All Articles Leadership Live from #2013GC: The missions of, Disney, Foot Locker and Whole Foods

Live from #2013GC: The missions of, Disney, Foot Locker and Whole Foods

4 min read


What do, Foot Locker, Disney, Whole Foods and Knowledge Universe U.S. have in common? A commitment to success through corporate philosophies that emphasize the value of satisfied employees and customers, and the importance of the long term over the short term, according to C-suite leaders on Monday at the Milken Institute Global Conference.

The session, “Value and Values: Building a High-Performance Company,” was a relatively rare showcase for the value of corporate social responsibility, or CSR, from the perspective of the C-suite. Each CEO (and Disney’s CFO) faces different challenges in different industries, but each has been able to bridge the values language of being a good corporate citizen with the strategic language of a strong, growing enterprise.

Notably, these leaders de-emphasized their role in sustaining their companies’ cultures and values, pointing repeatedly to the importance of hiring the right employees, giving them a voice and a chance to shine, and the long-term payoffs this can provide.  They appeared to be executing what executive coach Jeff Orr advised this week:

“More often than not, businesses and organizations that don’t foster both character development and competency find themselves falling behind their competition in market share, reputation, employee retention, and profit.”

What drives your company, and what do you value?

Moderator Willow Bay led with the question “What is it that makes your company so highly regarded by their stakeholders?” That answer, of course, has much to do with the profits, the vision, innovation and market positions of the companies. But, for these companies, that success is viewed as a result of specific mission and value statements that resonate through strategy, management, employees and customer service.

Here are a few of the lessons:

  • The mission takes force when distilled through all levels: Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb discussed employee empowerment and his company’s team-based hiring decisions, as well as “the depth of alignment around the mission and purpose of our company … that has been consistent over the 32 years of Whole Foods.”
  • Companies with a good reputation must maintain that: At Disney, CFO Jay Rasulo noted the long reputation of Disney, its creativity and use of technology, and how its audience expects that standard to be maintained. “[I]t’s both the product and the consistent message that we try to deliver from a trust perspective.”
  • Product excellence is driven by employees: Foot Locker CEO Ken Hicks, who came into the company and overhauled its culture and operations, described his company’s success simply: “The best assortment of sneakers in the world, tailored to each market, and 30,000 great people who are out there, love the product, love the customer, love to serve the customer.” If Hicks isn’t at work, he said, the stores stay open, but if the store manager doesn’t show up, nothing will be sold, so the commitment to employees on the ground, without “a top-down environment where everyone was told what to do,” is what worked for Foot Locker.
  • Building employee engagement takes time and money. Knowledge Universe U.S. CEO Tom Wyatt said that his company values culture and assesses, reacts and measures it. “We’ve spent a lot of time, we’ve spent a lot of money with Gallup, both on an employee engagement survey, which didn’t occur here before. We’re reacting to that. We’re spending a lot of money with Gallup on talent assessment,” and the company is also prioritizing onboarding.
  • Transparency done right can assuage employee fears and engage them: CEO Marc Benioff considers his company to be one of the leading innovators out there, but that characteristic is merely a byproduct of the company’s philosophy and communication. The company has worldwide manager meetings, and employees used to be concerned about what was happening during them, even though, as Benioff says, “Nothing happens in these meetings. But they think it’s like the Illuminati getting together.” Benioff hired a company to livecast these meetings for the whole company, opening it up to employee questions. Transparency didn’t just remove fear, but it also gave employees a voice and added feeling of community.
  • Define the brand through the customer experience: “A brand is a collection of memories, online/offline and in-person.” Benioff said. For  Wyatt, the educational experience after working at Old Navy only intensified the importance of customer service. At Old Navy, “the most loyal customer only came seven times a year, which in the apparel business is good. We see our customer twice a day.” In turning around Knowledge Universe, “there was a need to raise engagement, there was a need to filter and improve talent … there wasn’t a strategic plan, there needed to be a strategic plan.” Parents, he said, are entrusting their children to Knowledge Universe, and so the company must meet that level of trust.