Hey CEO, why are you in business?
Hello, my name is Nille, and I am a corporate activist!
I have to warn you, I am one of those business leaders who think business has the right to exist only if it truly helps society flourish…! One of those edge walkers who spend my life challenging basic assumptions and competing commitments. One of those wrong thinkers who keeps pushing the boundaries of the social purpose of business. Because what is good for the world is good for business. And if you, dear reader, think that a social ambition is nice, but not need to have for a thriving business, then you really need an upgrade of your inner software...
My professional life started in the most anti-activist of all contexts. I grew up in management consultancy. I used every waken hour driving complex change processes – setting strategy in motion, building movement and helping organizations spark potential. Dressed to kill. Eager to perform on the essential metrics – sales and invoicing, scoring happy faces when I was +20% above targets. My change business was behavioral change, and I could change anything!
I liked my job, yet I longed for something undefined. And my colleagues always classified me as a ‘wrong thinker’, on the edge and not always in the positive connotation of the world! I kept transiting through numerous consultancies in several countries, a nomad on the constant lookout for greener grass. I started my own consultancy with a partner and we grew it to a sizable business, Børsen gazelle and renown for being something other than traditional consultancy. We defined generosity as a core value and took a vow to changing change. But we were still management consultants and we still measured success by our ability to sell and invoice.
Synchronously two events rattled my world: I took a long-haul back from the US and I helped a friend start a chocolate factory. Or more precisely, I read a book, watched a you tube video and I asked myself two questions!
First, on my way back from an assignment I read ‘The Responsible Company’ by Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard. Patagonia, one of the world’s most successful outdoor equipment companies with a mission to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. Patagonia who regards the dolphins as their main shareholders. Patagonia, who takes pride in business as unusual and use business as a force for good. Yvon Chouinard, an unusual business icon, who is only in business, because he is worried about the world, and with a somewhat different definition of evil than most people, one where ‘when you have the opportunity and the ability to do good and you do nothing, that’s evil.’ I found a kindred spirit in business and he asked the one question that has transformed my life, ‘why are you in business?’ It started my existential crisis, as I could not answer that simple, yet powerful question, why am I in business?
Second, when scanning competition in the chocolate industry, I stumbled upon Tony’s Chocolonely, an extremely successful Dutch chocolate-maker, not quite like the others. A mission with a business attached. A company on a quest to end child-slavery! (See video). Does the world need more chocolate, not really – but the world does need a slave free chocolate option. And here was a company build entirely to help right that wrong – and a truly successful one indeed. My world view was rattled, and my belief about the business of business changed forever. Wow, activating the power of business to change what is wrong with the world. Standing up for what goes against your core values. Using the core business to drive necessary progressive social agendas. They have that covered. And again, a simple yet powerful question haunted me, what about me, what is the wrong I make right?
That became my re:spark. The moment I realized, that I should spend my gift, the ability to change anything, on change that matter, and something that I deeply care about. What if my reason to be in business is to change something that could truly change the world! What if my wrong to make right is changing the DNA of business, nothing more, nothing less.
I closed the business. Joined a tribe of fellow gamechangers, – and today I make it my business to change the world – one company at the time! To transform the social ambition of the private sector by radically redefining success in business so that one day all companies will compete not only to be the best in the world, but best for the world.
I still consult. But not the traditional management consulting. I am into large scale systems change, rattling the societal immune system, transforming capitalism, cultivating a new paradigm for business. I still reed books, but not the traditional ones that business leaders read. On my bedtable now, you find Rules for Radicals, Tools for Grassroots Activists, Beautiful Trouble – a toolbox for revolution, or Activists dare to care. I believe in my mission – even if it means sacrificing everything! I know this is the infliction point and I relentlessly ask others the question – and you, why are you in business? I urge business leaders to change the world. To become activists. I am a corporate activist!
And you, why are you in business? What is your wrong to right?
Nille is a strategic advisor and change maker in the international business environment, where she designs, facilitates and drives business transformation with social ambition, sustainability and purpose as the red threat. Her main area of expertise is corporate activism and she helps companies define and ignite social ambition and drives the organisational transformation needed. Nille also heads the Nordic B Corp community, she was recently appointed to Regeringens Task Force for Civilsamfundsstrategi as a representative for the business community with a specific expertise on Social Enterprise and Benefit Corporations and she serves on several advisory boards.