In March 2014 I wrote an article for Leader to Leader magazine stating we were entering 4th phase of the corporation. Phase 1 was in the 1920s when Alfred Sloan with General Motors gave birth to the concept on the modern corporation; phase 2 was in the 1950s when Peter Drucker codified the principles of management; phase 3 was in the 1980s when original Japanese best practices of quality and team became ubiquitous; and now, we are firmly in phase 4 where the concept of a great company is built around one word … purpose.
To explore this phase of purpose, on October 27, 2021 I co-moderated, for Women Business Collaborative, a special CEO roundtable where we interviewed legacy CEOs – most who were at the helm in 2014 — to talk freely about the past, their present and action steps for the future. They were leaders in telecommunications, executive search, consumer products and real estate:
– Ralph de la Vega, former Vice Chairman, AT&T
– Judith M. von Seldeneck, Founder and Chair, Diversified Search Group
– Doug Conant, former CEO Campbell Soup Company
– Walt Rakowich, former CEO, Prologis
Ralph de la Vega, a long tenured leader at AT&T, deeply understands progress as he was instrumental in working with Steve Jobs to introduce the original iPhone. He kicked off the meeting with a story of how he learned about the power of diversity, “I placed a 22 year old young lady to head the youth segment in one of our countries. She completely changed the way our wireless products were distributed and packaged. When she presented her marketing plan to me I told her that I did not like it. She said “Sir, you are not the target audience”. Her comments hit me like a lightning bolt. She was right. I funded the marketing program and we achieved success levels that we could not have imagined. The moral of the story is that you must be uncomfortable to achieve the unimaginable.”
Ralph then summed up his philosophy, “Diversity and inclusion is not about counting heads, it’s about making heads count.”
Judee von Seldeneck changed the world of search by founding Diversified Search which was the world’s first organization committed to diversity in executive searches – literally decades before others; this is of critical importance as search is the true harbinger of future selection of CEOs. She shared, “Actions speak louder than words. You have to get compensation right around diversity and inclusion as we know there have been and are disparities. That is a very important part of culture. There are so many inequities that have been allowed to go on for so long, and that sends a message to the organization. Pay equity validates your culture. Senior management needs to look at compensation and benefits-things that effect quality of life. The pendulum has swing back in favor of employees.”
Judee concluded with a thought for the future, “Purpose, quality of life and flexibility are the bywords in this changing world we live in. Employers and C-suite leaders who understand this and deliver on that are the ones who will thrive today and tomorrow.”
Doug Conant left a legacy at Campbell Soup Company by turning around what was a hard hit brand into reclaiming its eminence as an iconic leader by building a new model of employee engagement. He also selected the first woman CEO in over 140 years to be his replacement. Doug talked about the four attributes for leaders (4 C’s): Character, Competence, Chemistry and Courage. He believes the soft stuff is the hard stuff and that leaders need to be tough minded on standards but tender hearted on people.
Doug shared the key to any turnaround, “It is a fool’s errand to expect employees to care about the agenda of a company, if the company doesn’t demonstrate that it clearly cares about the agenda of every employee. You simply must win in the workplace before you can ever expect to win in the marketplace in an enduring way.” He then gave key advise on leadership, “It is an unavoidable truth that if you aspire to lead a company of diverse individuals to a high performance level, you simply must assemble a diverse cadre of leaders to inspire and orchestrate that performance.”
Walt Rakowich was CEO of Prologis, the world’s largest owner of industrial warehouses. He shared his thoughts on diversity, “I think the most important ingredient to success in terms of workforce diversity is having a CEO and a management team that are committed to it… Tone at the top is critical. It’s not just what management says, it’s what they do that counts… Do they hold themselves accountable?”
We then asked about his role today as a board member vs. a CEO and Walt explained, “I see a lot more progress. I sit on three boards with total market capitalization of close to 100 billion dollars, so they’re fairly large companies. Thirty-two percent of my fellow board members on those companies are women; 37% of the senior management team in those companies are women; and one out of the three CEOs in those companies is a woman… There’s a lot more to do, no question about it. But I think today, we’re better aligned with our stakeholders and our customers, and I think we’re stronger companies as a result of it.”
Edie Fraser, CEO of Women Business Collaborative (WBC), pulled together the important concepts of the event with the inspirational message, “WBC and all of us are at the threshold of a revolution of companies of purpose: Fortune, private companies, investment firms, B Corps and with it, CEOs and their boards, the new role of Chief Purpose Officers. We look to CEOs who are Legacy CEOs including those on this Roundtable, to those WBC honored at our Summit, to change leaders who put purpose as the road to profits, to people first, to women and diversity that drives purpose and profits. Purpose sets strong messages and galvanizes with action to equate purposeful companies with purposeful leaders as the best places for results and impact.”
To watch CEO interviews like these go to: The CEO Forum Group