As a result, we need to be entrepreneurial in the way that we approach it. So we’re one of those organisations — and hopefully one of those movements — that believes that entrepreneurship can, and needs to be, at the centre of everything that we do.
And what about you personally? How do you measure your own success?
So if you haven’t noticed… I don’t like talking about myself. It’s always been the case. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with the spotlight. I don’t believe the spotlight deserves to be here. Well, for all the reasons we’ve already discussed. But, how do I measure my own success? First, as a father. Whether I’m prioritising family first. My definition of “family” is very broad.
I definitely get that sense.
Yeah, and as a result family to me includes friends and co-workers and the community of B Corporations and global partners. Those concentric circles, to me, matter most. I measure myself on whether I am being of service and use to people I care about most.
Secondly, my time at B Lab is measured by what I — hopefully — have to give. If I thought there was something else that could use my modest skill sets to a greater good, I’d go do that. But right now this seems like a place where I can be of service for, you know, the audacious goal of redefining the role of business in society. I think that’s a worthy cause to pursue. I think that’s pretty much how I look at the world. You can’t get mired in, ‘Who’ll join the community?’ ‘What partner did we sign?’ ‘What law passed?’ to measure your own success. It would be awfully exhausting.
It makes me think of a tweet from the Dalai Lama: “What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful.” Where do you think that sense of responsibility came from? Was it something that was taught to you as a child?
Certainly. My father was a professor of English literature. My mother was originally a counsellor at the local YMCA. Both went on to successful entrepreneurial careers. I grew up in a suburb north of Chicago. We were fourth generation Evanstonians (this small town called Evanston where Northwestern University is). The sense of community is tangible in that area. So certainly, I think from a very early age, the idea of service to the community was incredibly important to our family.
I’ve been asked often, “What was the ‘Eureka moment’ for you?” I don’t think there really was one. But there certainly was a moment of acceleration, and that was when my father passed at 63 of cancer. It was 11 years ago. I was 35. I had an 11 and nine-year-old daughter. Losing my hero, my perspective on the world was changed. I look at everything that has happened to our family from that day forward and the course was altered dramatically. I’m pretty confident that I wouldn’t be here at B Lab if my father hadn’t passed. My wife is the chief operating officer of an educational non-profit. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t be doing that. My daughters, at 11 and nine, started their own B Corporation.
Your daughters started a B Corporation?
My in-laws raised bees and the year that my Dad passed was the first time that they had a significant honey flow, about 200 pounds—which is a lot of honey. We were around the dining room table talking about what to do with it and my nine-year-old said, “Well we should sell it and give the profits away to charity.” And my 11-year-old said, “Yeah, we should try to cure cancer.” So they came up with the name at the table and sketched out the logo. It’s called “Hives for Lives.” They have since raised $300,000 in nine years for cancer research.
They were in every Whole Foods store.
Wow. That’s a wonderful story!
That all wouldn’t have happened if my father hadn’t passed, obviously. My oldest daughter followed my father to Yale University, and she is about to graduate in a couple of weeks. My youngest just started at Stanford.
It’s hard to know what the road would have looked like without that moment. But I think it’s fair to say that the idea of using the remaining time you have to the best of your own skill set became crystal clear. That changed me.
You described your father as your hero. I think that’s really beautiful.
He was all about family first. He lived his life with integrity and with community in his heart. He was adored by his family and friends, he was humble, he was brilliant and he was gracious. And he had great judgement without being judgmental. He was everything that I’d want to be.
Did he instill a love of literature in you?
Yes, yes! I really enjoyed sharing that with my daughters. My oldest is graduating with a theatre and film degree. She believes in the power of art to change the world, using art as a tool for social justice. And both my daughters were honoured by CNN for their work at Hives for Lives, and one of the people they met at that gathering was Eve Ensler. Do you know Eve Ensler?
Yeah, The Vagina Monologues.
My oldest ran up to her and said, “You’re who I want to be. I’m trying to write my own book.” She was in eighth grade. And Eve, two years later, called Molly and said, “I’ve written a show for teenage girls, essentially about the plight of young women across the globe. I’d like you to audition for a role in it.” Molly landed a role. She travelled to Johannesburg to open the show and Eve has ended up being, essentially, a mentor and very close friend of Molly’s. That’s a gift, right? And that’s a gift from Dad.
Eve Ensler is remarkable…
She’s unbelievable. I’ve only had the privilege of meeting her a couple of times but the ability to be a global leader and still a personal friend to a 15-year-old girl is extraordinary. To see the kindness and the generosity in her heart and the time she makes for people is remarkable. She’s an amazing woman.
So, I don’t know how I got on that tangent but in any case… I’ve enjoyed sharing that with Molly and Carly. The other thing is that you learn as much from your kids as you teach. The girls have taught me about entrepreneurism, they’ve taught me about leadership. They’ve taught me about grace and generosity and motivations, they’ve been a remarkable part of my life.
I heard a new word this morning – I think it sounds like it’s relevant to Molly – an “artivist”.
Oh! That’s a beautiful word.
Isn’t it? Activism in art. Art in activism.
I love that.
I can imagine that watching B Corp translate to other cultures must be a really interesting experience.
Every Monday morning at B Lab we ring the bell to welcome new members into our community. And what is surreal for me is that currently, 27 per cent of those community members hail from outside of the United States. The incredibly innovative ways that they’re solving poverty challenges, rebuilding the community, preserving the environment, creating a great place to work or addressing wealth disparity — it’s absolutely amazing, and why we all get up in the morning.
When I graduated from college, I wasn’t looking for meaning in my work. I went to Wall Street and checked my values at the door; did my job for 15 hours a day picked my values up on the way back out. I think to a large degree that model doesn’t fly anymore. I think that millennials are looking for meaning and purpose in their work and in their life. They expect more than just money from their employment.
I think more than anything else, attracting and retaining the next generation of great talent is going to drive this change as much as anything. When I speak to large corporations, and I talk about a shift in consumer behaviour, or the increase in capital flowing into “socially responsible” investing, sustainable investing and impact investing, admittedly I don’t get a lot of buy-in from that community around those two issues. But then when I talk about talent and business schools and what currently represents 50 per cent of the global workforce millennials…
There is an acknowledgement that there is a battle for talent. If talent is interested in meaning and money, there is a realignment that will need to take place.
Sometimes I think, Is this a first world problem? I recognise that I’m hugely fortunate to find meaning in my work, but isn’t that something that only lucky people can think about? But that said, I do think this quest for meaning is universal, and, in a way, about evolution.
I think the evolution has been accelerated, frankly, by a tumultuous financial crisis that, for the globe, changed its perspective on business. When we began this initiative in 2006, the idea of talking about organisations with higher purpose, accountability and transparency was somewhat fringe.
Yeah. “Crazy hippies.”
Yeah, crazy hippies! Which was difficult for me to be categorised as! But post the financial decline, mainstream voices are calling for an evolution of capitalism. Some principles that we were fortunate to embrace early on put the movement in a good place to capitalise on a horrible financial crisis. Some of those include standing for something instead of against.
Early on, as we talked with hundreds of entrepreneurs, there was clarity that they wanted to be a positive alternative. That being defined as what we are not wasn’t a great way to form a movement. So the impact assessment, you don’t earn any negative points. There are no prohibitives to being a B Corporation or joining this community. Instead, we’re offering a positive alternative for investors, consumers and policy makers to support. I think that has served this movement well. Positioning our core identity as being the positive alternative.
I’m curious about you and Jay being college roommates, friends and business partners. How does that work?
Jay and I have known each other now since 1985. I was 17 when we met. We were best friends before we became business partners. The reason why I get up in the morning is to serve the entrepreneur. I also get up to work with people I love. That begins with Jay and Andrew. Working with your best friends is a gift and a privilege. To have complete trust, recognise each other’s skills and weaknesses.