"Business at its best: Maximizing long-term profitability and societal impact." That's the topic at the 6th Annual Board of Boards CEO Conference that will be held by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) in NYC later this month. Doug Conant, President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, will join fellow CEOs of global corporations for this year's meeting and discussion. Yesterday afternoon, I had a private interview with Conant to find out how compelling this topic is to him and Campbell's and why.
My conversation with Conant took place just a few hours after his visit with elementary school students in the company's home town of Camden, New Jersey. The occasion of the visit was Conant's announcement of the company's plan to reduce childhood obesity and hunger in the community. The company will invest $10 million over ten years with the goal of reducing childhood obesity and hunger among Camden's 23,000 children by 50 percent. This is one of the ways Campbell is looking to move beyond being a good neighbor to making measurable positive social impacts in the community.
Beyond financial support, employee volunteering will be a cornerstone of Campbell's new childhood obesity and hunger program. In fact, employee service is a key tenet of the corporate culture ... part of its DNA. For instance, last year Campbell's U.S. employees volunteered more than 16,000 hours.
Tying employee engagement with shareholder value
On the tenth anniversary of his tenure as President and CEO of Cambpell, Doug Conant's official company bio states that "under Conant's leadership, Campbell has reversed a precipitous decline in market value and employee engagement." The bio then goes on to talk about Conant's and the company's achievements.
What interested me is that the company website juxtaposed market value—the ultimate measure of a company's success—with employee engagement, a matter that some companies might consider "soft" and non-essential. When I asked Conant about this, he affirmed that at Campbell, market value and employee engagement are completely intertwined.
Conant elaborated by explaining the "genius of the 'and'." He explained that "our company seeks to win in four areas: win in the workplace, and win in the marketplace, and win in the community while building a better world, and win with integrity. If we're asked where we focus on, the answer is on all four. We have an abundance mentality. This is the genius of the and."
Conant referenced evidence produced by Gallup showing that employee engagement is linked to corporate profits. According to Gallup, "research ... shows that engaged employees are more productive. They are more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and more likely to withstand temptations to leave. The best-performing companies know that an employee engagement improvement strategy linked to the achievement of corporate goals will help them win in the marketplace."
CSR: An upward trajectory
What about other companies? As Conant heads to CECP's Board of Boards CEO Conference, I wondered about his perspective of how far CSR has come, and where it's going. Conant observed that "from a 35 year perspective, I'm seeing serious momentum. Companies are finding ways to build a better world and also advance the corporate agenda. Companies are discovering new incentives to be more aggressive in this space."
Conant expressed enthusiasm about CSR. "The corporate world has the resources to improve the world. It's where people live and work." Conant also adds that the Millennials are energized by CSR. "They ask about the company's commitment in interviews. They will drive CSR forward."
Conant encourages corporate executives to serve on nonprofit boards. "Nonprofit board experiences have given me opportunities to dovetail my desire to help build a better world and also become a better executive." One of Conant's earliest nonprofit board positions was with The Seeing Eye of New Jersey. How did Conant get involved on The Seeing Eye board? Through the former CEO of Nabisco, where Conant worked at the time.
When I asked Conant how he has benefited professionally by serving on nonprofit boards, he discussed the global perspective he gained by serving as Chairman of the Board of The Conference Board. Conant as also served as Chair of the Board of SIFE, an organization that develops socially responsible entrepreneurship in university students around the world. Through SIFE, Conant says that "I learned the power of the Millennials, and more again about recruiting great talent. By learning how to recruit better talent, I became a better CEO at Campbell."
CSR going forward
In a 1996 publication and again in my 2005 book, I cautioned that CSR will only be a flash in the pan unless and until there is more hard evidence of its direct connection to market value and company profitability. Now that CSR is on the CEOs' agenda, its value is being measured just like any other key business initiative. Campbell actually includes CSR parameters in the company's business strategies, strategic planning, balanced scorecard, incentive compensation program and individual employee objectives.
With growing evidence documenting the benefits of CSR to companies as well as communities, there will be broader adoption of CSR. And with leaders like Conant, CEO level discussions at CECP, and the Millenials driving us forward, the future looks very promising!