender says was raised by the board on Maniscalco’s resume.
“You know one of the things I always advise people,” he says speaking of values-based businesses generally, “is to be more careful about the money you take than the people you hire, because you can’t get rid of the money. Once someone owns your leg or your arm or your ear, they’re stuck to you.”
There's one way to appease your consumers when it comes to corporate responsibility: Make your goals public, so your audience can hold you to them. Using an intriguing interaction design format created by Wieden+Kennedy with Ian Coyle and Duane King, that's exactly what Nike has done with its new site Nike Better World, which launched this week. Part corporate social responsibility report, part New Year's resolutions, the site covers Nike's programs—from environmental initiatives to socially focused sports leagues—opening with a quite brazen introductory statement: Don't Tell Us What We Can't Do.