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Posted 3.30.09

Dear Weatherhead Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni, and Friends:

Extraordinary times require more than ordinary leaders. At a time when global trust in business has plummeted, when financial markets are spreading fear instead of prosperity, and when names such as Bernard Madoff and Lehman Brothers are uttered in the same headline, one might ask: "Isn't a center for sustainable value a luxury item in a business school? Isn't the lens of sustainable value creation--that is, managing a business with a focus on people, planet and prosperity--something that will immediately be cut in hard times, much like a philanthropic frill, from the mindset and task of managers?"

One of the Weatherhead School of Management's most humble and successful graduates--Chuck Fowler, CEO and President of Fairmount Minerals--just invested in our school's world-class future with a gift of $7.5 million dollars because he believes the exact opposite. "Sustainability is here to stay," says Mr. Fowler, "and it's not just the right thing to do but it's a business innovation engine--doing good and doing well are intimately interrelated, and sustainability provides an overarching ideal and storehouse of leadership tools to make it so."

In 2002 the Weatherhead School launched an initiative that caught Chuck Fowler's eye. It was called the world inquiry into "business as an agent of world benefit" where faculty and students across the school established a data bank to discover and showcase profitable business innovation in the arena of environmental sustainability and social entrepreneurship. After 2,000 interviews, we soon realized that the data bank was documenting a revolution.

The stories poured in: factories being designed that return more energy to the grid than they use; micro-enterprise models eradicating poverty through profitability; venture capitalists pouring billions into renewable energy; LEED-certified buildings being designed everywhere; carbon trading and new market mechanisms for advancing the public good; new nano-solar startups being likened to the next Google, and the list goes on showcasing the greening of supply chains as well as sustainability initiatives across whole industries and societies. What we noticed was that the "firms of endearment"--companies such as Toyota, GE, Whole Foods, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Unilever, Fairmount Minerals--were not only winning the hearts of their stakeholders vis-à-vis their sustainability innovations, but they were improving every aspect of their business. Top-rated stars in virtually every industry are today embracing sustainability as if it were the biggest business opportunity of the 21st century. How else, we asked ourselves, can we explain why GE is investing $2.5 billion per year in "eco-imagination" or why Toyota is designing a car that purifies the air as it operates, or why Wal-Mart's strategy office has now been re-named as the office for "strategy and sustainability."

In the span of few short years (2002-2009) the tiny initiative--Business as an Agent of World Benefit or "B.A.W.B."--grew to become one of the most productive interdisciplinary projects in the history of the Weatherhead School. In scholarly terms, one can celebrate the initiative's book publications, dissertations, and articles, including two Stanford University Press books--Sustainable Value: How the World's Leading Companies are Doing Well by Doing Good (Laszlo, 2008) and Handbook of Transformative Cooperation (Piderit, Fry and Cooperrider, 2007). In terms of educational impact, B.A.W.B took a leadership role in creating an MBA course in sustainable value, and launched a series of executive education programs helping companies ask the important questions: "How can we use the lens of sustainable value creation to spark innovation in new products and operations, open new markets, ignite customer passion and loyalty, energize an entire workforce, accelerate learning, build greener supply chains, reduce risks? How can we radically advance energy productivity, cut costs, strengthen brand loyalty, and generate higher market cap?" Dozens of companies from our region--leaders such as Alcoa, Parker Hannifin, Sherwin Williams, Forest City Enterprises, Dealer Tire, Go Jo, the Federal Reserve, Cleveland Clinic, Eaton Corporation and Fairmount Minerals--served as early thought-partners and collaborators.

But perhaps the largest accelerator of Weatherhead's prominence in the increasingly crowded sustainability domain happened when, in 2004, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called upon our school to design, and lead, a global Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Summit with 1,000 CEOs from Hewlett-Packard to Coca-Cola and from Novartis to Tata Industries "to unite the strengths of markets with the social and global issues of our day." Today, the UN Global Compact is made up of more than 5,000 corporations, and the Weatherhead School of Management--because of B.A.W.B and its distinctive strength in appreciative inquiry and applied sustainability--has been named the Secretariat of the US Network of the UN Global Compact.

It is in this spirit--a time of tremendous momentum at our school and for the field of management as a whole--that we are pleased to announce that our earlier initiative on Business as an Agent of World Benefit is now being renamed and elevated to a new level of priority, scale, and scope as an interdisciplinary center of excellence. With the timely and generous gift of Char and Chuck Fowler, it is with great pride that we introduce it--our new center--to you and to our community for the first time: The Fowler Center for Sustainable Value. Our aim is crystal clear: to build on and leverage the B.A.W.B legacy and to create the finest research, education, and applied center for sustainable enterprise in the world. Our mission:

The Fowler Center for Sustainable Value advances extraordinary business innovation and social entrepreneurship by turning the social and global issues of our day into bona-fide business opportunities.

The center provides research, leadership education and collaborative design methodologies for advancing the how of sustainable enterprise, helping organizations, industries, and whole economic regions discover the power and promise of sustainability as an innovation engine for "doing good and doing well."

We will, of course, retain the B.A.W.B. title for our ongoing Global Forum for Business as an Agent of World Benefit. These forums, first launched in partnership with the UN Global Compact and the Academy of Management, will serve as platforms to present the work of the Fowler Center and other state-of-the-art efforts in business sustainability and social entrepreneurship from around the world.

Yes, extraordinary times require more than ordinary leaders. Please join us in celebrating not just the gift of Char and Chuck Fowler, but in celebrating their leadership, their example, and their humanity.

David L. Cooperrider
Fairmount Minerals Professor of Social Entrepreneurship
Faculty Director, Fowler Center for Sustainable Value
Professor of Management

N. Mohan Reddy
Dean and Albert J. Weatherhead III

 

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