What a long strange trip it’s been: How the Social Venture Network changed business in America

Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry’s renown, is asking me for money, and he’s not selling ice cream. I give him a dollar bill, he stamps it in red ink — NOT TO BE USED FOR BRIBING POLITICIANS — and returns it to me. It’s part of his new crusade to get corporate money out of politics.

“Corporations are not people, and money is not free speech,” Cohen declares.

The 61-year-old ice-cream mogul sold Ben & Jerry’s to Unilever in 2000.  (He’s on the left, without his trademark beard, next to his longtime pal Jerry Greenfield.) The T-shirt says: “Stamp Money Out of Politics.” These days,  as “Head Stamper” at StampStampede, Cohen is working for an amendment to the US Constitution to get money out of politics.

It sounds improbable but no more improbable than this: That a gathering of about 70 people, including Ben and his partner Jerry Greenfield, at the rustic Gold Lake Mountain Resort not far from Boulder, Colorado, Colorado back in 1987 could spawn a movement that has changed the way millions of Americans think about and do business. The Gold Lake get-together led to the creation of the Social Venture Network (SVN), a group of business people, investors and philanthropists, many of them shaped by the political and cultural movements of the 1960s, who believe that business can change the world for the better. About 700 SVN members, friends and family gathered last week in New York for a 25th anniversary dinner and celebration–a time to assess how far their movement to remake business has come, and how far it needs to go.

The dinner was a star-studded affair, at least for those of us who pay attention to businesses that aim to build a more just and sustainable economy. On hand along with Ben and Jerry were Eileen Fisher of the eponymous clothing company, Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm, Drew and Myra Goodman of Earthbound Organic, George Siemon of dairy co-op Organic Valley, Jeffrey Hollender, formerly of Seventh Generation, Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hotels, Roger Brown and Linda Mason of Bright Horizons, Amy Domini of Domini Social Investments, all of whom were named to the SVN “Hall of Fame.” Spotted in the crowd of 700 or so were Gifford Pinchot III, president of of Bainbridge Graduate Institute, my friends Seth Goldman of Honest Tea and author Mark Albion (More Than Money: Questions Every MBA Needs to Answer), Danny Kennedy of Sungevity–the closest thing to a power elite of the sustainable business movement.

None of them, to be sure, run FORTUNE 500 companies. But the movement birthed by SVN powered the field of corporate social responsibility, opened up new possibilities for entrepreneurs, raised expectations that big companies now need to meet and helped shape the way companies ranging from Google (“Don’t be Evil”) to Walmart do what they do. [click to continue...]

How to hire a hotel desk clerk

I’m surprised by how casually some companies  hire.

Hiring matters. A lot.

Just ask Chip Conley, the founder and executive chairman of boutique hotel company Joie de Vivre.

“I chose that name because it’s hard to spell and hard to pronounce, and most people don’t know what it means,” he jokes.

Despite the name, Chip has made Joie de Vivre a big success because he focuses relentlessly on hiring the right people, and creating a workplace where they can grow and thrive. He’s the author of Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow, an excellent management book based on the well-known hierarchy of needs of psychologist Abraham Maslow. (See my 2007 blogpost, Peak Performance.)

“The most neglected fact in business is that we’re all human,” Chip says.

Chip, who is 50, started Joie de Vivre right after he graduated from Stanford Business School. Joie de Vivre is now the  2nd largest boutique hotel company in the U.S. (behind Kimpton). It employ 3,500 people in 35 hotels, 19 restaurants and five spas. Last year, Chip sold a majority interest to a private equity firm run by John Pritzker of the Chicago family that used to own Hyattt.

I’ve known Chip for years. He’s always full of ideas  Last week, he gave a talk in San Francisco to the board of Net Impact. (Great organization, by the way: check it out here.)

Chip argued, as he does in Peak, that great companies succeed by meeting the highest expectations and desires of their workers and customers.

For workers, the base of the pyramid is money. That’s about survival.

Above money is recognition. That’s about listening to people, giving them opportunities to grow, applauding their accomplishments.

At the top of the pyramid is meaning. That’s about giving people the sense that they are making a contribution to the world, that they are part of something bigger than themselves.

“Your goal (as an employer) is to help people move up the pyramid,” Chip says.

You need to start with the right people. So, for example, when Joie de Vivre  interviews job candidates who want to work at the front desk a hotel  —they’re called hosts—they’re asked to talk about a time in the last month when they did something for someone else that made the other person happy, and made them happy, too.

It’s obvious why, right?

If making other people feel good makes you feel good, you’re going to like working as a front-desk clerk. You’ll greet every guest who approaches the desk with a smile, and genuinely look forward to helping them in any way you can.

If you don’t much like helping people, you’ll see the job as eight hours of drudgery and the guests will notice.

For the hotel, that’s the difference between repeat business and a disappointed guest.

For the desk clear, it’s the difference between a calling and a job, Chip notes.

“A calling energizes you,” Chip says. “A job depletes you.”

Chip’s been fortunate to find his calling as a hotelier, a writer and a speaker. Here he is, giving a TED talk.

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