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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Zinner forum highlights CEO’s power to make social change By

Published: April 11, 2014
Section: News

On Tuesday evening, the Zinner Forum was held, sponsored by the Eli J. Segal Citizen Leadership Program, the Sillerman Center and the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. The event “CEO Conversations: Business Leaders as Citizen Leaders,” presented three prominent leaders and their engagement in enacting social change in their communities. The speakers present at this event were: Tom Dretler, co-founder and CEO of Shorelight Education; Jonathan Lavine, managing partner and Chief Investment Officer of Sankaty; and Trish Karter, CEO of LightEffect Farms and co-founder of Dancing Deer Baking Company. Lisa M. Lynch, dean of the Heller School, moderated the event.

Regarding how values that drive businesses affect social change, Lavine said that his organization always tries to do the right thing by their employees, constituents and communities. He always tries to keep sustainability in mind.

His company decided to make its offices better for the environment. One of the things they did was to eliminate water bottles and keep glass pitchers of water instead. They have saved approximately 800,000 water bottles since they began this cause.

“You won’t see a single water bottle in our offices,” he said.

Lavine stated that when you work at a reasonably prominent place, you can use that platform to create change around the world, because it allows you to get people’s attention. He said that there are a lot of ways to make money in this world, but you have to pick and choose the way you live it to reflect the values you live by.

“It has to be in the fiber of the organization,” he said. “Everyone at work has to be reflecting this attitude for social change.”

Karter said that she brought her core values into running a business by managing the conversations at the board level.

“Articulating the value system at the board level is when things are really going to change,” she said.

She spoke about benefit corporations, which enable the directors of the company to make choices based on priorities other than strictly financial values. In other words, if you work at a benefit corporation, the corporation allows you to make decisions for the value system they believe in—social, environmental, among others—for a little less financial benefit, she explained.

Dretler added that this system of benefit corporation allows the directors to escape the usual system where the decisions are made based on what makes the most money. This benefit model allows them to look at something other than the revenue.

“We can talk about what matters in the world,” he said.

“This is actually the right way to build a business,” Lavine said. The business missions affect the long term success; the best decisions often bring in the best results. “I think the best thing to do is to be able to say what good you did in your business, more than being able to say how much money you made in the business,” he added.

The three speakers spoke about the change in our current economy. The investors are asking the business what their causes are and what they are doing, which is a new concept. They focus more and more about what the businesses are working towards, how the products are being made, what their motivations are and how you are supporting sustainability. The market is requiring this drive for progress towards social benefits.

The conversation concluded that being a CEO is a little different than what it meant 10 years ago. The speakers explained that being a CEO allows you to impact a large number of people, and therefore what you do and your beliefs matter.

“We believe that being a good CEO is being a person who makes positive differences in the world,” they said.