Shareholder Profit – Stakeholder Impact: Bridging the Gap

“I taught for many years at the Harvard Business School, and I’ve sort of recanted a lot of what I taught at that stage – primarily because of what I’ve learned at Whole Foods.”

That revelation by Dr. Ralph Sorenson really caught my attention during a panel on “Tone at the Top – how Boards can act as stewards of corporate culture.”  This was during the National Association of Corporate Directors recent annual conference that I attended along with over 800 Directors of public and private firms of all sizes across a wide range of industries.

What struck me was Dr. Sorenson’s refreshing humility and enthusiasm when talking about his experience serving on Whole Food’s Board.  I mean he was practically gushing about the company’s commitment to honesty, transparency, leading by example and a culture of “shared fate.”  And Whole Food’s market capitalization is now greater than the combined values of companies like Safeway and Kroger.  A veteran of more than 15 public company boards, he said that he’s learned more from serving on the Whole Foods board than all the other boards combined.  “It’s almost like Camelot.  I’ve never seen anything like this company.”

Sitting next to him was the co-founder and TeaEO of Honest Tea, Seth Goldman.  Seth told of how he had started in the non-profit sector with a commitment to addressing some of the world’s most pressing needs.  He never thought he would ever work in the for-profit world, but ended up going to Yale where he and one of his professor’s developed the idea for what would become Honest Tea.  A unique success story in the crowded and competitive beverage market, Honest Tea is made from organic Fair Trade tea.  And all the company’s business practices must pass the rigorous test of living up to the company’s name.

One was a pillar of the business orthodoxy and the other a young idealist – each starting from opposite ends of the for-profit/non-profit spectrum. Both pleasantly surprised to find themselves part of helping to build a bridge linking shareholder profit with positive social and environmental impact.

And each offering inspirational examples of what’s possible on a much larger scale….


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