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Leadership for good

The Business Roundtable isn't the first to look for purpose beyond profits. Some companies are already doing this.

4 min read


Leadership for good

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Lead Change is a leadership media destination with a unique editorial focus on driving change within organizations, teams, and individuals. Lead Change, a division of Weaving Influence, publishes twice monthly with SmartBrief. Today’s post is by Mark Michaux Brown.

In case you missed it, the cover of the September issue of Fortune magazine featured three CEOs with the headline, “Profits and Purpose: Can Big Business Have it Both Ways?” The question was triggered after the Business Roundtable, a Washington, D.C., based association whose members are all CEOs of major corporations, issued a new “statement of purpose” for corporations.

The statement revises the purpose the Business Roundtable created in 1997, stating that corporations should value shareholder profits above all else. For the first time, a large number of CEOs are acknowledging that corporations do and should play a bigger role in serving their employees, the environment, their suppliers, and the communities in which they operate.

Obviously, the headline questions whether corporations can operate with higher ideals.

To answer that question, one only need look at companies that are already doing this and have been doing it for years. Not only are such purpose-driven companies immensely successful, but they are also tackling some of the biggest challenges facing our planet and its people. And when corporations align their particular technical expertise and knowledge with solving the problems in the communities where they operate, the results can be immense.

One such company doing this is the Kohler Co., the privately held plumbing fixture company based in Wisconsin. Laura Kohler, who is one of the leaders featured in my book “Outward Bound Lessons To Live A Life of Leadership,” discussed the importance and responsibility of leading a purpose-driven company.

“At Kohler, people don’t come to make a beautiful faucet or toilet. They’re here because they want to give back and make the world a better place. They want to be a part of a company that is an additive,” said Laura.

Kohler launched a program called Innovation for Good, which provides Kohler associates the opportunity to utilize their skills and talents to work on issues within their communities. Associates across functional areas come together to discuss solutions to the challenges they see.

“The United Nations issued 17 sustainable development goals for the world,” she continued. “As a company, we looked at that list and selected three that aligned with our skill set as a company.”

Those goals included clean drinking water and sanitation, clean and affordable energy, and responsible production. It made sense that the Kohler, which has been producing bathtubs, sinks and toilets since 1873, would consider tackling the problem of safe drinking water. Out of those discussions came a project called Kohler Clarity, a water filtration system that brought together product designers, engineers and packaging experts from across the globe. Kohler’s cross-cultural team even considered the color of the filtration system to avoid offending any culture.

According to Kohler’s 2018 Social Impact Report, after hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico and nearby Caribbean Islands, Kohler helped supply 100,000 Kohler Clarity water filters for schools, homes, and community centers in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, allowing over 270,000 students to return to school. As associates stated in Kohler’s Innovation for Good promotional video: “Passionate product, passionate people, having the drive to move forward and do the extraordinary … It’s been very motivating and inspirational to be a part of Innovation for Good.”


Mark Michaux Brown is the author of “Outward Bound Lessons To Live A Life of Leadership.” He worked for more than 20 years as a field instructor and program manager for Outward Bound. Brown developed some of the first leadership development programs that utilized Outward Bound principles inside organizations, working with companies such as the Home Depot, Charlotte Pipe & Foundry and Cox Enterprises. He later joined the leadership team of a New England company using Expeditionary Leadership principles to transform its culture. He currently works as a master organizational guide, executive coach and consultant, leading people and organizations to thrive through change.

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