Elevating humanity through business

Conscious Leadership

In it for the Long Haul: An Anti-Revolving Door Approach to Leadership

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4 lessons from a decade as CEO and how to apply them to your own company

By Rob Waldron, CEO at Curriculum Associates

In the current business landscape, the chief executive seat is often held by leaders with short-term outlooks who move from one company to the next. According to a recent Equilar study, the median tenure for CEOs at large-cap (S&P 500) companies was just 5 years at the end of 2017.

This year marks a milestone in my career—10 years as CEO of Boston-area education technology company Curriculum Associates. When I started during the financial crash of 2008 (a likely indicator of a short tenure if there ever was one!), the company’s chairman presented me with a contract with 20-year terms. I thought he was insane. Today at the halfway mark, I realize how wrong I was, as this long-term commitment is our company’s strongest competitive advantage.

I’ve identified a few lessons to help other leaders rethink the urge to play musical chairs and instead focus on making meaningful impact by digging in for the long haul. If you’re starting out in a new leadership role or thinking about making a move, here’s some perspective from a 10-year (and counting) veteran:

1. Hire (and keep) good people

One of the most important things I’ve learned from leading with a long-term lens is that hiring one stellar recruit is far more exciting—and valuable—than landing a massive order. I’ve seen time and time again that our people are our most valuable asset and key to sustainable success. This lesson was hammered home for me when chatting with a district superintendent (with whom we have a multi-million-dollar contract) who told me plainly, “I love your company, but if [my account manager] Mike leaves, I’m going with him.” Our people and the trusted relationships they nurture are what set us apart, and I’ll choose a Mike over a million dollars every time.

I believe in hiring people, not filling positions, so I spend more than 50 percent of my time as CEO recruiting and hiring talented individuals that are not only the best fit for the role, but also the best fit for our values and culture. As a result, we‘ve had remarkably low turnover (less than 8 percent), and the average length of stay for employees is over 13 years.

2. Listen… and do what they say

I believe great CEOs are those who listen best, encourage employees to advocate for what’s needed, and then (most importantly) don’t screw it up.

I learned early in my career that in any organization, the people who know the most are those actually doing the work. In my first leadership role at Kaplan Educational Centers, I was thrown into their worst performing center. Quite frankly, I was scared, and I asked the office coordinator what I should do. Long story short, Gloria knew best, and I can only take credit for having the wisdom to listen to her. Implementing her practical ideas led our turnaround, and within months we saw a 50 percent increase in sales.

At Curriculum Associates, I take listening one step further, inviting every employee to participate anonymously in my annual review. I’ll be honest, sometimes their feedback is hard to hear, but I report the results to the entire company nonetheless. I also require that the board tie a portion of my bonus to employee satisfaction scores. This process has helped me become a better leader, and employees know their input is heard.

3. Go in with a long-term outlook

A decade ago, I joined a sleepy print publishing company that was deeply impacted by the market crash. A CEO looking to spend a quick couple of years pumping profits would have been well advised to run for the hills.

I found that during these tough times, it mattered most to our employees and customers that I was in it for the long run. The assurance that “I’m staying through this” at a time when other companies were shedding employees and anxiety levels were high set the tone for a stable, future-focused workplace. Our team doubled-down on long-term strategy, developing new solutions from scratch and bringing the company into the digital age without taking on debt. As a result, we grew during the downturn while competitors grasped at short-sighted solutions. Since that time, we’ve seen exponential growth, today serving more than 7 million K-12 students across the country

4. Take a conscious approach

My first job after college was at Morgan Stanley in New York City. After work, I’d lose the suit and volunteer at a local homeless shelter. It was in this environment, working with folks committed to societal change during the height of the crack epidemic, that I understood the power of purpose. Organizations driven by values and not solely by their bottom line will always work harder, making them difficult to compete against. When your customers and employees see this commitment, they will stay with you.

One of the main things that drew me to Curriculum Associates was the fact that a focus on giving had been baked into their corporate structure from the start. The great honor of my career came last year, when I managed the gift of majority ownership of our company and proceeds of approximately $200 million to charity. Historic philanthropy at this scale is not realistic for most businesses, and I’ve learned that prioritizing good corporate citizenship does not simply mean writing big checks. Service at our company takes many forms, from our voluntary decision to raise the company’s minimum wage to $15/hour to pairing every customer with a dedicated support team. Working with leaders across sectors through organizations like Conscious Capitalism, I’ve seen how a purpose-first approach shapes culture and can be a company’s greatest competitive advantage.

As with any long-term adventure, these 10 years as CEO at Curriculum Associates have been trying at times… but thrilling and fulfilling more times than I can count. It’s been the best decade of my career so far, and I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will bring.


Rob Waldron is a speaker at our upcoming Conscious Capitalism Annual Conference taking place April 23-25 in Phoenix, AZ. Visit conference.consciouscapitalism.org to learn more and register.


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Conscious Capitalism, Inc. Announces New Board Co-Chairs Dedicated to Elevating Humanity Through Business

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Conscious Capitalism, Inc., the nonprofit corporation dedicated to elevating humanity through business, announced today the election of Kip Tindell and Raj Sisodia as Board of Directors co-chairmen. Tindell and Sisodia will seek to introduce the philosophy of Conscious Capitalism to more business leaders around the world while garnering new levels of engagement with the Conscious Capitalism organization.

The Conscious Capitalist Credo expresses what connects these pioneering business leaders in a global network. They believe that business is good because it creates value, it is ethical because it is based on voluntary exchange, it is noble because it lifts people out of poverty and creates prosperity. Free enterprise capitalism is the most powerful system for social cooperation and human progress ever conceived. It is one of the most compelling ideas we humans have ever had. But we can aspire to even more.

Conscious Capitalism, Inc. convenes and hosts these like-mind business leaders at world-class conferences that build the community; designs and offers learning and development experiences to support the growth of the business leaders; and serves as an advocate for the Conscious Capitalists and their successful business practices in order to change the perception of business in media and society to shape our culture.

Kip Tindell is Co-Founder and Chairman of The Container Store, the nation’s leading retailer of storage and organization products — a concept they originated in 1978. Today, the company has stores across the country with over 11,000 storage and organization solutions designed to save space and time. Tindell is the author of UNCONTAINABLE: How Passion, Commitment, and Conscious Capitalism Built a Business Where Everyone Thrives, highlighting the retailer’s unique approach to business and culture, which guides decisions impacting The Container Store’s entire interdependent set of stakeholders, starting with employees and including customers, vendors, the community and shareholders. Tindell’s commitment to their employees landed The Container Store on Fortune magazine’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” year after year for nearly two decades, including number one twice. Tindell is a former Chairman of the National Retail Federation and currently sits on its executive committee. In 2015, he was elected to the World Retail Hall of Fame, which honors founders of some of the retail world’s most iconic brands.

Raj Sisodia is the FW Olin Distinguished Professor of Global Business and Whole Foods Market Research Scholar in Conscious Capitalism at Babson College in Wellesley, MA. He is a co-founder of Conscious Capitalism, Inc. and has written numerous bestselling books. Sisodia is the co-author (with John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market) of “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.” He co-authored (with Barry-Wehmiller CEO, Bob Chapman) “Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family, which was named Best Leadership and Management book of 2015 by 800-CEO-READ and one of 15 best books of 2015 by Forbes. His book “Firms of Endearment: How World Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose” is considered a foundational work in explaining the precepts and performance implications of pursuing a conscious approach to business. His most recent book, published earlier this year, is “The Conscious Capitalism Field Guide: Tools for Transforming Your Organization” (co-authored with Timothy Henry and Thomas Eckschmidt).

“As Conscious Capitalism continues to prove itself as the model business philosophy for both today and the future, we are honored and grateful to Kip and Raj for their commitment to not only continue their leadership but take on this greater role in growing Conscious Capitalism,” said Alexander McCobin, chief executive officer of Conscious Capitalism, Inc. “Our global movement believes the opportunity to liberate the heroic spirit of business and entrepreneurship is more important today than ever, and the experience Kip and Raj bring to the movement will help to get us there.”

To learn more about the movement dedicated to changing the practice and perception of business so that it is recognized as a powerful force for good, visit ConsciousCapitalism.org.

 

About Conscious Capitalism

Conscious Capitalism, Inc. is the 501c3 nonprofit corporation dedicated to elevating humanity through business. The practice of Conscious Capitalism includes implementing the tenets of Higher Purpose, Stakeholder Orientation, Conscious Culture and Conscious Leadership. Founded in 2010, Conscious Capitalism, Inc. has offices in San Francisco, New York City and Detroit. The international organization serves a global movement of Conscious Capitalists by producing transformational events and learning opportunities to inspire, educate and connect a growing community of leaders around the world interested in advancing the practice and perception of business as a force for good.