Conference highlighted variety of approaches to Designing Opportunity

Thanks to our many sponsors and the more than 650 professionals who joined us in Boston, the 2013 International Corporate Citizenship Conference was a terrific success. For 2-1/2 days we convened to learn, network, and share challenges and successes, and to examine the many ways that companies are Designing Opportunity for business and society. Closing keynote Seth Godin noted that new opportunities don’t come without a willingness to take risks because “If you say failure is not an option, then neither is success.”

Our keynote speakers each addressed how their firms approached the design process.

A team from The Travelers Companies, Inc., led by Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Bessette, told how their secret is “collaboration that leads to innovation.” Working across business functions Travelers designs opportunity through efforts such as the Small Business Risk Education Program, which expands opportunities via small business advocacy. The Travelers team explained that much of the company’s corporate citizenship efforts connect with Chairman and CEO Jay S. Fishman’s vision of ensuring the “American opportunity.”

Timothy R. Baer, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary for Target Corporation, explained how Target is designing opportunities for their guests to access sustainable, well- designed products at affordable prices and making significant commitments to ensuring that educational opportunity is accessible to as many children as possible.

At Campbell Soup Company, President and CEO Denise Morrison leads with her belief that companies can make a profit and can make a difference. “The common link between increasing shareholder value and corporate social responsibility is enlightened leadership. Leadership that motivates, educates and paints the picture of what can happen when people dedicate time, talent, and treasure to millions less fortunate.”

An example of the kind of opportunities that result from this integrated view is Campbell’s commitment to improving nutrition and wellness in its operating communities. In addition to the many nutrition education and wellness programs that the company runs, Morrison shared an opportunity that arose from the dialogues started among the community partners. One of Campbell’s food bank partners realized that farmers were paying to send blemished, but edible produce to landfills. Working together, the food bank, Campbell’s and the farm coop turned normally discarded peaches into salsa. Campbell employees volunteered their time and resources to produce and label 40,000 jars of salsa. The combined initiative saved farmers disposal costs, generated funds for the food bank from sales of the product, reduced environmental impact of farm operations, and the salsa and peaches that were not prepared for sale were served to food pantry clients.

Jennifer Hunter, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Altria Client Services, shared the story of Altria Group’s ongoing journey to understand and address the issues it faces as a manufacturer of tobacco products. She noted that as the parent company of three leading tobacco companies Altria has unique challenges. “When you work for a tobacco company acknowledging the harm associated with your products comes with the business,” Hunter said. She remarked that whatever you call corporate social responsibility it means the same thing: “It’s about understanding what your issues are, addressing them and demonstrating that you are a well-run business.”

In evolving as a company Altria has designed opportunities through its corporate citizenship to address its issues. The company has combined its work to discourage youth tobacco use with support and investments in education, to ensure that middle-school students are prepared for success in school, in work, and in life.

Pitney Bowes Inc. Chief Financial Officer Michael Monahan explained that it embraced corporate citizenship “before the term was coined.” As a firm with diverse clients that pushes technology forward and rethinks business processes, Pitney Bowes is continually designing opportunity for its customers. Monahan cited three reasons why involvement with literacy makes sense for a company:

  • Connecting with customers
  • Preparing the workforce of tomorrow
  • Providing opportunity for all

Pitney Bowes employee volunteers working with Reading is Fundamental have put books in the hands of children who need them most while benefitting the company internally through team building and personal development of employees.

Rob DeMartini, President and Chief Executive Officer of New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc., talked about how the company lives its core values with a mission to demonstrate responsible leadership that connects with employees, customers, and communities.

DeMartini spoke of how the company’s rapid global growth presents enormous opportunities and enormous challenges in translating values across geography and borders. New Balance looks to extend its core values through the people it hires and even the athletes who endorse the company’s products. With its rallying cry of “let’s move the world,” the company is encouraging healthy lifestyles internally and externally and has made multi-million-dollar contributions to the Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital to give future generations an opportunity to live long, healthy lives.

State Street sponsored Seth Godin’s closing keynote where he noted that professionals working in corporate citizenship have “opportunities to connect and lead where it matters.” He advised that in designing opportunity, professionals should look at the world as a blank slate filled with new possibilities rather than a place to simply reshape or rehash what is already out there.

The great takeaway from these varied approaches is that the most valuable opportunities require creativity, commitment, and the courage to try something new.