Friday, May 21, 2010

Call to Act: Responding to Changed Views of Corporate America

The last of a three-part series on the NC CEO Forum, this looks at the current pressure on Corporate America to make changes now and demonstrate how they are improving the community and the world.


Speakers at this year’s NC CEO Forum not only focused on the future of sustainability, but they were equally willing to discuss current challenges to brand and reputation as customers expect more from Corporate America.

Steve Reinemund, the deal of the Wake Forest University Schools of Business, made that point clear as he moderated the event’s first panel discussion. “It is hard to imagine the rate of change in just a year,” Reinemund openly mused. He highlighted three “gold-plated companies” – BP, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., and Johnson & Johnson – that have seen their reputations significantly tarnished.

Vern DavenportSuch pressure always looms for other big companies, panelists said.

"In today’s world, every employee carries the corporate checkbook everywhere they go," said Vern Davenport, the president of public sector at Allscripts, a Chicago-based medical software company. "It only takes one person to destroy a company's image."

All constituents are “more demanding,” Davenport added, forcing companies to broaden their priorities to areas such as people and planet.

Cynthia Marshall, the president of AT&T North Carolina, agreed, noting that  customers “expect us to do things right and do the right thing.” She paused. “They are different.” That means that everyone who works at the company must be mindful of their actions. “I tell our employees that we don’t just work here, we live here,” Marshall added. “People expect us to act like we live here.”

Cynthia GAT&T is taking action to address a growing need for community and environmental activism, Marshall said. The company is looking to replace its fleet with compressed natural gas vehicles, which should lead to more than 80,000 efficient automobiles by 2013. AT&T also named its first chief sustainability officer a year ago, naming Charlene Lake to the post.

Rick McNeel, the president and CEO of LORD Corp., also used the forum to outline steps the chemical company has taken, including the creation of a sustainability program last year. “Wall Street must not drive your company," he said, adding that strategy should instead direct decision-making.

During a separate panel, David Miller, the president of DuPont Electronics and Communications, warned that government must be careful about encouraging consumers to seek more efficient products and resources before U.S. companies are prepared to provide them. The risk, he said, is that U.S. consumers end up buying foreign-made products.

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