We need more phenomenal CEOs.
Originally posted on the CSRwire website.
By CSRwire Contributing Writer Elaine Cohen
Some women manage to do it all and succeed at all they do, despite those who say it’s not possible. “Turning down the noise of negativity” is the clue to great achievement. This is a lesson more CEOs could do well to learn when advancing and embedding sustainability.
In the 2010 CEO study by the UN Global Compact and Accenture, “A New Era Of Sustainability,” 766 CEOs surveyed pointed to the key challenges of embedding sustainability. Listed among the top 10 issues identified as key barriers to embedding sustainability are lack of board support, lack of recognition from financial markets, employee resistance, difficulty in engaging with external groups and failure to recognize a link to value drivers. The negativity around sustainability can be a real barrier to progress and may immobilize an organization. The complexity of driving sustainability across the business, on several fronts, through a range of processes, internally and externally, can be quite overwhelming. In order to succeed in life and business, you have to “turn down the noise of negativity,” as Kathy Ireland puts it in an interview on how she got started in her business venture, and get on with doing what’s right. CEOs aspiring to embed a program of sustainability might gain inspiration from this insight.
Kathy Ireland wanted to be a teacher, or a detective, but life took over. She achieved world fame and recognition as a swimwear supermodel and later, after an opportune success story marketing a pair of socks, she went on to build a $1.5 billion empire, Kathy Ireland Worldwide, selling “solutions for families … especially busy moms” - a business with a social purpose that aligns itself with the worthy Millennium Development Goals.
Alongside her business, Kathy directs her charitable initiatives through KathyIreland.org, which supports many social causes, including empowering women, supporting young girls through mentoring and providing opportunities for girls and women at risk. Serving as an international ambassador of 9-1-1 for Kids, Holyland Heroes and a range of other important social roles and named by UCLA as one of the Top Ten Women’s Health Advocates in America, she has also found time to author six books and raise a family of three. No surprise, then, the Greater Los Angeles YWCA is honoring Kathy Ireland with a Phenomenal Woman Award.
Jeanine Taylor of YWCA says Kathy was selected for this award because “there are so few women who build a business which is dedicated to making the lives of women easier” as well as for Kathy’s “illustrious track record of 15 years” in contributing to society in many different ways. Jeanine calls Kathy an “instrument of change” and recognizes the multiple roles Kathy plays in her very full business and socially conscious life. Kathy has certainly managed to silence her voices of negativity and is getting on with doing what she can do to create a more equitable society, especially for women. Anyone who has read Allison Pearson’s great book, I Don’t Know How She Does It, which is one of the best portrayals of the busy, multitasking family-career-life challenges of the daily life of a working mom, knows achieving superwoman status is quite some achievement. Kathy Ireland appears to have mastered the art.
There are plenty of celanthropists, a term coined by The Times for celebrity philanthropists, which include Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Christopher Reeve, Richard Gere, Michal J. Fox and more, but what makes celebrity Kathy Ireland’s philanthropy spectacular, aside from her seemingly boundless energy, is the fact that she is a successful businesswoman, and not only a model or movie star, who acts to help create a better world for many of the globe’s vulnerable populations. Kathy Ireland’s business model has a social orientation, and this is what sustainability is all about.
In corporate sustainability, we observe challenges in overcoming the widespread negativity that confronts those engaged in advancing CSR. How does a company “turn off this noise” and get on with doing the right thing? In many ways the analogy comes back again to Kathy Ireland. She is the engine of her own business and infuses it with personal commitment, which comes from deep-seated beliefs about the purpose of business in society and a well-developed personal value system. This is not Anita Roddick style activism, but rather a highly practical approach to driving positive change in what appears to be quite a modest manner. This, perhaps, is what more CEOs need: a deeply-rooted personal commitment and motivation (as well as a certain skill in advancing multiple goals simultaneously), as if their business were their own.
The Sustainable CEO must be unswerving in her or his drive to embed sustainability and all employees and other stakeholders must be able to perceive this commitment in everything the CEO says and does, and this includes getting involved at a personal level. CEOs cannot outsource their commitment to sustainability. In the Accenture study quoted above, 96% of CEOs believe sustainability issues should be fully integrated into the strategy and operations of a company. However, if we are honest, when we look around, there are few who actually achieve this goal today. Perhaps what is lacking is the willingness of the CEO to bypass the negativity and make this a personal mission. There are some CEOs who stand out as making sustainability both an individual mission and business strategy (Jeff Swartz, Ray Anderson, Indra Nooyi) in a way which is highly visible to internal and external stakeholders. Their example, together with Kathy Ireland’s, could serve as a blueprint to guide more effective embedding of sustainability in many businesses today.
It’s great Kathy Ireland is a phenonenal woman. What we need are more phenomenal CEOs.
About Elaine Cohen
Elaine Cohen is a Sustainability Consultant and Reporter at Beyond Business and blogger on sustainability reporting and author of CSR for HR: A necessary business partnership to advance responsible business practices.
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