The 2014 International Corporate Citizenship Conference kicked off at the Beverly Hilton with an opening reception hosted by Altria. The space was abuzz with excitement from first-time attendees and conference veterans alike who were looking to share and learn from each other’s experiences and expertise. Networking commenced, connections were made, and rich conversation began in earnest among peers eager to talk corporate citizenship and today’s realities.
In her address at the welcome dinner, Center for Corporate Citizenship Executive Director Katherine V. Smith opened by referencing this year’s conference theme of Adaptable Leadership. She stressed how being nimble and agile while maintaining crystal clear focus on the endgame is absolutely essential in today’s business context, particularly among companies driving solutions for social and environmental challenges. “Adaptable leaders are able to balance short-term and long-term priorities while navigating an ever-changing landscape and growing the business,” said Smith.
Smith noted that the following themes emerged in preparing for this year’s conference:
- global economy
- market volatility
“Corporate responsibility has a real role to play in navigating through these volatile times and circumstances,” said Smith. “It is not only about contributing to the common good, but also bringing real value to the business.” Driving brand value, solidifying company reputation, and reducing capital costs are equally critical outputs of corporate responsibility, she noted.
Looking to the future, Smith forecast that the demands on companies and their efforts to drive social good will only grow as our already complicated global economy becomes more complex. With such a backdrop of increased pressure, Smith called on conference attendees to look to the Center for information and guidance grounded in the Center’s rich body of research and academic rigor.
Smith recognized the Center’s affinity groups – the Community Involvement Roundtable, Leadership Academy Alumni, Executive Forum, and Professional Services Sustainability Roundtable – saying that these groups are advancing the field by understanding changing public policy, broadening perspectives and sharing best practices in tackling the ever-changing, complex challenges and opportunities inherent in corporate citizenship.
She then introduced the evening’s convening sponsor keynote, Rajesh Subramaniam, Executive Vice President, Global Strategy, Marketing & Communications, FedEx Corporation. Subramaniam opened his remarks by concentrating on the theme Adaptable Leadership. “Leadership, more than ever, really is the ability to adapt. That’s what it’s all about. Adaptable leadership is leadership,” he said. “Change is no longer what happens to any business eventually. It is what happens to every business constantly.”
Subramaniam spoke about the agility and decisiveness deeply ingrained in every aspect of FedEx’s business. He praised FedEx founder, Chairman and CEO Fred Smith, for his steadfast leadership and his ability to anticipate the not yet visible, unexpected twists and turns today’s business landscape constantly presents.
Just like the adaptability and flexibility FedEx imbues in its work and culture, Subramaniam spoke about his company’s fundamental integration of corporate responsibility in every interaction in the marketplace. He posited that corporate responsibility and running a successful business are inseparable. “Profit connects people. Trade creates jobs. And when a business grows, its capacity to do good in a community and in the world grows,” he said. He went on to say, “CSR that is just bolted on to a company, which is not in its genetic make-up, has limited potential. It needs to radiate from a company - to be embedded in the corporate DNA, limited only by the reach of the company’s ambition and vision.”
“Businesses with strong core values that do well, do good,” said Subramaniam. He talked about how individuals, communities and companies across the globe are now more connected than ever and how this presents enormous opportunity and responsibility for business. Subramaniam cited examples of how his company has leveraged and in turn benefited communities (and benefited itself) as a result of such connectivity.
Subramaniam posited a framework that illustrates the evolution of corporate responsibility and its place in business. CSR 1.0 was in large part a defensive response by business to markets and stakeholder criticism. Donations and philanthropy were efforts to offset criticism. He called this “CSR as Protection”.
CSR 2.0 was the next iteration along the CSR journey, built on the concept of “shared value”. Beyond merely needing to protect your company from bad publicity or simply giving money to a cause, shared value asserted the interdependence of sellers and buyers in any community. You can’t have one without the other, Subramaniam asserted.
Today, Subramaniam stated, we have CSR 3.0. This next step - already integrated across every FedEx touch point around the world - is being described as networked value. This kind of interdependent, interconnected corporate responsibility engagement encourages and enables collaboration to solve pressing problems by taking advantage of incredible connectivity business now enjoys.
“In our connected world, CSR 3.0 is an approach that consistently makes the most of every possible connection for the good of your business, and the good of the world,” Subramaniam said.
“As businesses, we cannot prosper in isolation from the world we live in. Let alone in a world now so infinitely connected,” he concluded.