The truly great companies of today are the ones that lead in purpose and invest in stakeholders to ensure long-term profitability. But for investors, differentiating and evaluating companies’ “goodness” can be challenging, even as more companies make and report on ESG commitments. And for business leaders, determining how to create long-term value for all stakeholders can be unclear. JUST Capital provides a solution.
JUST Capital, a nonprofit organization with a purpose to equip the market with these insights, released its annual JUST 100 rankings at the beginning of 2022. The organization’s methodology combines polling from the American public to define the issues that matter most in a given year with weighted standards that are then used to rank companies. “Just” companies are assessed based on their performance across five core categories: Workers, Communities, Shareholders & Governance, Customers, and Environment. This year, the top three concerns of the American public included paying a fair living wage, creating US jobs, and prioritizing stakeholder value creation.
To share insights on this year’s rankings, we welcomed back to the show JUST Capital’s CEO Martin Whittaker.
Listen in for Martin’s insights on:
- The attributes of high-ranking companies and recommendations for companies looking to invest in the interests of the American public.
- The transition from a “trust me” to a “show me” mentality with sustainability reporting.
- The role of boards and how successful boards are able to put talk into action.
- Why social sustainability will be the prominent focus in 2022.
- What factors caused a shift in companies rising and falling on the 2022 JUST 100 rankings.
Links & Notes
- JUST Capital Mission & Impact
- JUST 100’s 2022 Rankings
- JUST Capital Core Issues of JUST Business by Stakeholder
- Martin Whittaker on LinkedIn
- JUST Capital Report: “In 2021, Americans Told Us They Expect Companies to Lead on These 7 Imperatives. 2022 Is the Time to Act”
Carol Cone: I’m Carol Cone and welcome to Purpose 360, the podcast that unlocks the power of purpose to ignite business and social impact. Joining me today is Martin Whittaker, one of my favorite guests on Purpose 360. Martin is CEO of JUST Capital. And today we’re going to talk about the recently released JUST 100. This ranking is so sought after by companies.
Carol Cone: Now, there has been a little bit of reshuffling at the top. Microsoft who has just got incredible stakeholder based approach and leadership with their CEO, Satya Nadella. They dropped a few places to three and Alphabet was number one. Well, we’re going to talk about why there was a little bit of a shift there. Companies that were named to the list immediately put announcements on PR Newswire.
Carol Cone: I mean, more so than ever before, we were really proud that seven of our client, and we have been a small, very focused firm so that we can do the best work, really innovative work. Work that’s built to last, so to speak. Seven of our clients were on the list. So that gave us a lot of pride in knowing that, you’re known by the company that you keep.
Carol Cone: At the top of the issues that are so important to Americans number one, pays a fair living wage. Number two, creates jobs in the US. And I really love that number three, prioritizes accountability to all stakeholders moved up from number 11 last year. So accountability is key. And Martin and I, we’re going to talk about walking the talk and taking action.
Carol Cone: There’s no more time or space for purpose washing or greenwashing or whatever you want to call it. Companies have made declarations. They did that after George Floyd’s murder, they’ve done it through the pandemic and they have got to act. Being a JUST company really does pay off.
Carol Cone: And so there are a few metrics I just want to read for any of you who are skeptical about stakeholder based capitalism, JUST Capital is one of the leaders in the country that is truly using data to prove that working with all stakeholders pays off. JUST companies had a 4.4 higher return on equity and paid 19.2% more in dividends.
Carol Cone: They emitted 26.3 million less metric, tons of CO2 through the use of their sold products. They donated 19 times more in charitable giving and gave on average 152 million in 2020. They also, again, looking at data and measurement, they included ESG KPIs and 2.4 times more in compensation metrics, walking the talk, JUST companies are just doing better. So join me for this wonderful conversation with Martin Whittaker. So Martin, welcome back to the show.
Martin Whittaker: Hey Carol, it’s great to be back. I love this podcast and I love spending time with you. So thank you for having me on.
Carol Cone: Oh my God, I hope I can use that in our promotional materials. So today we’re going to talk about the JUST 100 and this is, what, you had the first one in 2018. Was that the first year?
Martin Whittaker: First year was actually an industry only because it was such a challenge to do an Apple’s to Apple’s across the entire Russell 1000 list of companies. So 2014, we formed the company. 2015, we did our first poll. 2016, was the first industry rankings. 2017, was the first head-to-head every company against every company ranking.
Carol Cone: Okay. Great. Okay. 2017. So for those of our listeners who kind of they’ve heard the name JUST Capital, but they don’t know what JUST Capital does. Why don’t you just share with them your mission, your vision. And I love that what Julie Sweet, I think said from Accenture, "You’re creating competition for goodness." So tell us about just who you are and then why the JUST 100?
Martin Whittaker: Just, it’s a pretty simple idea. It’s how do you get big corporations to build a more just economy and through that a more just society? And that’s really it. And we think if you can get the private sector, and obviously we focus on those big corporations that have so much influence and so much impact, how do you get into change behavior?
Martin Whittaker: And what sort of market levers can you pull to incentivize that we’re all about trying to get companies to act out of self-interest, this competition that Julie talked about, that’s how markets work? And I think we’re a time in civilization, certainly in this country, where we’ve got to try and create more of a collective vision.
Martin Whittaker: We’re so divided. And I think our polling really gives me heart because it makes me think that actually when it comes to what we want businesses to do, to help us with our lives and our dreams and our hopes, we’re not divided at all.
Martin Whittaker: So that’s the big idea. And we do that as you know, we don’t define what just means, we turn to the American people to do that. We do a lot of public opinion research. Actually, last week was our kickoff for 2022, our first focus groups, fascinating.
Martin Whittaker: Almost the first thing out of someone’s mouth on these focus groups, just talking about, what should companies do and what constitutes just business behavior was pay a fair wage, right? Which is our number one issue from last year. So the public defines the issues, we track companies and rank them on those issues. And then we do a whole bunch of things with all of that that we think drives change and creates this race to the top.
Carol Cone: You’re not that large an organization. How many people are in JUST Capital these days?
Martin Whittaker: We’re up to about 42, 43 full-time employees.
Carol Cone: And so you pump out so much in addition to the JUST 100. So we’ll get into that in a little bit later, but what was the Genesis of, you were sitting around a table, you’re thinking about the future, you’re thinking about market levers, way back when, how did the idea of the JUST 100 come about?
Martin Whittaker: The idea was really born in a lecture theater or lecture room at Columbia Business School in a course that Deepak Chopra was teaching on this idea of just marketing. And-
Carol Cone: And he’s one of your founders, isn’t he? He’s one of your-
Martin Whittaker: He was our founding chair. Yeah. He’s now an emeritus chair. He’s no longer on the board, but we’re still very connected to Deepak. So I guess what happened, there was a conversation in this class about what does a just company look like? And he thought that was kind of interesting enough to take to his friend through several intermediaries, his friend Paul Tudor Jones.
Martin Whittaker: And obviously, Paul Jones is a Wall Street legend, hedge fund manager. He’s also an incredible philanthropist. And the way he tells it now is, he saw this as like, "Wow, you could really create an interesting investment product investing in just companies."
Martin Whittaker: And then he had this idea that, well, wait a second. As a philanthropist, he knew that unless and until you got big companies, the private sector pulling in the right direction, government and philanthropy alone, were just not going to get the job done.
Martin Whittaker: And so he felt like, the more he thought about, this is a vehicle that could really changed the way business is done, but more important could change outcomes for society. And at that moment, would address a lot of the real challenges that we’re facing today.
Carol Cone: Well, you’re doing a great job. So we love that. Let’s talk about, it’s not about what you think is a just company. You talk about going to the American public. And since you have started doing this you’ve, I guess, researched, interviewed more than 150,000 Americans.
Carol Cone: Can you talk about the attributes that you have learned from them, and then just talk for our listeners, just the background of how the JUST 100 are rated and ranked and where you get the information?
Martin Whittaker: The process itself is, we spent a lot of time making sure we got a fully representative sampling of voices. And it constitutes, it’s actually a multi-faced process every year that begins with focus groups, as I mentioned, all around the country. And now we’re obviously doing that virtually. And then we do more qualitative polling to understand what are the issues that rise to the top.
Martin Whittaker: And then quantitative polling which gives us a sense of weighted, how much? If you were in one of our surveys, be like, "Hey, Carol, here’s a company A with three or four attributes, company B with three or four attributes, which is the most just?" And when you get tens of thousands of people responding, you can build an algorithm that gives you the weight to those individual things.
Martin Whittaker: So at the end of all of that, you have 20 issues, which are weighted according to the public priorities. We then, as a team, go out and gather the best available public information on the largest 1000 publicly trading companies. And we just rank them head-to-head. We score them on each of those things.
Martin Whittaker: Each of those 20 issues kind of breaks down into like sub things, but essentially you’re building this giant model that allows us to measure how companies stack up on their actual performance against all the other companies on each of those issues. And the JUST 100 is essentially, when you look at all the issues together and all 1000 companies, which 100 companies rise to the top overall?
Martin Whittaker: That’s the JUST 100, and it’s really a flagship product. Every year it changes, obviously. And this year, we announced that and launched that with our new media partner CNBC. So we got a huge amount of attention on it. And from the JUST 100, you create an index and you do all sorts of other interesting things. That’s how it works.
Carol Cone: So let’s talk about this year, because this year you had, Microsoft was dethrone. Microsoft was number one for the past three years. And I adore Satya. His leadership is amazing. His book is great. He’s very much empathetic and humanistic, but there was a shift. Alphabet was number one. So what does that say to you, in terms of that shift? And Microsoft didn’t go far. They were third, I think.
Martin Whittaker: They were number two. There’s a couple of reasons why companies shift in their rankings. One is, is not necessarily within their control. It has to do with the weights of the underlying issues, as I mentioned. Last year, we had a lot of focus as you would expect on COVID related issues, racial equity related issues. And so this year was a shift.
Martin Whittaker: And the top three issues I can tell you were, pays a fair and living wage. Number two was, creates US jobs. And number three was, prioritizes stakeholder value creation. So that’s really about accountability at the C-suite. And I stand corrected, you’re right, Microsoft was actually number three. Intel was number two, which has previously been number one, three or four years ago.
Carol Cone: It’s a horse phrase. It’s a horse phrase.
Martin Whittaker: Yeah. And Salesforce is number four. And BofA, I think, Bank of American number five.
Carol Cone: Yeah. Number five. Yeah.
Martin Whittaker: So this is not to say that Microsoft got worse this year. This is simply a recognition that, we are trying to create this race. We are trying to reflect some of those changing priorities. So changing conditions, oftentimes we’ll get companies disclosing day data that they didn’t disclose before.
Martin Whittaker: So it may be that Alphabet has really, which does, by the way, very well across all the issues that we measure. We see real increases year-on-year in which companies are disclosing. For example, I can tell you, we’ve just been looking at our own impact over the years. It’s fascinating to me, 2018 you had about 80 something companies saying they’d done a pay equity analysis, right?
Martin Whittaker: Pay equity, crucial issue, central component of a just company. Last year, it was our 250 something companies had done that. So that’s more than a tripling over several years of company doing pay equity analysis. So what I think about what we’re trying to do, it’s that kind of an impact on business. So the shift in the rankings, Microsoft dropping up, Alphabet going up a bit, that’s great.
Martin Whittaker: And we celebrate that. But what we’re really trying to do is celebrate corporate leadership, wherever and whatever it occurs. And use the rankings to sort of spotlight what that looks like. So that’s sort of how I think about it. We’re really in the business of trying to lift up leadership wherever it occurs. And we’re as much a fan of Microsoft today as we were last year.
Carol Cone: Oh good. Okay. Great. I know the day that it came out. I mean, my email box was just absolutely, is just lit up. I mean, we had our clients connecting with us and saying, we’re so proud. How we’re going to amplify. I looked online, and I think that once you announced it, there was a flurry of press releases coming out from the JUST 100.
Carol Cone: Because unlike previous years, this is like, this is a ranking, a rating that companies truly want to have. And so was there anything that shifted in your mind that, wow, from last year to this year, besides COVID, that you’ve become, dare I say of age? You’ve become desired. And so anything come to mind?
Martin Whittaker: Thank you for saying that. It’s gratify to hear. And of course, we only see some of that. We were looking at our impact stats just recently, and it has been the most successful launch ever. I think. As of today, something like 88 or 90% of the companies in the JUST 100 have been very vocal about that.
Martin Whittaker: So that’s great. I think a few things have happened, if I’m honest. Number one, I think the whole mission of just in the world has become more important.
Carol Cone: Yeah.
Martin Whittaker: I think a few years ago, it was sort of nice if companies led on stakeholder issues. Today, I think that’s table stakes. II think the path to value creation today is through purpose and stakeholder value creation. And every CEO is somewhere on that journey of recognition. They could be far along like a Satya or a Marc Benioff.
Martin Whittaker: They could be just coming to that realization, but it is happening. And it’s not a nice to have now. It’s a must have. I got to have this. If I’m going to be around in a few years, if my social license to do business is going to be maintained, I got to have this. And so I think we have benefited from that.
Martin Whittaker: And I also think that something else that’s happened over the last 12 months is the stakes are much, much higher now. You see so much more activism by investors, by employees, companies got to be positioned on the right side of issues. We’ve found in our own work that, society expects companies to lead now.
Martin Whittaker: And so the expectation of business’ role in society has shifted. So I think all of that means the stakes are much higher. And so any recognition from a credible organization, and we try to be just as credible and as objective. We’re non-political. We’re not pushing a certain point of view.
Martin Whittaker: We’re really trying to say, how does business best serve America? And when you start from that point of view, you have a much wider appeal. And I think putting all of that together has really upped the game and create a lot more attention for us. And more importantly for the mission.
Carol Cone: I totally agree. I mean, you’ve been really investing, investing, investing in this mission, and then all these different forces are coming together. And as you know that I’ve been talking about purpose and stakeholder based capitalism for a long, long time. So that’s why we adore JUST Capital and the way the market is moving, but it’s not easy.
Carol Cone: So I’m just curious. Do you give, or any of your senior, your advisors for such, are CEOs coming to you or their senior teams and saying, we were 657 on the list. Or we were a 954, which was the entire list. And we truly, this isn’t… One, how do we get higher? And so are you giving any sort of counsel in that way?
Martin Whittaker: Absolutely. It’s happening a lot. And we took the decision years ago that we weren’t going to name and shame, that we weren’t going to sort of embarrass anyone. Into performance, we’re all about focusing on leadership and what does good look like and how do you get there? So we, when a company comes to us, it’s like 670th and say, "Hey, we’re not happy. We actually think we’re better than that."
Martin Whittaker: We have a whole corporate engagement team who works with them, but not only to help them understand what we’ve done, because we’re very transparent. And we don’t pretend to have everything right or everything perfect because the data out there, quite honestly, in many areas leads a lot to be desired.
Martin Whittaker: So we have a, I think, a humility about what we’re trying to do. But we definitely, we engage with business leaders to say, "Okay, here’s where we think you could get the biggest bang for your buck. Here are some of the things you could do that would be pretty easy."
Martin Whittaker: And oftentimes, Carol, that has to do with disclosure. A lot of companies, they don’t really disclose what they’re doing on, let’s say, paid family leave. Well, guess what? That 10 years ago, five years ago, maybe you didn’t need to do that, but now people want to see that. And if you want to be a leader, you have to be seen to be a leader. So that, I think, is important.
Martin Whittaker: But yeah, we’re absolutely working with companies and we’ve created a whole series of programs which I think has really helped us work directly with companies on critical issues such as worker financial health, racial equity, things like that, where companies are like, "Hey, what do I do?" So we’ve got this playbook that we’re developing now to help companies do that.
Carol Cone: Oh cool. Well, when the playbook comes out, let’s have another conversation about that. Because we have a lot of clients who are just, they’re recognizing ratings and rankings. They’re recognizing certainly, and it’s not just on climate. And I think that was the other thing that the public said to you, it’s not about climate.
Carol Cone: It’s about fair wages and workers. So interesting shift there. And it’s like household table issues, as people are saying today, especially in a post-COVID world. So we love to talk about that when that playbook comes out. So what about surprises? Were there surprises in this year’s JUST 100?
Martin Whittaker: Yeah. I mean, I was kind of surprised Exxon Mobil, you mentioned climate, Exxon Mobil made to JUST 100. And I think it was because people tend to obviously look at them through a climate lens, right? An environmental lens. And I’ve been doing this for 25 years and sustainable investing and ESG.
Martin Whittaker: And I had my own opinions about Exxon and their performance on environmental issues, which was, by the way, is really sort of interesting how they have evolved over the years. And of course, last year, their campaign, the campaign of engine number one around the board of Exxon Mobil. And I think I saw Darren Woods on CNBC recently, the CEO, talking about their net zero commitments and everything else.
Martin Whittaker: So they’re going in the right direction for sure. But them listed on the JUST 100, we got a lot of people saying, "What, how can they be on the JUST 100?" And the fact is, when you look at all the issues we cover. And you said, "Workers this year, in this model right now, 40% of the overall weighed in. So 40% of a company score is based on worker related issues.
Carol Cone: When I found JUST Capital early on, workers were always a critical priority for Americans. And I had been saying employees, employees, employees for 20 years. So I’m so thrilled that you’re taking real desire in a transparent world from the public and saying, "It’s workers. So please continue."
Martin Whittaker: So that’s why Exxon gets on there and why Tesla, for example, doesn’t. They don’t do well on that and in part. Again, it comes down to disclosure. It’s very difficult for us to judge a company, there’s just no information. And when you look at the S of ESG, social issues, which revolve around workers and around the impact of companies on people and communities.
Martin Whittaker: Those are really, really important in our model, as you said, they always have been. I think it’s one of the things that’s really differentiated us. I think pre-COVID people would say, "Yeah. Well, worker related issues, it’s kind of interesting that you get that in your polling, but come on."
Martin Whittaker: And I think COVID and the whole economic shutdown, reopening, George Floyd, all of those things were all about people. Livelihoods, people’s jobs, safety, their mental health, it was all around people. And I think that was sort of S’s moment where everything around the people aspect of business has fundamentally changed.
Martin Whittaker: And I really believe, I don’t think we’re going back to how it was in 2019. And so I really think that that is partly what you’re seeing in the rankings as well is our recognition that S and social issues and worker related issues in particular, are the new frontier of this whole movement.
Carol Cone: And S is so hard to measure. It’s really hard to measure. I mean, we’ve been working on S for like decades. So it is great that you are now providing an interpretation of S through, again, the American public and their priorities to say it’s about fair treatment of us and things related, and I love what you said, to people and also the communities that the companies are located in.
Carol Cone: So keep working on the S because that’s really, really important. Were there any other surprises in the… And also, I know I’d love you to talk about Facebook because Facebook, dare I say, plummeted. And I mean, over 600 rankings in levels. And so perhaps you can talk about that and why.
Martin Whittaker: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, I would put that in the surprise bucket too. So there are a couple of issues that we grapple with this year, which I think you’ll find interesting. One, and they relate to sort of the impact of business on society more broadly.
Martin Whittaker: I think our model does a very good job on explicit issues. I think it’s hard when you get people to talk about more complex issues such as the impact of social media on society. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? If you’re a parent, you might think that’s a bad thing.
Martin Whittaker: I’m a parent of four for late teen, early 20s. And I don’t necessarily think social media’s been healthy and a good thing. So I look at it in a more of a negative light. But my point is that those more complex issues are hard to reflect in the model.
Martin Whittaker: With Facebook, there was so much controversy around misinformation, disinformation on the platform. The effect I was having on sort of processes of democracy in the country. All the issues around Instagram and the impact on girls’ health, mental health. And we put all that together when we’re like, can we honestly say that Facebook is deserving of being in the JUST 100?
Martin Whittaker: And we decided that we couldn’t, and that we needed to examine that more closely. And so we run it through what we call a unique event process, where if effectively a company, while we figure that out, is dropped down. And that’s that explains Facebook’s rankings. So it wasn’t performance related issue per se.
Martin Whittaker: It’s a methodological choice that we made because of the complexity of the issue. But I’ll give you another one, which also caused us a lot of sort of thought and debate, was around Uber and Lyft and DoorDash. And how do you deal with companies whose whole business model is based on contingent workers? Is that a good thing? Is that a just thing or is that not a just thing?
Martin Whittaker: And it’s really complex. And when you look at Uber, as a company it’s full-time employees, truly do really well. I mean, if you took the gig workers out of the equation altogether, they’d be a very high ranked company, but you can ignore that. You can ignore that their business model is very different. And I think we don’t feel comfortable that we’ve really got the public steer on that.
Martin Whittaker: The same way we don’t feel comfortable we got this public steer on social media and Facebook. So we sort of put these in a different category until we figure that out. And that’s what’s happened. But that’s where we spend a bulk of our time when we are running the model at the back end, we’re like, "Whoa, did we really feel like we got that right, or not?"
Carol Cone: Yeah. No. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in those conversations. Because there’s this dichotomy in terms of convenience and then fairness or ubiquity or megaphone and privacy. So those are going to be interesting things that I assume that the public will push towards you and say, "Hey, these are important to us too. It’s about me, beyond my wages." So can’t wait to see how you deal with that.
Martin Whittaker: Yeah. And with Facebook, for example, it’s a product issue. And it’s really, does that product contribute to a healthy society? It’s interesting. We’ve done a lot of polling on different products including firearms and even fossil fuels, we’ve polled a lot on that. And people, it’s kind of interesting, people are very much smarter than you think.
Martin Whittaker: And it’s sort of like, when we first started polling on that, experts would say to us, "Well, the public doesn’t know anything. Why are you asking them about these issues?" And we found that not to be the case at all. And so on things like firearms, as many people think they’re just as unjust, so we don’t make those kind of moral decisions based on what we think. It’s all about the signal from the public. Yeah.
Carol Cone: Yeah. And that’s a great segue, because you wrote this great blog about, "In 2021, Americans told us they expected companies to lead on these seven imperatives." And then you said, "2022 is the time to act." So I’d love you to talk about the seven imperatives.
Carol Cone: And I do love the first one, which says focus on actions over words, because that is the phase that we are working on with clients or we’re giving speeches about, which is embedding purpose into the organization. It is not about the talk. The talk doesn’t work anymore. It’s the walk. So can you talk about these seven imperatives and what you’re seeing in terms of, again, the shift into what, no, just companies are doing? I
Martin Whittaker: I think I wrote that. When did I write that? 12 months ago?
Carol Cone: Yeah. About.
Martin Whittaker: Something like that?
Carol Cone: Yeah.
Martin Whittaker: Yeah. So I would say there’s one imperative now, which is exactly what you just said. 2021. If you look at what had happened with, even look at the Senate banking committee grilling the heads of the banks on this idea of stakeholder capitalism. It was all about, well, this is just political posturing. Why are you even doing that?
Martin Whittaker: You should be simply focused on shareholder value creation or shareholder returns. And it was really coming down to, what are you actually doing that is in shareholders best interest? Equally, on the left, the major criticism in 2021 was, this is all just greenwashing. It’s purpose washing. And I think, again, you bring it back to like, okay, well, what are you actually doing then?
Martin Whittaker: So for me, I think when I think about 2022, this is all coming coalescing around, okay, what are you actually doing? And how is that creating value for your stakeholders and the business care for that? That’s what any board that I’m talking to, any CEO, any business professional, I feel like this movement has got to the point now where it is about demonstrating real impact, real change, walking the talk.
Martin Whittaker: And then what is impact of that? When we talk about the BRT and the signature of the Business Roundtable’s statement of a purpose of a corporation around stakeholder value creation, well, what does that actually mean? And how are you measuring it? And how does that benefit your investors? That’s the story of 2022.
Carol Cone: Thank you. And I love that at the end of this blog, even written about a year ago, you said, "From your most recent polling, it demonstrated that Americans are losing patience. With 84% agreeing that action from corporate leaders is lacking."
Martin Whittaker: I think that that’s absolutely right. It goes back to the point I made earlier about expectations. We really see clearly that people want businesses to do more. Investors, increasingly want companies to do more. And so you get to the point where hope sort of begins to fade. You know what I mean?
Carol Cone: Yeah.
Martin Whittaker: You sort of like, you start to lose faith that that’s going to happen. And take all the multiple pledges on racial equity and DEI, diversity, equity, inclusion after George Floyd’s murder, right? After a while, you’re like, "Okay, great. But what’s actually happening?" And if nothing happens for months on end, you start to lose faith that actually, you lose trust that this is actually happening.
Martin Whittaker: And I think that’s where you see that with net zero pledges or on climate. After a while you’re like, "All right. Show me, show me." And I’ve said this many times, we don’t live in a trust me world anymore. We live in a show me world. I’ll make up my own mind. You give me the data. I’ll make up my own mind if I think you’re just or not.
Martin Whittaker: And it’s affected our mission as well, Carol. We’ve really, I think over the last 12 months, and certainly this year, spent a lot more time really asking ourselves about our own impact. Are we seeing changes in the companies that we’re tracking? Because if we’re not, we must be doing something wrong.
Martin Whittaker: Or what’s the point? And we are. I talked a little bit earlier about the pay equity analysis. The last three or four years, it’s been about 190, 200 companies have lifted wages. And those wage increases have totaled around $12 billion and affected around 3 million workers. So that’s progress.
Martin Whittaker: They’re not at a living wage level yet, but it’s definitely progress. So I look at that, I look at the increasing percentage of women on boards. I look at the increasing numbers of companies that have executive compensation tied to ESG outcomes. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Concrete, measurable, tangible changes.
Carol Cone: Accountability and disclosure.
Martin Whittaker: Bingo.
Carol Cone: Yeah. How much work are you doing, if any, with board? And are you seeing this shift in board? I’m hearing it, but I want to hear from you, because I have less clients than you. You have participants. What’s the shift?
Martin Whittaker: My board exposure comes, first of all, through JUST Capital’s own boards, which has a lot of people on it who sit on boards of big companies. We also have a CEO advisory council, which has former CEOs of big companies who now sit on boards of multiple companies. So we get a lot of intel from our friends and family network, people associated with the just ecosystem.
Martin Whittaker: And then, over the years have, have built up a good network of just connections with CEOs of companies that we track and that we rank and board members of those companies. I think, honestly, in a nutshell, what I would say is, every board right now is grappling with this central issue of purpose and stakeholder value creation.
Martin Whittaker: And it might come in different forms and shapes depending on the industry, depending on the company, but it’s a topic of conversation at every board in America. And it should be. It should be, because the role of boards ultimately is really about protecting the institution and the corporation itself, right?
Martin Whittaker: And matters relating to stakeholder value, creation and purpose, right now, the sort of most highest priority set of issues affecting a company’s future. So I think the dynamic is sort of, well, that might be a future way of looking at this versus shareholder primacy and the maximization of total shareholder return where those things clash.
Martin Whittaker: That’s kind of interesting actually. That’s a great conversation. We should do that on another podcast. But I think that’s where the rubber hits the road. And I’m not pretending this is simple, by the way. I think boards having a legitimate debate around, what does that really mean for us?
Martin Whittaker: We got to protect shareholder value. We know that, but maybe the path to that lies in thinking about how we’re investing in our workforce, how we’re investing in our customers and our suppliers. I think good boards are doing that already, naturally.
Martin Whittaker: But it’s now it’s about bringing this together much more quantitatively, benchmarking, measuring performance, incentivizing the leadership of companies to drive in that direction and then measuring progress. We’re all about that adjust. So that’s the transition, and I think every board is grappling with that.
Carol Cone: So are you bringing any round tables with directors and really discussing these hard issues? And then perhaps the output might be some modifications in JUST 100 or some blogs or interviews, work with CNBC.
Martin Whittaker: We’ve done that on a more of an ad hoc basis, but sounds like that’s a good business idea, Carol.
Carol Cone: Well, do it. And then-
Martin Whittaker: We should do that. Yeah.
Carol Cone: … we should do it. And then I’d love to do a podcast with them too, which would be kind of interesting. We could do a series of that. Because the how, I think that there’s agreement it’s needed. But the point from talk to action. And boards don’t like to get that deep. They want to put pressure on we see this coming, et cetera.
Carol Cone: But there also needs to be pressure on action. And to your point, the balance is the really hard part. The near term, the long-term. And not everybody’s going to be Paul Polman really. Well, if you don’t like my stock, I’m not going to give you quarterly guidance, then don’t buy it. I mean, how many leaders have the courage that he had to say that and do it?
Martin Whittaker: Yeah. You’re right. Good boards are all about courage and really having a really vigorous debate around these issues. I think they should be debated. I think unfortunately, we’re plagued by dogma around these issues. Either it’s all BS and doesn’t mean anything.
Martin Whittaker: Or it’s like, "No, no, no, this is what you have to do." And I think we’re in a transitional phase. And I’m a realist. So I feel like, "Okay, let’s just talk this through. Well, let’s first understand assumptions that we’re making. Let’s talk about how we measure progress. Let’s be rigorous about that."
Martin Whittaker: And so I think that’s the conversation happening at boards. And certainly, I think there’s a lot of merit in board members talking to each other, among each, from different boards, learning from each other. I think that’s really crucial.
Carol Cone: I want to turn this to communication. You’re not a communications firm yet. Companies are grappling with, okay, we’re doing this good work. We’re changing wages. We’re providing advancement. We’ve got some very innovative DEI policies, but there’s this thing about the humility. There’s humility, which I don’t want to talk about it.
Carol Cone: But you’ve shown that you need to disclose. There’s the, I don’t know how to talk about it. And there’s this whole question of, is it going to look more like purpose washing? So do you have any recommendations that you’ve seen perhaps from some the companies you follow regarding what is an authentic way to communicate their progress?
Martin Whittaker: To answer your question with a specific example, if you look at our number one company this year, Alphabet, just go check out the, a report on DEI in their progress there. It reads like a 10K. It’s lot of numbers, lot of progress, a lot of sort of year-on-year progress.
Martin Whittaker: I mean, I’m old enough to remember 20 odd years ago when the first corporate social responsibility reports were out. They looked more like a national geographic magazine. Lots of happy, smiling people and employees planting trees and-
Carol Cone: Right. And painting fences. Sure.
Martin Whittaker: Yeah. Really cute looking animals. So it was like, that was our corporate social responsibility. Now it’s obviously very, very different. So communications has to be building today, authenticity on these issues. I think there’s a skepticism about corporate ESG and justness and sustainability.
Martin Whittaker: And I think there’s some justification for that skepticism. A lot of companies have made promises that, hmm, have they met? Not so sure. So you’ve got to put yourself out there. You’ve got to tell a story in progress.
Martin Whittaker: If you’re trying to wait until you’ve got everything button and down and all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed and you look great, either we’re not going to believe it, because no one’s perfect. And I said, this natural skepticism, seem like, "Yeah, come on. What’s [crosstalk 00:42:46] really going on?" Or by a time you’ve done that, the ground will have shifted and you’ll be behind the curve again.
Martin Whittaker: So telling the story in progress and being courageous enough, to our earlier point, to do that, to be vulnerable. Hey everybody, we haven’t got this right yet, but we’re working on it and we will get better. And here’s what we’re doing. And here’s how we’re holding ourselves accountable. That, I think, in a very articulate way is how to communicate on these issues today.
Carol Cone: We just interviewed Chris Miller from Ben & Jerry’s, who’s their chief head of activism. They have an amazing, they don’t call it a CSR report, but they call it a SEAR, S-E-A-R report. And they talked about, we were behind in equity and diversity. They’re in Burlington, Vermont. And so they looked at some of their core issues and they were very transparent. We’ve brought in SMEs and we’re talking to them about what we’re going to do.
Carol Cone: And then they said, "And this is what we’re pledging." And they said, "We’re going to pledge. And we’re going to report." And it wasn’t always peaches and cream, which I thought was really a great way that they did it because they truly want to be authentic in all their activism.
Carol Cone: I want to ask you about employees and communication because we find companies that have 10,000, 50,000, 100,000 employees or more. I mean, the center’s got over 600,000. The companies that have the courage to a allow their employees, one, to get engaged, skilled volunteerism, unskilled volunteerism, innovation with purpose.
Carol Cone: And allow them to talk about it on social media and in their networks. I feel that’s a tremendous way to build the story one tiny little brick at a time. But I’m just wondering if you’re coming across that, what’s your point of view about allowing employees to use their voice?
Martin Whittaker: Well, obviously, I think that that is now… We see that happening anyway with increasing employee activism, employees feeling as though collectively they need to work together. You see that in sort of pro company unionization efforts that are happening at Starbucks, which by the way, does really well in our rankings.
Martin Whittaker: Is a great, great employer, and provides a lot of great training and benefits and things like that. So I think employees, they will find a way to drive forward with their voice and with their energies and with their activism. And so it’s how a company channels that. Do you really feel like that’s something you want to try and contain and manage and control? Or could that be your superpower?
Carol Cone: It is a superpower. Absolutely.
Martin Whittaker: Could that passion of your employees drive you forward in innovation and new markets and growth and all the rest of it? So I think it’s how a company’s leadership approaches that, communication is obviously part of that. But again, it has to be communicating about things that are real and that are making a difference.
Martin Whittaker: And understanding that is probably a whole new industry. I’m sure the whole of the HR human capital world is sort of like a snow globe after COVID. Everything’s up in the air and gradually those pieces of settling.
Carol Cone: Well, what’s interesting is, and I’m curious about these two areas which have to do with meaning. I’m reading a lot, talking to our clients a lot about, that if you translate purpose even more simply and say it’s providing meaning for the organization.
Carol Cone: So I’m curious about, are you hearing about meaning albeit very hard to measure as well as flexibility? Because I’m hearing that the desire with the great resignation is that flexibility in my job is the number one thing that employees are looking for. So have you heard about meaning and or flexibility?
Martin Whittaker: Well, certainly flexibility. Definitely, that’s come through conversations you have with folks all around the country. And it’s very sort of, it can be very personal. Right? So the thing about the pandemic is, it’s sort of everyone’s had their own personal journey through a common experience. And I think that has showed up and how much, you think about, some people have a lot of extended family they have to take care of.
Martin Whittaker: Are they able to do that? So they need flexible hours, they need different kind of benefits. Others have, it’s all been about their physical location, where they’re working and how they commute or how not. And physical safety, interacting with people in their store if they’re a cashier. So very, very personal sets of issues.
Martin Whittaker: And I think more flexibility as COVID has sort of worked through and businesses have shut down and reopened and we’re still grappling with vaccines and all that has sort of put that in the spotlight. I think meaning is obviously something deeper. I think it’s partly explains the great reshuffle that’s happening. Who hasn’t sat at home at some point in the last couple of years and thought, boy, what is this all about?
Martin Whittaker: Where am I? What do I really care about? Who hasn’t been confronted with really, really stressful situations? So I think that collectively causes society to think about meaning. And in our polling, I don’t detect any sort of shying away from believing in business or believing in individual’s ability to rise above and to make a better future.
Martin Whittaker: I don’t censor an erosion of sort of societal values or sort of a lack of energy to really build a better future. I don’t see any of that. I think it is a really strong sort of momentum that I think our politicians are not really harnessing. I feel like it’s sort of, if you look at recent polling of trust in government, business is more trusted now. So I sort of feel as though we see that.
Martin Whittaker: So I sort of feel as though Americans wants more from business. And that’s how you express your ambitions and your meaning in life. It’s how you reflect who you are and what you want to be. What’s your identity? And so that I think partly explains what we’re going through as a society right now. But if you harness it can be, can be again, a real superpower.
Carol Cone: I love superpowers. So you and I could talk for ever. And maybe we’re going to have to do the Baker’s Dozen of the Martin and Carol conversation, but I think we’re going to have to close this one down. So I would love for you to give three suggestions to anybody in a company.
Carol Cone: So they could be in the C-suite, they could be in innovation, sustainability, whatever, that truly want to become a more just company. And so not to just get the ratings and rankings, but truly to perform more powerfully. So can you give three suggest? I mean, I know you could give a dozen, but let’s just try for three. And maybe if you’d like a fourth.
Martin Whittaker: Number one, and this speaks to one of our programs. Ask yourself, how many employees within your company are experiencing economic hardship? We’ve started that work with a group of companies, surprising how many employees, even at wealthy tech companies, pro hugely profitable tech companies have workers that are experiencing acute financial hardship.
Martin Whittaker: And if you’ve ever experienced that in your life, it affects everything. So it does have this ripple effect. So you’re an employee or you’re a leader of a big business. Have a lot of people just do an assessment of your workforce. And if you don’t know how to do that, reach out to me.
Martin Whittaker: Or reach out to my colleagues at JUST Capital. And we’ll plug you into that program, we’ll show you how to do it. It’s not hard. And you don’t have to tell anybody about the results. But once you know, you can do something about it. So that’s an obvious place to start. I think number two would be, conduct a benchmark.
Martin Whittaker: You got to ask yourself, where do we really feel like we’re strong across the board of all of our stakeholders, our workers, communities, the planet, our customers and our shareholders and our governance? Do an audit or a benchmarking exercise to find out where are you? Where are you strong and where are you less than strong? And that will give you at least a longer term sense of, okay, where do we really need to focus?
Martin Whittaker: And if the JUST ranking’s going to help you do that, or our program work can help you do that. Great. There’s lots of places you can go for help. But yeah, that’s one. And I think the third thing, if you’re a worker at a company. You asked me about workers, right? Like if you’re an employee in your business.
Carol Cone: Yeah. Workers too. Yeah.
Martin Whittaker: Yeah. I think starting a movement for justness in your own company, I think would be really interesting. One of the, again, anecdotally, we track who clicks on our rankings and who uses them and visits different pages on our website. And what we find is a lot of the visitors to JUST Capital and especially those who drill down into the rankings and the data are employees of ranked companies. That’s kind of interesting to me.
Martin Whittaker: So we would love to hear from employees of companies, we’d love to help employees of companies. And do that in a way that brings sort of real power to that voice and plugs that into a broader movement for workers in America. I think that would be very timely. I think 2022 is, as I just written in my recent year in review, the year of the S. So I think that’s what will happen. And that’s all very consistent with that. So that’s three things just off the top.
Carol Cone: No. That’s great. Those are really helpful. So I’m sorry to end this. I always love talking with you. We have just a great time. We come up with three or four new ideas for programs and products.
Martin Whittaker: We should definitely do this more often. We should try and get a program of podcasts focused on boards and other questions.
Carol Cone: Yeah. Okay.
Martin Whittaker: I love that idea.
Carol Cone: Okay. So I’ll follow up with you on that one.
Martin Whittaker: You’re fantastic at it by the way. I do a lot of podcasts, and I always love this one. You ask great questions. And you know your material, which makes us a big difference. So thank you.
Carol Cone: No. I appreciate that at. And being in the field and waiting for this moment in time, over the decades, it’s what drives me every single day. And my podcast is a passion project. I mean, it’s an opportunity to talk with amazing people and to provide… We have, by the way, I just want to everyone to know. We have an eBook.
Carol Cone: We are almost about to launch our second edition. I think you’re going to be in every single one. And we showcase, in a very bite sizeable fashion, 25 podcasts. And also, this eBook, we have a link to this show. So we’ve got a new one coming out in probably two, three weeks. And I know you’re in that one, and then you’re going to be in the future one.
Carol Cone: So again, we’re always trying to take this great content and share it because this is purposefully structuring and employees at the center. It just makes me smile. Albeit it’s really hard work. And as those of you who follow me know my joke is I started it when I was 6’0” feet tall in 1983, I’m now 5’1", and I can’t get any shorter.
Carol Cone: But I’m not because there’s Martin Whittaker, an incredible JUST Capital out there. I got to give it a nod to Larry Fink and how he is truly trying to shape who, I always look at our clients and go, "Oh, look, how much the black rock owns of you. And listen to what Larry’s saying in his current letter, which is great." So there are these market movers.
Carol Cone: And I knew that the purpose movement would never, never get there until the financial side truly came to bear. And so it’s only been the last two or three years that it’s happening and I am so proud of… And I love what JUST Capital is doing. So keep it up. And I always like to give the last word to my guest. So Martin, anything else that you want to say to our listeners?
Martin Whittaker: Please go to justcapital.com and just get involved. Support us in whatever way you can. We’re a nonprofit. We’re open for business. We ant to hear from anyone who’s interested in our mission. Thank you again, Carol.
Carol Cone: Oh, it’s my pleasure. And yeah, there is a donate button, so donate. And again, I-
Martin Whittaker: But it wasn’t just about money. That would be great, but I do mean like we do, obviously, we value every dollar. But we want to work with people in lots of different ways.
Carol Cone: And you do. And please go to the website. They have all sorts of different programs. And I just want to end with your quote, which is, "We don’t live in a trust me world anymore. We live in a show me world." So if we can leave on a point, which is like, I talk about embedding purpose, you talked about materiality, really understanding.
Carol Cone: Doing strategically understanding your stakeholders, your relationships. Where do you have strengths? Where do you weaknesses? Where can you close the gap? And act and disclose. So Martin Whittaker, you never disappoint me. I love our conversations. I work up with a big smile this morning going, "Yeah, I’m going to be able to talk to Martin." So thank you for your great work.
Carol Cone: And to our listeners, please share this podcast with anybody on your teams, your networks, beyond your teams. And also go to places with a rank and rate podcasts. Give us a five star, please, because we want to get into the pantheon of the best business podcast. This is no longer a niche. It’s no longer a nice to do, it’s a have to do. So thank you very much. And thank you to all our listeners for Purpose 360. And Martin, until next time, just keep doing what you’re doing.
Martin Whittaker: Thanks Carol. Do well.
Business is an unlikely hero: a force for good working to solve society's most pressing challenges, while boosting bottom line. This is social purpose at work. And it's a dynamic journey.
Purpose 360 is a masterclass in unlocking the potential of social purpose to ignite business and social impact. We illuminate the growing impacts of purpose, from engaging employees and fostering deeper consumer loyalty to inspiring product innovation and increasing market share.