Conscious Leadership

Elevating humanity through business

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

Conscious Leadership
|

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.

Why Stories Matter in Business

Conscious Leadership
|

By Heidi Jon Schmidt

Every business leader, no matter how conscious, no matter how successful, keeps a tight focus on growth. More clients, better talent, higher productivity, reduced expenses. Give me those, he or she says, and I will be able to relax and think about telling my organization’s story.

What if telling your story is the route to growth?

We all live by the light of stories. Before the printing press, news traveled only by story—remembered at each step along the way by someone who couldn’t wait to retell it, to generate the laugh or gasp, the moment when two people gazed at each other in recognition—“Ah, I thought so!” or “That’s what I was afraid of.” Or, maybe best: “I wouldn’t have thought of that in a million years.”

Continue reading…

Thea Polancic: Building Community and Purpose

Conscious Leadership
|

By Agata Antonow

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

 —Attributed to Margaret Mead

On a quiet evening in January 2009, Thea Polancic was sticking large pieces of paper on the walls of her home. Her son was asleep upstairs, and finally her day as a busy business partner and consultant was winding down. She’d been in charge and taken names all day, yet her work was just beginning.

Continue reading…

I Can Stop Apologizing

Conscious Leadership
|

By Genevieve Georget

To tell you about a conversation with Tara-Nicholle Nelson would be to tell you about a body of water that makes all of life possible. Instead, I want to share with you what it is like to have a conversation with Tara. I want to take you to the shore and have you watch the waves crash onto the sand. To have the saltwater spray on your face. Get you to look out past the horizon while the ground rumbles below you as the water washes up your shins, wetting your rolled-up blue jean cuffs, and then goes back out again.

Continue reading…

The New CCI Chapter Model Explained

Conscious Culture
|

By Agata Antonow and Lizzie Vance 

Imagine this. It’s a warm May Atlanta night, and you’re standing outside Grace Midtown, a church topped with a big white dome. In front of you is a parking lot shining with cars. A man in a red T-shirt passes by with sliders from Arby’s, tilting the tray so you can take one. A woman in a long-sleeved shirt walks up with her own tray.

“Beer? Wine? I can get you a soft drink, too, if you like.”

You’re not at a wedding or a confirmation or a church social. Close. This is a celebration, but a celebration of what business can do. This is one of the regular events hosted by the Conscious Capitalism Atlanta chapter. Today, two speakers will be talking about Higher Purpose, and before and after they speak, entrepreneurs and company owners from all over Atlanta will have their own discussions, spilling out over the grass lawn and the concrete parking lot with fries and beer, sharing ideas and their passion for doing good in the world with business.

Continue reading…

Consciously Firing

Conscious Culture
|

By Alexander McCobin 

In 2016, the influential media publication Ad Age named Dan Golden’s company the number one agency to work at—and the following two weeks were the worst of the CEO’s professional career. His digital marketing agency Be Found Online (BFO) had just received the most prestigious recognition one can hope for in advertising, but BFO was also in turmoil from an increasingly toxic situation. The reason was no secret to BFO’s entire executive team: while their largest customer brought a lot of revenue and had helped put BFO on the map, it was clear that several years into the relationship, many of BFO’s major problems stemmed from the relationship with this client.

For years, BFO had cultivated a team and culture that they were proud of, one where people enjoyed going to work each day and felt like they were able to make a difference. No matter how much they did internally to cultivate that, they couldn’t control the culture of their client, and it was starting to have detrimental effects.

Continue reading…

The Conscious Merger

Conscious Leadership
|

A Community Contribution by Brandi Beakley 

After building a purpose-driven retail business that had experienced more than 100 percent YOY growth for four straight years, CEO Steve Hall knew driversselect was poised to scale. But the business model had outpaced his abilities to scale it without taking on serious financial and cultural risks. For one thing, driversselect was in desperate need of a much larger facility. Tribe members (driversselect employees) were on top of each other at the existing location, and inventory was being parked at an overflow lot several miles away due to lack of space. The growing pains were palpable.

Continue reading…

Sink or Swim: The Story You Tell Matters

Conscious Leadership
|

A Community Contribution by Mark Rogers 

Leadership in companies is like a team of high-grade mariners in central command of their commercial vessels.

The power of storytelling traditions and techniques that leadership uses can navigate ships and employees directly into harm’s way, circumnavigate them around obstacles, or skillfully avoid an ill-fated voyage of monumental proportion altogether.

Toxic narratives often involve planned routes dominated by the perils of human hubris. And leaders who are unaware of the toxic narratives they perpetuate often navigate their companies into a haze dead ahead, with grazing icebergs and jagged underwater blind spots that can slash into the hull at the heart of a company.

Continue reading…

Shareholders are Stakeholders, Too

Conscious Leadership
|

By David Gardner 

Dear Friends,

When my brother Tom and I keynoted the 2012 Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit, I told the room of 200 CEOs that I was going to pick a basket of 12 conscious, purpose-driven businesses’ stocks for 2012. Tom and I co-founded The Motley Fool, which provides financial advice to investors, so that only makes sense, right? But here’s the kicker: instead of being backward-looking, I said let’s watch them going forward from here to see if they outperform their more traditional, bottom-line-driven competitors over time.

Continue reading…

Savage Blue

Conscious Culture
|

By Genevieve Georget and Lizzie Vance of Round Table Companies 

Reck·on·ing

ˈrek(ə)niNG/

noun: reckoning

  1. The moment that led Bethany Andell—President of Savage Brands—to trade in financial security for vitality.

***

It’s one thing to be changed in this life. Metamorphosis takes courage and vulnerability and a willingness to break yourself wide open. But the unfolding doesn’t end when you put down the chisel. Something more is required to convert that personal willingness into an organizational cyclone of transformation. That something more is a reckoning.

Bethany Andell knew she was in the claws of a reckoning when the ground shifted beneath her feet. Her business was grabbed by the neck and shaken, the foundation splintering.

Continue reading…