On the final day of the 2013 International Corporate Citizenship Conference speakers explored the roles that values and connections play in designing opportunity.
Rob DeMartini, President and Chief Executive Officer, of New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. noted that the conference theme of Designing Opportunity is a great fit for New Balance where they design opportunity with their values.
When Jim Davis took over Boston-based New Balance on Marathon Day, 1972, he and his wife began developing a company culture that energizes every member of the New Balance family. Many members of that family were in the area of the finish line when the Boston Marathon bombings took place not far from a New Balance store. Christine Madigan, New Balance Vice President, Responsible Leadership, was happy to report that there were no serious injuries among the family but there is healing that still has to happen. New Balance has made a $1 million donation to One Fund Boston, established to help those most affected by the tragic events of April 15.
Concern for the New Balance family and the communities where they live and work is part of the company’s commitment to deeply held values reflected in its mission statement: “Demonstrating responsible leadership we build global brands that athletes are proud to wear, associates are proud to create and communities are proud to host.”
DeMartini shared the story of how New Balance lived its values in the 1970s when manufacturing companies were fleeing the United States but New Balance was opening new domestic facilities. He also told of how during the economic crisis that started in 2008 not a single worker was laid off. He said these decisions were based on the company’s values and Jim Davis’ belief that “it is never a mistake to bet on the American worker.”
Commitment to values at New Balance extends to the athletes who the company selects to endorse its products. Endorsement contracts stipulate that the athletes must give back and give their time to a cause that they feel strongly about, and even supply data that backs up the authenticity of those efforts. “Most important to us is they want to make a difference,” DeMartini said.
New Balance is also making a difference in people’s lives by encouraging active, healthy lifestyles that reflect its rallying cry: “Let’s move the world.” Internally, the company has updated facilities to encourage movement and involved employees in initiatives that help them be more active. Externally New Balance’s efforts include sponsoring Boston’s Hubway bicycle sharing system and maintaining a commitment to plow the city’s popular running path along the Charles River each winter.
Sandra Fenwick President & Chief Operating Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital told about how New Balance has been a major supporter of efforts to ensure healthy futures for the next generation. The New Balance Foundation established the Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital in 2011 with a $7 million contribution.
“The best organizations lead with their values,” DeMartini said. “When the choice is between right and right now, the best organizations choose right. They take the long view.”
Seth Godin, a best-selling author of several books on marketing and leadership offered some perspective on what the long view will require of those leading corporate citizenship into the future. He urged attendees to not try to do more of the same things the same way, and instead to look to make connections and be willing to take risks with them. “You have opportunities to connect and lead where it matters,” he said.
In his advice to professionals in corporate citizenship on how to approach their jobs, he offered the analogy of what it takes to be a good hockey player. You have to know the game and develop your skills, but in the end you must have the willingness to take a hit if you want to be the player who comes out of a corner with the puck. In corporate citizenship, Godin urged, “You have to go all in if you want to make a difference.”
Godin remarked that seeing the opportunities that lie ahead requires looking at the world as a blank slate and thinking about possibilities rather than approaching the world with a hammer in hand, asking what can I make of what’s already out there. There is a myth, he said, that people prefer to follow instructions. That myth exists, he said, because it’s what we’ve been taught by industries and businesses that are risk averse. In fact, he noted, people are good at figuring out where they want to go and connecting and coordinating. “Humanity starts showing up in industry because you let it in the door,” he said.
“A connection economy is going to power us going forward,” Godin commented, adding that those connections are built on generosity and the kind of creativity demonstrated through art. He told attendees that they have a platform to make a difference and do what matters.
“It’s during revolutions that change happens,” Godin observed. “And you don’t have to do it alone.”
“There are people out there who are disconnected who need your leadership.”
In closing the conference, Center for Corporate Citizenship Executive Director Katherine V. Smith encouraged the audience to follow Godin’s advice and go back to their jobs “willing to take the hit.” She thanked all of the sponsors of the 2013 conference and announced that FedEx will be the convening sponsor of the 2014 International Corporate Citizenship Conference to be held in Los Angeles, March 23-25, 2014.
Joining Smith on stage for the announcement, Cindy Conner, FedEx Director of Citizenship & Reputation Management, congratulated the Center and its sponsors on a terrific 2013 event. “I don’t know how we can top this,” Conner said. “But I’m going to take Seth’s good advice.”
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