PUT YOUR VAL­UES TO WORK

HOW COM­MERCE AND CON­SCIENCE INTERTWINE AT FACEBOOK, UBER, AIRBNB, SALES­FORCE, AND MORE

Fast Company - - Contents - By Robert Safian

Airbnb, Facebook, Sales­force, and more are align­ing their busi­nesses with broader so­cial im­per­a­tives. Here’s how this new age of cor­po­rate re­spon­si­bil­ity can be a boon for their pub­lic im­ages and their bot­tom lines.

WHEN FACEBOOK FOUNDER AND CEO MARK ZUCKERBERG RE­LEASED A NEARLY 5,800-WORD OPEN LET­TER ON FE­BRU­ARY 16—THE LONG­EST SIN­GLE POST HE HAD EVER SHARED ON HIS FACEBOOK TIME­LINE—HE IN­TRO­DUCED IT WITH THIS SIM­PLE PHRASE: “I KNOW A LOT OF US ARE THINK­ING ABOUT HOW WE CAN MAKE THE MOST POS­I­TIVE IM­PACT IN THE WORLD RIGHT NOW.”

At that mo­ment, many other busi­nesses, from Google to Star­bucks, were pub­licly fight­ing poli­cies pro­posed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, most no­tably in the area of im­mi­gra­tion. But Zuckerberg didn’t men­tion the pres­i­dent or pol­i­tics. In­stead, he posed a broader ques­tion: “Are we build­ing the world we all want?” Facebook, he ar­gued, had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to help peo­ple.

It was a mis­sion state­ment, shared just as dis­cus­sion of busi­ness lead­er­ship’s re­la­tion­ship to gov­ern­ment lead­er­ship was reach­ing a fever pitch. Facebook it­self had been stung by cri­tiques of its role in “fake news” and “fil­ter bub­bles.” Im­plicit in Zuckerberg’s let­ter was the idea that, de­spite Facebook’s vac­u­um­ing up of ever-larger piles of cash, its real pur­pose—its rea­son for ex­is­tence—wasn’t to make money. It was to make the world a bet­ter place.

Such mor­al­iz­ing from a bil­lion­aire CEO can come across as disin­gen­u­ous or naive. Zuckerberg de­voted most of his let­ter to out­lin­ing how Facebook could be in­stru­men­tal in “build­ing a global com­mu­nity,” which of course isn’t too far from what the com­pany’s busi­ness im­per­a­tives would dic­tate. Was it all just self-serv­ing ra­tion­al­iza­tion? Is Zuckerberg—and any busi­ness leader claim­ing that val­ues mat­ter more than dol­lars—sim­ply a hyp­ocrite? This is the ten­sion un­der­ly­ing a ris­ing move­ment across the busi­ness land­scape. From au­tomak­ers such as Ford and Audi to fash­ion houses like Gucci and Ralph Lau­ren, from health care firms to con­sumer­pack­aged-goods mak­ers, com­pa­nies are in­creas­ingly seek­ing to align their com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties with larger so­cial and cul­tural val­ues—not just be­cause it makes them look good, but be­cause em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers have started to in­sist on it. Some ef­forts are clearly re­ac­tions to the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment and the di­vi­sive­ness sur­round­ing Trump; the im­pact of boy­cotts (wit­ness #graby­our­wal­let) and buy­cotts can’t be ig­nored by CEOS or in­vestors.

Yet what­ever im­pe­tus the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate of­fers, the busi­ness com­mu­nity was mov­ing in this di­rec­tion well be­fore a new pres­i­dent claimed the White House. An or­ga­ni­za­tion called the B Team, which in­cludes the CEOS of ma­jor busi­nesses such as Unilever and high-pro­file lead­ers like Richard Bran­son and Ari­anna Huff­in­g­ton, was launched sev­eral years ago “to cat­alyze a bet­ter way of do­ing busi­ness” (as its web­site puts it). Uber’s re­cent trou­bles are rooted in is­sues that long pre­ceded its awk­ward dance with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Bud­weiser’s much-dis­cussed Su­per Bowl TV ad about im­mi­gra­tion had been planned for months; Audi’s Su­per Bowl spot high­light­ing the gen­der pay gap was al­most two years in the mak­ing. Even Zuckerberg’s mis­sive, it turns out, had been in the works for a year.

A prac­ti­cal ques­tion looms over this phe­nom­e­non: Does busi­ness have a higher re­spon­si­bil­ity to ad­dress so­cial val­ues, as Zuckerberg as­serts about Facebook, or should the pur­suit of prof­itabil­ity—max­i­miz­ing share­holder value above all else—be the chief pur­pose of a com­pany? Quickly chas­ing that ques­tion is an­other one, sup­ported by many acolytes of this new move­ment: Is it pos­si­ble that em­brac­ing val­ues can ac­tu­ally help prof­its and share prices in the long run?

These is­sues are roil­ing ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship at en­ter­prises large and small, and in no place more promi­nently

“PEO­PLE WANT BUSI­NESS LEAD­ERS—AND ALL LEAD­ERS— TO BE AU­THEN­TIC AND STAND FOR THINGS,” SAYS ZUCKERBERG.

than in Sil­i­con Val­ley. Which makes tech­land—and firms like Facebook and Uber—an ideal can­vas on which to ex­plore how val­ues and value cre­ation are be­ing bal­anced and in­te­grated in dif­fer­ent ways right now. An ex­per­i­ment is under way in parts of cor­po­rate Amer­ica to rede­fine the role of busi­ness in so­ci­ety. To get a sense of how this is play­ing out, and what it might por­tend for our fu­ture, we’ve looked at four lead­ing tech com­pa­nies with var­ied ap­proaches, as well as a smaller busi­ness that’s feel­ing its way through the chal­lenges. These case stud­ies re­veal just how much po­ten­tial, and how much un­cer­tainty, lies ahead.

THE ZUCKERBERG PHI­LOS­O­PHY

Five years ago, be­fore Facebook’s IPO, Mark Zuckerberg posted what he called a “founder’s let­ter” that spelled out the com­pany’s phi­los­o­phy for prospec­tive in­vestors. “We don’t wake up in the morn­ing with the pri­mary goal of mak­ing money,” Zuckerberg wrote. In­stead, Facebook “was built to ac­com­plish a so­cial mis­sion—to make the world more open and con­nected.” Among five spe­cific val­ues that the let­ter noted (in­clud­ing things like “Move Fast” and “Be Bold”) was this dec­la­ra­tion: “We ex­pect ev­ery­one at Facebook to fo­cus ev­ery day on how to build real value for the world.”

I re­cently sat down with Zuckerberg to dis­cuss this let­ter, and his lat­est one, in or­der to learn how his think­ing might have changed over time. Facebook’s of­fices have grown to be­come a sprawl­ing em­pire in Menlo Park, Cal­i­for­nia, with bull­doz­ers busily con­struct­ing new ex­pan­sions. Build­ing 20, where Zuckerberg works along with hun­dreds of the com­pany’s 17,000-plus em­ploy­ees, fea­tures what may be the largest sin­gle-room of­fice space in the world, a me­an­der­ing wall-free to­pog­ra­phy stretch­ing nearly a quar­ter mile that in­cludes cafés, open-air meet­ing spa­ces, and an eclec­tic mix of col­or­ful sculp­tures. Zuckerberg’s desk is in Area 3, near the mid­point of the build­ing, one among many work­sta­tions. He greets me wear­ing his usual jeans and gray short-sleeve T-shirt, and we walk over to a glass-en­closed con­fer­ence room just be­hind his desk. He may not have a tra­di­tional of­fice, but this is where he holds prod­uct-re­view meet­ings and en­ter­tains vis­i­tors. We set­tle in on the couch and be­gin talk­ing.

“I didn’t start Facebook as a busi­ness,” Zuckerberg says. “I built it be­cause I wanted this thing to ex­ist in my com­mu­nity. Over some num­ber of years I came to the re­al­iza­tion that the only way to build it out to what I wanted was if it had a good eco­nomic en­gine be­hind it.” In this way, he notes, “Facebook has al­ways been a mis­sion-driven com­pany.”

The open let­ter Zuckerberg posted in Fe­bru­ary “wasn’t ex­actly a fol­lowup” to the founder’s let­ter, he says. “The founder’s let­ter was writ­ten for share­hold­ers buy­ing into the IPO to un­der­stand how the com­pany op­er­ated.” The new let­ter “had a dif­fer­ent goal, less about how we work and more about what we’re go­ing to do.” What’s changed dra­mat­i­cally since 2012, ac­cord­ing to Zuckerberg, is the ris­ing skep­ti­cism about global con­nec­tiv­ity. “When we were get­ting started in 2004, the idea of con­nect­ing the world was not re­ally a con­tro­ver­sial idea . . . . Peo­ple thought that this was good,” he says. “But in the last few years, that has shifted, right? And it’s not just the U.S. It’s also across Europe and Asia. Folks who have been left be­hind by glob­al­iza­tion are mak­ing their voices louder.” Zuckerberg ex­plains, “I feel like some­one needs to be mak­ing the case for why con­nect­ing peo­ple is good, and we are one of the or­ga­ni­za­tions that I think should be do­ing that.”

As he talks about these things, Zuckerberg looks directly at me, rarely blink­ing. His fo­cus is acute. I men­tion sev­eral of the ways that some cor­po­ra­tions ex­press their val­ues—star­bucks com­mit­ting to hir­ing refugees, for in­stance, or oth­ers that en­gage in char­i­ta­ble giv­ing. But Zuckerberg isn’t steer­ing Facebook to­ward ex­ter­nal so­cial ac­tion or phi­lan­thropy. “I think the core op­er­a­tion of what you do should be aimed at mak­ing the change that you want,” he replies. “A lot of com­pa­nies do nice things with small parts of their re­sources. I would hope that our core mis­sion is the main thing we want to ac­com­plish: mak­ing the world more open and con­nected. Al­most all of our re­sources go to­ward that.

“When I want to do stuff like in­vest in ed­u­ca­tion and sci­ence and im­mi­gra­tion re­form and crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form,” he goes on, “I do that

Airbnb CMO Jonathan Milden­hall be­lieves cus­tomer loy­alty is fu­eled by an emo­tional con­nec­tion. (page 50)

Photographs by ioulex

Mark Zuckerberg hopes to ex­press Facebook’s val­ues through its cen­tral mis­sion. “I think the core op­er­a­tion of what you do should be aimed at mak­ing the change that you want,” he says.

Jonathan Milden­hall, Airbnb’s CMO, knows his com­pany needs to foster trust and open­ness in or­der to suc­ceed.

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