Recently Jeffrey Hollender, co-founder of Seventh Generation and sustainability pioneer, was told to pack his bags and hit the road by the company’s powers that be. While a letter from Seventh Generation’s Chairman, Peter Graham, hints that the “managerial complexities” had exceeded Hollender’s capabilities one wonders what the real reasons were behind the sudden and unexpected departure of the man who labored tirelessly to build such a powerful brand.
While it may be some time before we know the entire truth behind the matter, I felt this was a good time to share some a brief story about the kind of values-driven leader Jeffrey is in hopes of inspiring others to take the bold steps he has done so frequently.
I had the chance to spend time with Jeffrey Hollender early 2004 as I was doing some research at Benedictine University. I was interested in leadership and what it took to drive sustainability throughout an organization. I spent several hours with Jeffrey and there are numerous, fascinating insights he shared with me about his approach. I guess one that stands out the most was his belief in transparency and the real need to build a community inside the organization, a culture dedicated to the purpose, mission, and values of the firm. As he told me nearly six years ago:
“I think the internal piece of being a responsible business is much more difficult in my opinion than the external piece. We look at them as inseparable, but even more than that, if the internal piece isn’t there, the external piece can’t ultimately flourish and be credible. So what does is it mean to have a culture that embodies the same values?… We look at this [business] as a community. When businesses talk about community it’s usually the communities outside the business that they are impacting or interacting with, but I think you have to start internally in terms of this community. What kind of community do you want to have? What does it mean to be a member of that community? What can you expect of the community, what can they expect of you, all of which, circles back to this idea of values, and how do the values help guide you in terms of what behavior is appropriate or inappropriate.”
Like many other responsible CEOs I spoke with legacy was always in the back of the mind. Jeffrey realized even then of his potential to influence a new generation of leaders, give back to the community, and guide Seventh Generation to new heights of success. I truly believe he understood what a new powerful role he could have by stepping down as CEO and many applauded his transition to a more fulltime “inspired protagonist” as it were.
Perhaps the downfall was indeed a values conflict which laid the ground for his removal. While Hollender is pragmatic he holds firm in his beliefs. Perhaps the new CEO Maniscalco and the PepsiCo way weren’t perfectly aligned with the community values the company was founded on.
I guess in the end (or this new beginning) Jeffrey will carry on doing the good work he is known for and spreading the word that there is a better business model out there, one that can lead to a more sustainable future. I feel fortunate to have had a chance to spend time with Jeffrey and wish him the best as he goes forward.