This article is part of the New New Rules of Business.
The Fast Company Impact Council, an invitation-only group of corporate leaders, entrepreneurial founders, and other leaders from across industries, gathered on June 30 to share their insights. Members split into small groups, moderated by Fast Company editors, and shared their perspectives on how they are managing and innovating amid a trio of crises: the global pandemic, the economic slowdown, and calls for social justice in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
In this roundtable discussion, led by deputy editor David Lidsky, top executives discussed the new rules of capitalism and how stakeholders can make it work for everyone. In alphabetical order, the participants in this session were Will Ahmed, CEO of Whoop; Barie Carmichael, Batten Fellow at the Darden Business School; Frank Cooper, CMO of BlackRock; Patrick Criteser, president and CEO of Tillamook County Creamery Association; Laura González-Estéfani, founder, CEO, and partner at The Venture City; Andrew King, managing partner at Bastille; Margery Kraus, founder and executive chairman of APCO Worldwide; Stuart Landesberg, CEO and cofounder of Grove Collaborative; and Oliver Libby, managing partner at Hatzimemos/Libby.
Excerpts of the roundtable have been edited for length and clarity.
Stuart Landesberg: I believe that business is the biggest agent for change in our society, and I believe it to be the core organizing principle of humans outside of the nuclear family over the last several hundred years. And certainly the organizing principle that drives the most change in our societal infrastructure. Over the last several hundred years, the desire for monetary gain has outweighed the desire for the things that are good for people and the planet—in the decision tree of the best and brightest people in the world. So I am optimistic, because I’ve seen, in my own experience, that companies focused on mission, purpose, sustainability [because] being good stewards of the world and leaving the place a little better than we found it is a sustainable competitive advantage. It’s an advantage in hiring. It’s an advantage in partnership. It’s an advantage in brand. It’s an advantage in a lot of ways.
Frank Cooper: I spent most of my career outside of financial services. I’ve been in entertainment and technology. I’ve been in packaged goods through PepsiCo. I’ve been at BuzzFeed, Motown, and Def Jam. The one common thread that I’ve had through all those experiences was this idea of purpose. I’ve carried that with me from the very beginning. Here at BlackRock, we feel like we’re one of the critical players in trying to help to advance this idea that purpose-driven capitalism and purpose-driven companies are, in fact, the future. I think purpose is one of the most important topics to cover, but it’s also one of the most misunderstood topics. It’s often seen as an abstract idea and a massive departure from capitalism, which I don’t think it is at all.
Barie Carmichael: The executives and leaders I’ve watched who have been able to break through [and build an inclusive corporate culture] are the ones who have learned to cultivate dissension [and] something that I call being a constructive skeptic, to begin to really break through and understand their “social footprint.” Just as every company has a carbon footprint, it also has a social footprint. The question is, Does it really know what that social footprint is that’s embedded in the way it does business? This is not something that can be cured by philanthropy or writing a check. It has to be cured by that breaking through the blind spot to get at what it takes to make the change happen.
Margery Kraus: We keep talking about diversity, [but] part of the issue is that diversity is a number, and we can all, in some ways, have control over that. Inclusion is a totally different thing. And inclusion is really where we need to pay more attention—inclusion and equity. People spend a lot of time bringing in diverse candidates, and if the culture is not accepting of diversity, then you’re never going to have the benefit of diversity. The benefit of diversity is that you learn things from sitting in a room with people who are different than you are, and your clients get benefit from that.
Will Ahmed: The focus on unlocking human performances is one that drives a lot of our decision-making, and [that means] anchoring a lot of what we do in research. Doing research on health is really important, independent from whether or not it helps build our business. Putting a big focus on research has helped us maintain our mission and purpose. So when we saw COVID-19 was becoming this this global pandemic, we added COVID-19 tracking in our app. This was in early March—I think we were one of the first consumer products to have COVID-19 tracking in an app. Within about two weeks, we had over 1,000 responses of people who tested positive for COVID-19. We were then able to partner with Cleveland Clinic and CQUniversity, two leading research institutions. And we were able to collect a lot of data on what does COVID-19 look like alongside Whoop data. It effectively showed that having a super elevated respiratory rate could be a predictor to COVID-19. Now if we weren’t grounded in research, I don’t think we would have taken all those steps . . . and a result of publishing that research, it appears to be good for our business, too.
Laura González-Estéfani: I kind of don’t trust a lot of these companies with these amazing statements [about their commitment to diversity and inclusion]. You know, you just look around to your people. They’re all white Americans. I think it’s super important to state that you, at the end of the day, you lead by example. It’s as simple as that. It’s just a matter of mindset. You cannot to a board, you cannot put out a company statement, when you look around and everybody’s just like you, when your leadership team is just like you.
Andrew King: My background is basically sports and esports . . . and when you’re dealing with 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds, it’s a very different mindset. What you see as the leading edge is really catering to an audience that isn’t there yet. There is a lot that, ethically, we have to get our heads around, not just kind of the YouTube issues of click authorization, click acceptance for privacy, and things like that, but with some real issues regarding mental illness, mental health, addiction, and things like that that are going on. Esports is growing leaps and bounds, and that’s great for the owners and participants and stakeholders, but it’s also very problematic. It really doesn’t have the controls or the research in it to actually identify best practices and actually how we navigate it with the next generation of consumers.
Patrick Criteser: I’ve been at my company eight years, and the concept of purpose is something that has certainly evolved. My view is that employees have to resonate with the purpose. Increasingly, with your employees, there are fewer barriers to them opting into the company, and whether you’re a startup or 111 year-old company [like ours], you need the talent. You need people to identify with and share values with the company. So it starts there. In my mind, the rest of the business is constructed to serve that purpose. And the market either rejects it or accepts it.
Oliver Libby: [I sit on the board of The Resolution Project, which has] 600 entrepreneurs in about 80 countries, starting them with very small amounts of capital very early in their entrepreneurship journey. For me, the two things that are the main lessons are, number one, impact and diversity are linked to high returns when done properly. Without quoting returns, I would say we are certainly outperforming industry benchmarks and disproving the fact that impact investing is concessionary. The second thing is that the more hands-on approach is really helpful. This idea that people place their bets on the roulette table and then the little ball spins around and maybe a unicorn shows up is not a really great way to invest over the long term. The venture capital industries’ returns demonstrate that pretty clearly. They underperform the S&P as a group.
- How to educate the next workforce
- The power of narrative and role of storytelling in business
- These are the new rules for the future of the planet
- How to make sure tech companies do the right thing
- Companies are just now starting to figure out remote work
- How to build a more human workplace
- These are the new rules of capitalism
- These are the new rules of giving
- How to build more equitable public space after COVID-19
- Design for social good has a new framework
- For business leaders in media, this moment is a marathon
- Here are the new rules of leadership
- 10 next-generation leaders on leadership