Conscious Capitalism Chicago: Blog
We write monthly pieces about our adventures, tours, gatherings, discussions and more.
“Yesterday is gone and its tale told. Today new seeds are growing.” ~~ Rumi
Crimson, spicy-sweet, and essential to a perfect paella or seafood risotto, saffron is known the world over as the Queen of All Spices or Red Gold.
Saffron is variously grown in Iran, Spain, and Kashmir yet it’s in Afghanistan where you’ll find the highest quality saffron. The high altitude, dry winds and intensely arid climate create an ideal environment to grow the purple crocuses f
What comes to mind when most of us think of Afghanistan, however, isn’t saffron or delectable dishes, but pictures of war-torn lands, stories of terrorist activity, and the reality of the opium drug trade.
Kim Jung and Keith Alaniz, two of the three founders of Rumi Spice, a local Chicago start-up, joined us recently to share quite a different story of Afghanistan.
Deployed to address war, terrorism and drug trafficking as US Army soldiers, what Kim–as a platoon leader in search of roadside bombs, and Keith–as a regional expert working with tribal elders, observed stood in stark contrast to the devastation all around them.
They saw a proud people with a rich culture and history. They saw a generosity of spirit amongst the Afghani farmers. They saw a land covered in tiny purple flowers that contain the rarest, most expensive of spices: Afghan saffron.
Later, back in the US, Kim and third founding member, Emily Miller, had been accepted into Harvard Business School and were in search of a project. While still in Afghanistan, Keith contacted them with an idea.
He’d met Haji Yosef, a local Afghani saffron farmer who could only sell his saffron in the local market. After 30 years of war the Afghanis had effectively been cut off from the international marketplace, and without investment in agriculture, Afghan farmers had few prospects for growth, making them susceptible to the influence of the Taliban’s pressure to grow poppies.
Could this be the project that Kim and Emily were looking for at Harvard?
Kim set out to find out, despite her parents thinking she was a bit crazy. She bought a ticket to Afghanistan where she met up with Keith and Haji Yosef. Deeply moved and inspired by Haji’s story, they set to “become entrepreneurs like Haji Yosef, to start a business, and to do something with this one wild and precious life that actually meant something.”
Rumi Spice was born.
Named after the Persian poet, Rumi, whose life and teachings involve coming home to a spiritual center, Rumi Spice’s purpose is ‘to lay a foundation for peace, one saffron flower at a time.”
To that end, Rumi’s stated purpose is at the core of everything they do: “economically empowering Afghani farmers, inspiring Afghani women through earning direct wages, building out Afghanistan’s agricultural infrastructure, and reinvesting back into the community.”
Rumi is the largest foreign employer in agriculture in Afghanistan. They currently partner with more than 90 farmers, employing more
While the average Afghani household earns around $500/year, Afghan farmers can more than triple their income with saffron while providing an alternative to poppy and opium farming – one of the primary sources of income for the Taliban.
Uniquely positioned to overcome barriers with their social networks and in-country expertise, Kim, Keith and Emily have built important relationships, partnerships, and organizational infrastructure necessary to operate within and out of Afghanistan to bring this top-quality, sustainably farmed saffron to customers around the world.
In addition to its unique flavor, saffron’s amazing health benefits range from improved respiration and heart health to reduced inflammation and pain. Its healing properties have been known throughout time as it is an excellent source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium.
Chosen by world-class chefs and Michelin-rated restaurants, Rumi’s additional products and luxury items include saffron gemmies, saffron cocktails, green tea and saffron mixes.
Kim, Keith and Emily see their competitive advantage as their ability to navigate the Afghan business landscape, which is built on trusted relationships and strengthened by their insistence on quality. Rumi’s Afghani saffron received the highest rating at the International Taste & Quality Institute in accordance with ISO Standard 3632 at an outstanding rating of 236. The Institute has rated Afghan saffron #1 three years running.
“The social impact piece is great, but this saffron stands on its own.” At Rumi they believe that a for-profit, social enterprise is the solution to long-term post-conflict development, and Afghan peace is worth fighting for.
When asked about what they’ve learned in building their business, they shared the following:
This conscious company is making its mark in the world in big ways. On May 7,2017 all three founders appeared on Shark Tank in hopes of securing investment monies for their growing business. After presenting their business case, graciously addressing the pushback they received, shark Mark Cuban agreed to finance them to the tune of $250,000 in exchange for 15% of their business.
Learn more about Rumi Spice. Check out Chicago Tonight’s story from this spring.
How do you not only bring an 85-year-old company into the 21st century, but innovate to create a sustainable future?
This was a question that Marc Blackman, CEO of Gold Eagle Brands, and his team were asking. Golden Eagle Brands is a Chicago-based manufacturer of fuel stabilizers and ethanol treatments. They have built a family of brands that are driven to protect and preserve the things you love.
The challenges that Gold Eagle was facing as a company were both external and internal.
External ChallengesThe way people buy products has changed over the last 10 years and will only continue to change as e-commerce grows. Many retailers are closing their doors, so it poses the challenge of how to connect products to the market. The way we communicate has changed. Digital and social media are replacing TV as a way to effectively connect with customers and build a brand. And consumers want to feel that connection to a brand as they buy their products – they don’t just want to hear about the product, they want to hear about the company.
Internal ChallengesHow do you make an 85-year-old manufacturing company on the Southwest side of Chicago, sexy and attractive to millennials and continue to create a work environment where people can thrive?
You realize that as a company, you need to change.
Marc became involved with Conscious Capitalism and saw the impact it can have on business. Marc shared, “You have to be successful, but business owners are going to be the stabilizing force. Gold Eagle has always been known as a great place to work with a family culture, but as we learn about what it takes to be successful in the future, we see that our good culture can be so much better.”
How are they doing it? For starters: Marc and his executive team made the commitment to transforming their work culture. By reading, Everyone Matters, by Bob Chapman the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, they became interested in learning how well they are balancing their operating performance, operational stability and people-centric leadership.
Barry-Wehmiller created the BW Leadership Institute. They they teach companies how to implement their Truly Human Leadership model.
Marc and Dan Stewart, Head of HR for Gold Eagle Brands, paid a visit to Barry-Wehmiller company in Saint Louis to learn from the BW Leadership Institute and are kicking off a workshop with their team at Gold Eagle Brands this month.
Here are some of the things that they have learned so far as they start implementing this model:
Hand-in-hand with their efforts to evaluate culture, Gold Eagle invested in transforming its physical space. Their older office space was ready for an upgrade. They were intentional in their design by creating spaces that inspire collaboration, attracts more millennials and has natural light filling rooms and a floor plan of open space. The new space is truly inspiring. The impact on the company has been connecting the teams, enabling them to communicate more face-to-face with larger, open meeting spaces and a new physical environment that fosters collaboration.
Gold Eagle Brands is among the many companies who are authentically purpose-driven and passionately changing their corner of the world by creating cultures in which their employees are thriving, their stakeholders are served and their leaders are inspiring, creating value and making their companies profitable.
We look forward to checking back with Marc and his team for updates on their cultural transformation. This is how business transforms – one conscious company, leader and employee at a time.
In the last month we’ve heard about big brands like Pepsi, United Airlines and Fox News and their epic failures to connect to their stakeholders, serve their customers and create a safe culture for employees to thrive.
In case you missed it, Pepsi caught flack for a commercial, featuring Kendall Jenner, that tried to capitalize on the protest movement of this new political climate we are living in, in a very manipulative way. Not only did the ad NOT tug at our heartstrings and have people rushing out to buy a Pepsi, it missed the mark so badly that there was immediate consumer backlash and the ad was pulled rather quickly.
United Airlines had its worst week ever when, in a bad customer service move, security was called to remove a customer who refused to give up his seat when the flight was overbooked and they needed to make room for a flight crew. The scene of the man being brutally dragged off the plane and humiliated in the process was filmed by other passengers and played over and over again in the news media, in what must have been a very slow news week. To make matters worse, the CEO of United Airlines issued an initial statement that left an impression that he was blaming the victim for the situation and not taking any responsibility for the actions of the United Airlines staff or the authorities who removed the man.
And in other news, Fox News fired Bill O’Reilly over longstanding sexual harassment allegations and settlements of over $13 million dollars to women who were either current or former employees of Fox News. Make no mistake, this wasn’t conscious capitalism at work; this was a financial move, as it wasn’t until advertisers started pulling ad revenue from the O’Reilly Factor, fearing backlash from their consumers. Fox realized that O’Reilly was becoming a liability, and they took action.
That’s enough to make even the most optimistic person feel disheartened about the state of business and the future of our society.
But for every Fox News, United and Pepsi we have seen wonderful responses from other companies working hard at transformation.
In April, Dove released a case study of how they hacked Shutterstock’s search results to portray women that reflect society with their IMAGE_HACK campaign. The New York Police Department is working alongside the New York Housing Authority to improve customer relations. The New York Time’s article, Customer Service in Blue, highlights, “As New York City’s police department, the largest in the country, undergoes a transformation in how it serves and relates to the communities where faith in law enforcement has eroded, it is a good moment to ask just how happy the customers are.” And the American Association of Universities released their Campus Activities Report: Combating Sexual Assault and Misconduct. They, along with 60 institutions are working to make American campuses safer for every student. The report offer examples of campus activity now underway to better inform universities about sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus, and to affect change.
It’s a shame initiatives like these aren’t viral pieces consumed en masse and applauded. But if we look for it, remain aware of it, we can find inspiration in private enterprise, government and within our strongest institutions.
We live in a time where many people are asking the question “What’s my purpose?” That question can come at any given time… when we reach midlife or when we experience a life change (divorce, death of a loved one, job loss, health scare).
To explore this very topic, Conscious Capitalism Chicago hosted Tim Kelley, acclaimed speaker and author of True Purpose: 12 Strategies for Discovering the Difference You Are Meant to Make.
People have the view that purpose is something that we do outside of work. Some of this may come from economics… we “work toward retirement”. Our end goal is to avoid work and maximize leisure, so we end up living into this future that assumes meaning lies outside or beyond what we do for a living.
The context that we live in suggests that people go to work not expecting to find meaningful value but expecting to find economic value by trading time for money. Current movements, like Conscious Capitalism, are trying to break down this belief that somehow purpose and work cannot go together.
Why is Purpose So Important?
About one third of people are purpose-driven. Purpose-driven people are more likely to stay with a company if they find meaning in their work. And if they find meaning in their work, they are more productive and create better relationships with their co-workers. Their co-workers are fellow travelers on a mission to change the world. This is why purpose-driven companies seek out purpose-driven employees.
Purpose-driven leaders are usually more inspiring. Leaders who are only managing – just moving around parts or who are only focused on the bottom-line of profit – typically do not engage our hearts.
Purpose is also a good guide in a confusing world. Classic business strategy that is based on predicting the future and planning moves ahead like chess is not as effective in this current market. It’s difficult in this market to be able to predict and plan for the future. A company with a larger purpose has a rudder to deal with the uncertainty, because the purpose will help guide their decision-making and bring them back on course when the waters get rough.
Companies that are authentically “on purpose” and who share that purpose with their employees and customers tend to have a loyal fan base and the relationship becomes one of a shared movement, rather than a transactional exchange of goods and services. There is also plenty of data to support that purpose driven companies are profitable and sustainable over time. A company does not trade profit for purpose, in these business models, profit becomes a natural outcome of a purpose driven company.
So How Do I Find Me Some Purpose?
You can start by asking questions like:
During our session with Tim, he led us through an exploration of purpose at work and in life, and he went further to facilitate an exercise to help us connect to our own purpose. Tim’s book True Purpose, is a helpful guidepost for the journey. This excerpt of the book serves as a practical resource to get you started.
Here’s a parting thought on purpose: when you become clear about your purpose, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need blow up your current life or find a new job. We can bring who we are and our purpose into our own current workplace or life situation and create greater fulfillment right where we are.
What’s your purpose?
Katie Simmons on April 18, 2017 at 8:07 am
Thank you for this reminder on seeking purpose-driven work. I have found it particularly powerful to retaining my clients. They can see my passion and that builds a relationship of trust and loyalty lasting many years.
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The theme of this year’s Annual Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit was Confidence and Humility: The Dynamic Duo of Conscious Leadership. 225 CEOs from around the world converged in Austin, TX this past October to connect and learn, from each other and from other conscious leaders, how to put Conscious Capitalism into practice in their businesses and within themselves.
For Thea Polancic, Founder and Chair of the Chicago Chapter, author Brené Brown’s work with the group on vulnerability and shame was especially engaging. Vulnerability is at the core of conscious leadership and is our access to courage. It’s what is at the source of creativity, innovation and change – things that many organizations are looking to impact.
Brown challenged the group to be vulnerable and confront what she calls “face plant moments” of failure. Leaders who are willing to be vulnerable and authentic enough to tell themselves the truth about those times that they’ve failed, can create a space in which employees are free and feel safe to share their mistakes – and humanity – with no consequences.
Joining Thea this year were a cadre of CEOs from the Chicagoland area. A few of them shared their experiences of being at the Summit with us and our members who weren’t able to attend the Summit, at our December CEO breakfast.
CEO, Round Table Companies
Corey Blake, CEO of Round Table Companies, a storytelling company that helps companies and individuals be seen, is a CEO Summit veteran. This was Corey’s third summit and he shared that he continues to attend because he has found a tribe that is aligned on values.
Corey particularly resonated with Brené Brown’s session. (He shared that he felt that starting in that way created room for the participants to let go of titles and be more human with each other – not easy in a room of two hundred plus senior executives.) Each year, Corey’s team provides the “Vulnerability is Sexy” wall. Throughout the summit, leaders share their observations about how they’re experiencing the keynotes and conversations they engage in, and his team translates them into a wall-sized unique graphic interpretation.
According to Corey, his participation in conscious capitalism has helped his company create more aligned relationships with their customers and has impacted the quality of work his team is able to produce for those clients.
CEO, Envision IT
Envision IT is an IT consulting company that prides itself on being a group of talented and compassionate people who are “Purpose-Full”. This was Nancy’s first time attending the CEO summit, although she personally has been on the journey of becoming a conscious leader building an exemplary, purpose-driven company for a few years.
As a first timer, Nancy said that she went in with no expectations, but committed to being open, learning, and experiencing as much as she could from the speakers and her fellow participants. Nancy shared that she found the practicums to be especially valuable, providing the opportunity to hear stories from other CEOs about their journeys, and the victories and challenges of implementing the principles of conscious capitalism in their organizations.
Nancy resonated with the talks that emphasized the capitalism part of conscious capitalism. John Mackey (CEO of Whole Foods) and Arthur Brooks (President of the American Enterprise Institute) both made compelling case for capitalism to as a powerful force for good in the world. Brooks challenged the group to remember that money isn’t inherently evil… it is instead the attachment to money that is the source of people working against the greater good.
Nancy has had personal success with helping to guide Envision IT into a thriving “firm of endearment”. She shares that the key to building a company with a solid foundation is to build it from the perspective of “doing the right thing.” She and her team at Envision IT are doing just that.
CEO, Simple Mills
Simple Mills is a start-up food company with a mission to produce products that are both healthy and delicious; and was also a first time attendee at this year’s summit. She shared her experience in an excellent article entitled Four Insights from the Most Revolutionary CEO Summit in the Country at Inc.com.
Closing our breakfast conversation, her comments felt almost prophetic. She reminded us that the world is changing quickly, and capitalism itself is going to continue to evolve before our eyes in the coming years.
The new Whole Foods Market in Englewood opened Wednesday to much fanfare… As much as we don’t like to make Whole Foods the poster child for everything Conscious Capitalism, it’s moments like this that make it clear why they’re the leaders of the movement.
A couple of years ago I visited the Whole Foods in Detroit and it was a moving, inspiring experience, a community experience. People hung out outside drinking coffee and chatting, and called out to neighbors as they arrived. Moving through the store I saw items on the shelves that were the usual suspects, but also new local and ethnic brands I’d never seen before. At the food bar, strangers helped each other navigate the honor system. One man asked the woman next to him, “You mean I just take it myself?” Being trusted to serve yourself stood in stark contrast to paying for gas through a tiny slot in a bullet proof window not far away. Whole Foods had succeeded not only in engaging the community in planning for and launching the store in way that was culturally sensitive and relevant to the area, but also creating a place that people felt was their own.
The Englewood store is a great example of the Conscious Capitalism stakeholder model in action – a win, win, win. Customersget healthy foods, including low cost staples ($1.50 for a loaf of whole wheat bread, cage-free eggs for $1.99). Suppliers include local businesses like our recent conscious business boot camp winner Laine’s Bake Shop – who thrive and grow with Whole Foods’ business and guidance. The Community gets a new source of jobs and a vote of confidence that pulls in other retailers, like the Starbucks next door. Employees get to work in a great, positive environment; learn, grow, and have a good wage and benefits. Whole Foods expands their brand and most importantly, gets to fulfill on their purpose. And their Investors prosper as a result of all of it.
I’ll admit it – I’m a softie and had a hard time swallowing my food during my visit to Detroit, moved by the sheer goodness of a business doing the right thing in a profound way. I expect my visit to Englewood to be the same.
*Photos used from “What if Englewood became the new Hyde Park? A battered neighborhood dreams” published in the Chicago Tribune, Sept 30, 2016.
I work from home, and recently I experienced a week of utter disruption in concentration, focus, and flow. The house next door was being demolished to make room for a new home for the new owners.
All day long I would hear the sound and the vibration of bulldozers as they plowed into the back of the house, of pounding on the roof as they disconnected the house being demolished from the one that I live in, and of bricks falling as they ripped the house apart piece by piece.
Then… silence. In a week’s time, a house that took who knows how long to build and lasted for over a hundred years was gone, demolished. A house that had once been someone’s home and provided many memories and occasions… no longer in existence. All that remained was a large hole in the ground where the old house once stood – and where the vision of the new home to be built was now a possibility. Fresh ground awaiting a new foundation to be poured. And in three weeks that new foundation has already been poured, and you can see the makings of an entirely new house rising from the ground.
As I observed all of this occurring, it dawned on me that the destruction of the old and building of something new is such an apt metaphor for what’s required of each of us to become conscious leaders today.
Change is happening rapidly whether we like it or not. To keep up with this ever-changing marketplace, organizations are required to think differently, change their internal operating systems and reinvent themselves from the inside out. And to lead the change effectively and steer organizations to new shores, leaders must also transform themselves.
The book “Shakti Leadership”, by Nilima Bhat and Raj Sisodia, so beautifully outlines the case for this important shift and demonstrates what’s needed to unlock the source of true leadership. In the past, leaders (both male and female) bought into the notion that effectiveness requires traditionally masculine qualities. Hierarchical, militaristic and “win-at-all costs” styles have been highly valued and perceived as the way to be successful in life and in the marketplace. However, as we have evolved and a myriad of challenges have arisen in society and in business, that way of thinking and leading is no longer effective.
What’s needed now is a shift into more balanced energy that marks a continued evolution of leadership, integrating what has been considered more feminine qualities of cooperation, listening, and empathy. And to be a highly effective leader we must each raise our own awareness and learn how to integrate and balance both the masculine and feminine qualities that we all possess. It is power coming from an authentic place that exists within us all and what the Yogic tradition has called Shakti, or life force energy.
Says the book:Becoming a conscious leader requires a transformational journey. You do not become a conscious leader just by getting behavioral skills training in “what leaders do.” Deeper, foundational shifts are required to connect you to new and true bases of consciousness and power. The person you are is the leader you are; therefore, you have to make the journey inward to transform yourself. The hero’s journey, Joseph Campbell’s masterwork, maps perfectly onto modern leadership and business. You need to push beyond your known zone. It takes hard work and you will face many obstacles along the way. It is also a dangerous journey in which you’re going to have to “die” in some ways.
Human beings and the universe are evolving in a certain direction; there is a distinct trajectory that can be discerned. There is an evident purpose to this process, it’s not all based on random mutations. If we can flow into that trajectory and be part of it rather than be at cross-purposes with it, we can have access to extraordinary power. We become agents of what needs to be; if not, these infinitely powerful forces quickly cancel our feeble efforts.
How do you connect with a place that fuels you continuously? How do you become a whole person in order to be a whole leader? How do you become a flexible person in order to be a flexible leader?
The book explores these questions and more.
What is required to lead today, in the 21st century world of business, is a new paradigm of leadership. In essence, it requires a demolition of our existing house – our way of thinking or what has made us successful in the past. In its place, we must build an entirely new house that will allow new ways of being and thinking to emerge… the rise of Shakti leadership that embraces all that we are.
Have you ever been to the intersection of Madison and Pulaski? Even more to the point, have you ever shopped there? If you’re reading this, most likely the answer to both questions is no. The heart of West Garfield Park’s commercial district, the Madison-Pulaski Commercial Corridor, today appears as an array of underused businesses in decline, barely surviving in an economically depressed neighborhood.
But, let’s go back in time. Madison-Pulaski was a thriving commercial district early in the 20th century, home to many businesses and hotels as well as venues for jazz and theater. Beginning in the 1950’s, the district began a long decline, punctuated by the unrest and violence of 1968. Today, the district is trafficked by primarily local, black patrons, shopping at run-down storefronts owned by white money. There is little or no influx of dollars from outside the West Garfield Park area, and woefully little money within the neighborhood. It is striking to visit this business corridor. The edifices are classic, but the facades are worn and tarnished. There seems little hope.
What is the opportunity? We must find ways to infuse dollars from outside the community to re-energize its business and residents – because the community does not have the resources on its own. It will take courage and an inspired alliance among city government, community leaders, consumers and conscious business. Conscious business with a commitment to adding value to all its stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers and the community that it operates within.
Whole Foods is making just such a bold move on West 63 St. in Englewood on the South Side. Investing in a community, encouraging local hiring, disrupting “food desert” eating habits – and inviting dollars from outside Englewood to flow into the community. Too often, we expect someone else to “fix” the urban problems that we have all contributed to over the years. Conscious business is part of the antidote – in partnership with other stakeholders.
How can we do the same for the Madison-Pulaski Corridor and other neighborhoods so that our city can grow in beauty, prosperity and happiness?
After the annual Conscious Capitalism Conference here in Chicago last year (2015), I wrote “Vulnerability is Sexy,” about the work of Corey Blake and his team of Round Table artists. They skillfully rendered–in chalk on a Vulnerability Wall–our hearts, highlighting the core of what makes Conscious Capitalism conscious: our collective vulnerability to life. Uncertainty, risk, emotional openness and heart are key aspects of vulnerability.
In fact, at this year’s April event, also held here in Chicago, Corey and his Roundtable team were back, this time with a Vulnerability Cube created from the following questions:
What’s all this focus on Vulnerability about?
Might seem a funny thing to consider in a traditional business context, yet there’s nothing traditional about this movement, nothing staid or buttoned up at all about the participants, their companies, the work we all share in together.
As Brene Brown, vulnerability researcher and a speaker for this year’s CEO Summit in October, “ vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.”
Brown goes on to share a story of Gay Gaddis, the founder and owner of T3 in Austin, Texas. Gay dared to risk the uncertainty of entrepreneurship by declaring her dream of starting an ad agency, seeded by cashing in a $16K IRA. She’s since successfully built her business over the past twenty years from a handful of regional accounts into the nation’s largest women owned advertising agency. Regarding vulnerability Gaddis said, “When you shut down vulnerability, you shut down opportunity.”
The key to consciousness is self-awareness; self-awareness by definition surfaces our vulnerabilities. This must-have for all conscious leaders, our intentional commitment to cultivate self-awareness involves not only becoming aware of our vulnerabilities, but also noting the myriad of ways in which we hide them from ourselves and others. An essential practice so as to not shut down opportunities.
This year’s Vulnerability Cube allowed participants a means to name their vulnerabilities publicly, creating a collective atmosphere of possibility in businesses and communities as we bring our humanity to the table. On the stage of business and commerce in the 21st century this couldn’t be more vital to our survival and success. Are you all in?
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