What is success? That’s the essential question of conscious business. Is it success to run a profitable enterprise and feel empty and depressed at the end of each day? Is it success to grow a company with low employee morale that offers an attractive return to investors? Is it success to expand market share of a product that slowly makes people sick? These questions don’t, in fact, have objective right answers. There’s no inarguable instruction book to leading a good life.
Yet, increasingly, a community of leaders is coalescing around a vision of success that is quite different from the messages embedded in our contemporary mainstream. Much like early advocates for the abolition of slavery or for women’s right to vote, they’re a diverse group of individuals who, for whatever reason, have come to see through and beyond the ideas that hold sway in our society’s traditional centers of power and influence. They’re saying no to profit at all costs. They’re saying no to sacrificing their personal and communal wellbeing on the altar of unquestioning growth. They’re saying no to myopic, short-term thinking. And, just as importantly, they’re saying a big, heartfelt yes to using the creative power of business to envision and invoke a more socially just, environmentally sustainable, and spiritually fulfilling world.
This new vision of success is rapidly gaining momentum. Yet despite the progress of the past several years, those of us practicing and standing for doing business differently still often find ourselves swimming upstream, reaching deep for the courage to honor our convictions in the face of a “normal” that hasn’t caught up. In times of challenge, it’s easy to slip into the trap of feeling that you are alone or unsupported. We’re here to remind you: that’s not so.
Depending on where you live, you might be the only one in your local chamber of commerce who’s committed to paying a living wage, or the lone voice of “win-for-all” in a room of “eat-or-be-eaten.” But rest assured, your kindred spirits are out there. And in the interest of advancing a new definition of success in business — which happens to be Conscious Company’s purpose — it’s our honor bring you this list of 21 role models on the journey toward a new way to be.
Please know that making a list like this is hard work. We started by recruiting a panel of nine top-notch judges, each a leading expert in one of the three domains of influence we wanted to acknowledge and celebrate (personal journey, aka the inner work; conscious workplace, aka the “we space”; and global impact, aka effects on society). We sent out a call for nominations, and nudged people into taking time to tell us the stories of those deserving recognition. We sorted through dozens of detailed applications and passed the most qualified to our judges. Each three-person panel convened at least once to agree on criteria and on whom to showcase. Then we gathered all the images, facts, and references we needed to share the honorees’ accomplishments. In the end, easily hundreds of hours of thought and effort went into this story, from both our staff and our community. We say this not to pat ourselves on the back, but to underscore how important such a list is.
For each of the honorees, we hope this small token of recognition helps cheer them along and helps confirm that their hard work has not gone unseen. For the rest of us, may their stories inspire and enable us to keep going, to take our own next brave step, to remember there are others floating along beside us in the river of uncertainty and change. As the oft-quoted African proverb reminds us, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This is us. Let’s stick together and go far.
Rice launched what is now the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the US from a warehouse in Oakland in 1998, after more than a decade working with farmers and cooperative enterprises in the mountains of Nicaragua. Over the years, he has pushed to mainstream the Fair Trade movement and expand its impact on farmers and workers by innovating the model, partnering with over 1,300 leading companies, expanding certification across new product categories such as apparel, and activating conscious consumers.
Conscious Leader Cred
Fair Trade USA has directly certified 1.6 million farmers and workers in 70 countries who are audited annually against its rigorous standards. In return, these communities have earned over $503 million in increased income and community development funds, enabling them to improve their livelihoods and protect the environment. Consumer recognition of the “Fair Trade Certified” seal has grown to 67 percent and products displaying the seal can be found in every major retailer in the country.
Lessons from Rice
“I’ve been a social justice activist since I was 16. But I believe the old approaches to tackling social and environmental challenges — such as government regulation and charity — simply aren’t working fast enough. It’s essential that we harness the power of markets, companies, and consumers to create scalable, sustainable solutions. I believe the pace of our evolution to Conscious Capitalism will depend on our ability to build innovative ‘shared value’ business models that generate social and environmental good without sacrificing financial returns. I am thrilled to support so many companies who are pioneering this new frontier, and deeply inspired by all the conscious consumers who are voting with their dollars for a better world. The survival of our planet depends on them.”
“So much of the challenge in conscious business is helping people understand what the difference is. One of the greatest ‘brands’ out there that helps with that is Fair Trade, and it was one of the first. That’s a hell of an achievement for it to be as broadly recognized and used as it is. It’s something that continues to be valuable, but also, in a number of ways, got this whole thing started.” — NH
Ibarra-Howell is an agronomist with more than 25 years of experience in the management and regeneration of grasslands ecosystems. In 2009 she co-founded the Savory Institute with Allan Savory, among others, and became its CEO in 2011. Since then she has led the organization’s charge to tackle global food, water, and climate-change issues through the framework of Holistic Management and a network of partners worldwide, which the Institute describes as “an entrepreneurial, self-sustaining global impact strategy for large-scale restoration of grasslands.” Land managers in the Savory global network implement Holistic Planned Grazing to restore grasslands by mimicking the predator/prey relationships in which those environments evolved.
Lessons from Ibarra-Howell
1. “To design context-fit solutions to the needs you are tackling, think holistically. Go from the bottom up, embrace and honor complexity rather than simplifying in the name of efficiency, understand the unique holistic (socio-cultural, ecological, economic, political, etc.) contexts you are trying to influence, start with people, and receive inspiration from the natural world and its powerful structures and processes.”
2. “Businesses need to become masters at designing and operationalizing regenerative strategies to achieve regenerative outcomes and abundance, from the viewpoints of business performance, planetary health, and people’s wellbeing, as they are all so intrinsically interrelated.”
“The work Savory is doing to rethink agriculture is mind-bending. Savory Institute is tip-of-the-spear in terms of thinking about ways we can restore biodiversity and natural ways of growing our food and, in the same breath, address climate change. They’re driving the debate around regenerative agriculture. They are pulling together farmers and [brands like] Patagonia to ask not only how we understand the science, but how we institutionalize this at a much more systemic level. Some of the things they’re talking about are species-savior-level work.” — KC
After working in leadership roles in multinational, nonprofit, and academic organizations, Gyori co-founded Leaders on Purpose in 2016 with colleagues from Harvard, the World Bank, and the London School of Economics. This multi-sector enterprise links experts from the corporate world, government, nonprofits, and academia in support of unleashing organizational potential through purpose-driven leadership. In 2018, Leaders on Purpose published its Global CEO Study, in which CEOs from some of the world’s most forward-thinking large corporations (including IKEA, Siemens, Mastercard, Novo Nordisk, Haier, WPP, and Cummins) were challenged to define the future of leadership. By studying their sustainability mindsets, Gyori is uncovering powerful insights for the movement as a whole.
Conscious Leader Cred
Having formed trusting relationships with some of the top CEOs in the world, Gyori is distilling patterns and themes that could help mobilize leaders of all levels and sectors. “Christa embodies the very values and qualities that we are seeing emerge in top sustainability leaders,” writes one of her nominators. “She is agile, leads from the middle, and understands that tapping into the highest potential of both the individual and the collective is the key for mobilizing in the direction of a better, healthier future. She’s an expert at convening around purpose and inspiring others to see a positive emerging future.”
Lessons from Gyori
1. “There are times I’ve had an idea but wasn’t sure I was ready, and I’ve asked myself the question, ‘If not you, then who?’ In every case, it has led to something remarkable. We live in a time when we need to have the courage of our convictions, and we can’t wait for someone else to take action.”
2. “Great leaders throughout history have excelled through having a high level of self-mastery. This has never been more important than it is now. In an era when there is so much uncertainty and so much at stake, and the demands for our time have never been greater, one thing we can control is ourselves. The leaders who master this will have the energy, creativity, and capacity to thrive in this new climate. Some of the CEOs we talked with schedule their time in increments of 5 minutes!”
Photo by Jason Dixson Photography
“The CEO Study is incredibly informative about what is getting in the way of CEOs adopting more deep, sustainable practices, how they are embedding purpose throughout their organizations, how they are mapping against the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the thinking that goes into building a large multinational with legitimate focus on positive impacts on stakeholders. We can’t achieve any of the things we’re talking about if we don’t get companies to start making that shift. This study, and her work elevating those ways of thinking, is landmark.” — KC
Sanford is an educator who has been collaboratively leading major change efforts with businesses for more than 40 years. Her client list includes long-term relationships with Colgate Europe and Africa and DuPont Canada, US, Asia and Europe. She also works with new-economy companies like Google and Intel and social enterprises like Seventh Generation, Numi, and REBBL. She’s the author of four books, including “The Regenerative Business,” which was a Gold winner in the 2017 Nautilus Book Awards. Sanford’s work is rooted in her belief that all people can develop and grow to be increasingly entrepreneurial, innovative, and responsible in their business and personal actions. Through a Socratic and contrarian approach backed by research and case stories, she challenges leaders to rethink everything they currently know about leadership, management, and work design.
Conscious Leader Cred
“Through her writings, videos, and the businesses she has worked with, it’s undeniable that Carol is one of the most evolved and articulate thinkers and practitioners in what it means to be a conscious leader in business,” writes one of her nominators. “Across multiple business segments and in many countries, Carol’s work has literally transformed the business world.” Another writes, “She has pushed people to think beyond sustainability to regeneration. She pushes people — calling them out when they are falling into traditional thinking.”
Lessons from Sanford
1. “Avoid advice and be discerning to figure it out for yourself. My way of development is working with education and educators (ancient and modern) who make me figure things out with reflection using living-systems frameworks. Advice tends to diminish deep examinations and [encourage us to] adopt the thinking of others.”
2. “Self-development requires developing skills in living-systems thinking and personal self-understanding so you can make sense of the world and develop others’ capability to think with a regenerative mind and paradigm.”
3. “I go to spiritual and philosophical resources to breathe in — be inspired. I draw from different spiritual and philosophical schools: Mahayana Buddhism, Sri Aurobindo, Sufi, esoteric and Socratic methods. I translate them into modern business practice.”
Photo by Deonta Arnold
“She is a tireless warrior for this work, and brilliant.” -KC
“Sanford has greatly impacted entrepreneurial leaders and innovators I’ve worked with over the years, who attest to her supporting them directly and also inspiring them.” -RF
Growing up in the US, Momperousse always knew she could turn to her mother’s stash of Haitian black castor oil to solve any hair or beauty disaster. But when a hair catastrophe hit away from home and her hair fell out, she couldn’t find the product in any stores, even natural or West Indian ones. Momperousse decided to make sure that she, and anyone else who needed it, could have access to the healing oil known to promote hair growth by creating Kreyol Essence (KE) to import the product from Haiti. Her social enterprise now sources castor oil (and moringa) directly from rural, Haitian small-holder farmers and helps provide them with technical and financial assistance. The enterprise is tackling soil erosion, deforestation, and greenhouse-gas emissions while creating sustainable jobs and empowering women.
Conscious Leader Cred
“Kreyol Essence is a disruptor,” writes one of her multiple nominators, a fellow Haitian entrepreneur. “The more prevalent way to do business in Haiti has been to buy and resell, which does little for the country’s GDP. Our needle wasn’t really moving until more businesses became focused on production here.”
“She is creating economic opportunity for a population that’s routinely overlooked, and bringing real attention to Haiti as a destination for innovation and entrepreneurship. Plus, her product is for a market, [black women,] that is growing and getting more attention. That’s compelling and unusual in the broader community of folks who identify as conscious capitalists.” — RF
Groen has been an author, publisher, and sustainability expert for over 30 years. In the 1980s, he advised the Dutch government on its environmental policy plan. Later, he translated and published Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” book into Dutch. One of the serial entrepreneur’s current ventures, WakaWaka (which means “shine bright” in Swahili), is a B Corp on a mission to end energy poverty by providing access to reliable, clean, and affordable energy to those who lack it — more than one-third of the world’s population. The company develops, manufactures, and markets premium solar-powered flashlights and chargers distributed in over 40 countries. For every purchase, WakaWaka holds promise to light up a life of a person living off-grid through its Share the Sun program, particularly in remote regions and disaster-struck or war-torn areas.
Lessons from Groen
1. “Never give up. Ever.”
2. “A good and spirited team is crucial for success. So look not only for the best and the brightest, but foremost for a combination of diverse and dedicated team players.”
Photo by Iris Piers
“I like that he’s a thought leader, and I like his model of combining retail sales, donations, and reduced-priced sales in partnership with nonprofits.” — NH
SunCulture designs, manufactures, and sells efficient solar-powered drip irrigation solutions that make it cheaper and easier for farmers across Africa to grow high-value fruits and vegetables. Since 2013, the company has reached thousands farmers, helping them increase their incomes by tenfold. Ibrahim spends a significant amount of time in the field getting to know his customers firsthand, and he considers that one of the most important things he does.
Conscious Leader Cred
“Ibrahim has always retained a strong focus on people — both his team and the farmers his business serves — even when others advised him to focus on selling his products instead,” his nominator writes. “He’s also made hard decisions to decline money from donors and investors because they didn’t align with SunCulture’s values. Keeping the customer in focus, he created a one-stop-shop model which meant that he chose to grow a little slower. But now that the business model has been proven and the infrastructure has been built, it’s scaling faster than others and able to foster an even larger impact.”
Lessons from Ibrahim
1. “Lead with vulnerability and say ‘I don’t know’ more often.”
2. “We’re all in the service industry: we serve our customers. If you keep the customer at the center, you’re on your way to building a meaningful company.”
3. “Sleep more. It’s game-changing.”
“SunCulture is a significant enterprise-level company that has a scalable business model which helps a community of need, and also has global environmental impact.” — RF
“Give a Nigerian woman a sack of American-grown corn, and she will eat for a day. Teach her how to grow and sell nutritious food, and she will feed her entire community.” That’s the philosophy behind Kuli Kuli, the first company to introduce moringa, one of the most nutrient-dense plants on the planet, to the US food market. After learning about moringa as a Peace Corps volunteer, Curtis launched Kuli Kuli Foods in 2014. The B Corp sells superfood bars, energy shots, and smoothie mixes in the US made with moringa sourced directly from women’s cooperatives and small family farmers in West Africa and other countries around the world. To ensure that Kuli Kuli’s supply chain helps to improve nutrition and livelihoods for the farmers, the company partners with nonprofits in Africa, the Caribbean, and South America to pay fair wages and educate locals on the nutritional value of moringa.
Conscious Leader Cred
To date, Kuli Kuli has planted more than 1 million moringa trees and partnered with over 1,000 farmers, providing more than $1.5 million in income to women-led farming cooperatives and family farms. The company has doubled its size each year and raised a $4.25 million Series A led by the venture arm of Kellogg’s, eighteen94 Capital.
Lessons from Curtis
1. “The only real failure in life is the failure to try.”
2. “As an impact entrepreneur, you have to be scrappy and show traction before anyone will write you a check. Focus on all the ways that you can show proof of concept without raising any money. For us that meant surveying 400 customers at farmers’ markets about our Moringa Superfood Bars. We used those survey results to improve the product, and in initial retailer presentations.”
3. “I’m totally obsessed with a book called ‘Traction,’ by Gino Wickman. I love the way it helps systematize and streamline entrepreneurship. I asked everyone on my leadership team to read it and then we implemented the majority of the systems it describes.”
“It’s a powerful story of lifting up people in the markets where they’re sourcing the main ingredient.” -KC
There are 1.5 billion women of reproductive age in the world, and 500 million of them lack access to safe, affordable menstrual health resources. When a girl lacks menstrual health supplies and education she is more likely to leave school and otherwise falter in life. Days for Girls, the nonprofit Mergens founded in 2008 after becoming aware of the problem while she was assisting in an orphanage in Kenya, has invented an eco-friendly, brightly patterned, washable menstrual pad sewn from locally sourced materials, and a network for distributing and selling them. Just as important as providing dignified solutions, Mergens’ organization is shattering stigma around menstruation by including conversations about positive body image with every kit distributed.
Conscious Leader Cred
Days for Girls (DfG) has reached 1 million women and girls in 124 countries with its patented DfG Kits and education outreach. In addition, DfG has started 70 microbusinesses in 15 countries and more than 800 volunteer chapters, teams, and clubs. “Through Mergens’ leadership style of collaboration and humility, Days for Girls now has a US-patented design that works well across climates, cultures, and supply chains — the genius of collaborative, responsive design,” writes her nominator.
Lessons from Mergens
1. “Trust the power of team process. We can make many good decisions alone, but adding the perspective of team members is like borrowing insight that would otherwise require personal investment of time and research. Even better, people support what they create.”
2. “Honor the wisdom of those you serve. Seek their advice and perspective as a primary consideration. Though working with diverse cultures can be challenging, the diversity can bring depth and strength to products, processes, and programs.”
3. “DfG pads are an example of the genius of being tenaciously flexible for the sake of excellence. We listened and went back to the design drawing board 28 times to get to where we are today.”
4. “Gratitude is more than a platitude; it’s a management method that empowers genius and unlocks team energy.”
Photo by Ashley Christensen
“It’s a huge opportunity to solve a root problem that holds women back. The solution is sustainable, with economic empowerment built in. I think it’s incredible.” — NH
The agency Young founded in 1998 now has a mission of “making connections that move people.” As a founding member and board chair of the Dallas Conscious Capitalism chapter, she’s been creating a conscious workplace culture since before there was a name for the movement. “A feeling of camaraderie; a safe environment to make mistakes; a chance to grow as a person and a professional: these things don’t just happen,” writes her nominator. “They’re thoughtfully created with every decision, hire, and goal that Tina makes.”
Conscious Leader Cred
Her nomination included a long list of specific cultural practices Young has initiated at Marketwave. Among them: “At our weekly staff meeting, we each mention a fellow staffer whom we’d like to thank. We also have ‘Values Passports’ — small booklets that we can stamp when we notice a colleague demonstrating one of our values. Our open office space plays a big role in our collaborative culture. And Tina has implemented a coaching framework in which managers meet offsite with their direct reports once a month.”
Lessons from Young
1. “Leaders set the tone. And just as enthusiasm and positivity can be contagious, so is stress and fear and worry. It’s not about pretending to never be stressed, but rather channeling it to solve problems and engage your team in both the ups and downs of business.”
2. “Lead with care and compassion, even in the tough situations and conversations. Think of how you would treat someone if they were your best friend’s son or daughter.”
3. “I recently sat in on a workshop that used the tools from unstuckminds.com, and I walked away with a number of new ways to ask the right questions before jumping into problem-solving. So often as leaders we’re in solutions mode, but stepping back and having a framework for defining the problem can unleash more creative and viable actions.”
Photo by Sarah Dean
“In addition to her strong leadership style, it’s also clear that there’s a lot of investment going on around culture. It felt multi-dimensional and comprehensive.” -SD
“I liked the way that employee development and coaching as a framework showed up, as well as the articulation of the values being behaviorally descriptive (like ’employees first’).” -MC
Griffin-Black started her organic cosmetics company in a garage in 1995 with a dream of working in a way that honored the planet and allowed her to also live her life as a woman, a mother, a partner, and a friend. Even though she and her co-founder and co-CEO, Brad Black, divorced in 2007, they’ve continued to work together to grow the company to more than 150 people, reporting 25 percent fiscal growth each year since 2012. Some of the company’s key workplace practices: benefits that are the same across job titles and skill levels, including access to subsidized continued education; in-house yoga classes; a company fridge stocked with healthy snacks; and a benefits package that includes chiropractor visits and acupuncture. She has been a practicing student of Zen Buddhism for over 30 years, and the foundational practice of non-attachment is a tool she uses daily.
Conscious Leader Cred
“She models the importance of letting go, which can be a vital part of success,” writes her nominator. “The idea of doing your best possible work and then releasing it without attachment to an outcome has guided everything in our company from submitting new products to juggling cash flow. She truly embodies her favorite saying —‘Work is love made visible.’”
Lessons from Griffin-Black
1. “In order to bring mindfulness to the workplace, we have to be mindful ourselves. Sounds simple, but in my experience, it’s not at all easy. I have made my personal inner work an integral part of my life: knowing myself, knowing what is important and acting accordingly, taking time for meditation/contemplation, asking for help/being vulnerable, listening.”
2. “Kindness is greatly underrated.”
“She’s solid in her leadership example. I can tell she’s committed to investment with all the examples of both intent and action around the culture.” —SD
In 2001 Ollivier founded BrandStorm, which imports and sells superfoods, salts, and snacks, now under the Natierra brand. In 2013, BrandStorm became Fair for Life–certified. After his daughter passed away in early 2017, Ollivier knew he was not emotionally in a position to be running a company effectively and turned the leadership over to his management team for the next six months, demonstrating the vital role that trust plays in his leadership. “Thierry’s mission and sense of soul convinced me that joining his team was the right fit for me,” says his nominator. “I can honestly say that because of Thierry, I aspire to be a better human being.”
Conscious Leader Cred
BrandStorm has a Culture Committee, which celebrates all employees on holidays. The Philanthropic Committee provides monthly opportunities to participate in team-based charitable programs. Employees are also encouraged to share their personal philanthropic causes with the team via a monthly newsletter. When Ollivier travels to source products, if he sees a need in the communities he visits (often in areas far from urban civilization), he takes action, such as creating a program to provide school supplies in the South American community where the company sources pink salt, and partnering in another program that offers meals to Haitian children in need.
Lessons from Ollivier
“Do business with soul. Using your soul as a guide to apply what you believe in to the way you interact with all stakeholders will undoubtedly put you on a path to mutually beneficial relationships at all levels, where nobody gains to the detriment of others.”
“I admire the emphasis on love and how that translates into the workplace.” —MC
Price made global headlines in 2015 when he announced he was cutting his own salary from $1 million to $70,000 to set a $70,000 minimum wage at his (then-) 130-person payment processing company. Business has thrived since then: the company’s headcount has grown to nearly 200 and revenue has skyrocketed.
Conscious Leader Cred
“One of the company’s core mottos is ‘everyone’s a CEO,’” writes his nominator. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a mid-career member of leadership or a fresh-out-of-college new hire, everyone is charged with thinking independently and critically. The headquarters has zero private offices. No one’s desk is bigger than anyone else’s. Many of us don’t have official job titles. Anyone can drop in on any meeting. Price has often called impromptu all-hands meetings where he’ll break down opportunities or threats with incredible candor.”
Lessons from Price
1. “If you’re not listening to the people who are performing the core functions of your business, you’ll never have the right information to make strategic decisions. I will often ask a front-line employee outright what they’re working on and what their concerns and priorities are for the company.”
2. “Don’t wait for people to come to you. We have a system in place in which we interview every single employee at least once a year to get their feedback on things like how leadership is doing, where they see opportunity for their department, and what they’d like to see improved. Frequently, we’ll spot patterns we may not have noticed before, and we also get amazing, singular ideas.”
3. “Don’t [blindly] take advice. Seek out experiences and information from others, but at the end of that, do what you believe is right. I’ve had moments in my career where I went against what I thought was the right thing because someone wiser, smarter, or more experienced gave me advice to take a different path. Most of the time it would have worked out better if I had done what I believed was right. The rest of the time, I missed the opportunity to fail and learn on my own terms.”
“A lot of courage is required for what Dan has done. Although he has received a lot of press for it, a lot of that press has been pushback. If you’re trying to build a conscious company, the torque of regular culture can pull you off the path, and he hasn’t let that happen.” -JC
Since 2011, Craven has been CEO of B Corp-certified nutritional supplement company FoodState, which markets under two brands, including MegaFood. In addition to the company’s commitments to buying 100 percent pesticide- and herbicide-free fruits, grains, and vegetables directly from the farm for use in their products, Craven has dedicated himself to a practice of daily meditation, coaching, and self-work.
Conscious Leader Cred
“He is a passionate leader who is vulnerable, who embodies a dedication to awareness and growth, and who trusts the world so fully that it renders it impossible not to get swept up by his drive and excitement for our company vision,” writes his nominator. “We are using the principles of Holacracy to flatten the organization and empower leaders. We have an open-books system and share goals and revenue with everyone in the company. We share our new product pipeline publicly and have live cams on our manufacturing facilities; most dietary supplement companies won’t let you take pictures of their facilities. We also empower everyone in the organization to participate in Flight School, our leadership training program.”
Lessons from Craven
1. “Practice meditation. It has had a profound impact on me to put the space between stimulus and response. Try an app like Headspace — it has worked wonders for me.”
2. Be vulnerable. During one conscious leadership training exercise with his whole team, Craven really let it rip. “There was a mix of fear and joy in the room,” says an employee. “It’s scary to see the CEO, who is ‘supposed’ to have it all together, really reveal where he is. And also, he was beautifully modeling that it’s okay to be messy and to trust the process and grow through it. It was a beautiful, scary, exquisite moment, and the observable results are that people are embracing the model. He has not just nodded and given permission, he is in it with us while we learn to grow our awareness.”
“He is clearly walking the talk, with a wider investment in culture-building. The company has really embedded it.” -SD
Nelson became pregnant with her first child at 16. Rather than let that hold her back, she went to college; got a master’s in psychology and a law degree; became a realtor; wrote an influential marketing book, “The Transformational Consumer”; became a TV personality; became VP of marketing at MyFitnessPal; and is now the woman you want to have on your board. Her personal story is not about one single transformation, it’s about one after another. Nelson recently came off a “soul” tour where she interviewed people across the country about the role of soul in the workplace. Her company, SoulTour, is a personal-growth school and spiritual community that supports conscious leaders in bringing their gifts to the world. She’s especially focused on helping people grow through writing.
Lessons from Nelson
1. “As Henry Cloud says, make necessary endings the same way a champion rose-gardener might: put an end to anything that is dead, diseased, or diverting resources from the things that matter the most.”
2. “Invest in a daily writing practice and morning ritual that allows you to manage your own emotions and start the day grounded, eager, and in flow. Leaders’ anxiety is contagious. If you build a daily writing or other contemplative practice, you’ll find that it’s an emotional windshield wiper you can access any time you need. It’s a massive flow trigger, and also a major blessing you can bestow on your team.”
Photo by Sabrina Luppi
“She has had a remarkable, incredible life journey. She’s done some amazing things. I was impressed with how she connects to something greater than herself.” -DC
Saxena, who is now working on partnerships with pharmaceutical companies at the Gates Foundation, was managing director and global CEO of Cipla, a major pharmaceuticals company in India, and also on the global management team of Novartis. After completing his MBA at INSEAD, he went to India to learn not just written Sanskrit but spoken as well, which included memorizing the Vedas, ancient sacred Sanskrit texts. He emphasizes leading from purpose and brings this into everything he does.
Conscious Leader Cred
“Subhanu is a top business leader who is committed to leadership from the inside out; to deep personal practice that manifests in results in the world,” writes his nominator. “He is working at a global level where such leadership is so needed. He is perceptive, honest, articulate, and hard-working.”
Lessons from Saxena
1. “Speak to five people before making a decision. Too often we are trained to be seen as decisive, which means we react to the last thing we heard or judge situations or people without all the facts. Get a 360-degree view of any issue before deciding on a course of action.”
2. “Live a life of purpose so you can lead organizations that have a purpose beyond profit. Your purpose will be found in your passion.”
“It’s one thing for a leader to do their own inner work, but to be able to stand for having their colleagues do it is such an important step.” — DC
“So much of the time, people want to get healthy or become more conscious, but they don’t want to do the deep inner work. He has been very disciplined in putting in the time and focus.” — RS
After a career first as an environmental journalist, then as a media consultant, Sheridan left a director’s job in another consultancy to set up her own firm, a communications agency that specializes in the bioeconomy and biomaterials. Since 2008, the company has emphasized the importance of credible communications and stakeholder engagement to building a sustainable bioeconomy sector. In 2017, she stepped away from her business for a 12-month sabbatical to let her creativity come through again and to recover from a grueling travel schedule.
Conscious Leader Cred
“She practices facilitation techniques from the Art of Hosting, asks good questions that encourage us to think about things differently, meditates, and has a daily mindfulness practice which she talks about openly,” writes the employee who nominated her. “She shares her highs and lows and shows that vulnerability is a powerful practice for honesty and connection.”
Lessons from Sheridan
1. “Manage your energy, not your time. I’m not working just for the sake of it, I want to have a positive impact. So instead of forcing through when I’m tired or distracted, I only work when I feel it. When I’m not working, my favorite guide is ‘Read. Rest. Write.’ This helps me stay inspired and balanced.”
2. “Do one good thing. When I’m inspired and in the zone to work, I focus on doing one good thing rather than drowning in the email swamp or the never-ending to-do list.”
3. “Do everything you can to stay true to what really matters to you. Figure out what’s non-negotiable, then set boundaries. If you don’t respect your boundaries, no one else will.”
“It takes a lot of courage to step away from your business and trust your team to take care of the organization while you’re on sabbatical. Most leaders burn out before they self-eject.” — RS
“I love that she stopped and really dove deep, then came back up with a newly and internally informed approach. Such a good role model.” — KM
We put him on the cover of our second issue in 2015, and this author, entrepreneur, and thought-leader’s story, including his founding of Joie de Vivre Hospitality at age 26 and writing several best-selling books, is well-known. But our judges agreed not to let the fact that he’s already famous stop us from once again recognizing this “quintessential conscious leader” as a role model in the field. Conley’s fifth book, “Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder” comes out in September.
Lessons from Conley
1. “The most neglected fact in business is that we’re all human. If we use this as a guide, each interaction — regardless of the relationship or situation — becomes an empathetic exchange based on respect for self and for others.”
2. “As leaders, we have the opportunity to be both wisdom keepers and wisdom seekers. For me, this means that I stay curious, first and foremost, in any given situation.”
3. “Spending quiet time, preferably in nature if you can, is essential. It’s in that space — where time and mind expand — that I get my inspiration and energy for the day ahead.”
Photo by Lisa Keating
“He’s at the center of really integrating spiritually with business.” – KM
“He has a groundedness, gravitas, and presence that I appreciate whenever I’m in the same room as he is.” – RS
“I particularly like his devotion to both being the best businessman he can be and also growing consciousness. He’s been role-modeling that since graduating from Stanford’s MBA program and going right off to the Esalen Institute while everybody else jumped straight into business.” -DC
In 1983, Gary Hirshberg and Stonyfield co-founder Samuel Kaymen were running a nonprofit organic farming school on a mission to help family farms survive and help protect the environment. When the school needed funding, they put its seven cows to work and began selling yogurt. Thirty-five years and several multinational parent companies later, Stonyfield is a $400 million business still making organic yogurt, while the organic food market it helped launch is a $50 billion sector — and growing fast. “But none of that is enough,” says Hirshberg. “If our air and our water and our topsoil are contaminated, then we have to go further.”
Conscious Leader Cred
Going above and beyond a narrow, short-term view of his own business’s interests is something Hirshberg has been modeling for decades as Stonyfield’s CEO, as an advisor to countless other organic food businesses, and as a tireless environmental activist. In 1993, Stonyfield was the country’s first dairy processor to pay farmers not to treat cows with the synthetic growth hormone RBST. In 2007, the company helped fund a new nonprofit, “Climate Counts,” to show consumers how to fight climate change with their purchases and investments. From 1998 to 2013, Hirshberg ran an annual Stonyfield Entrepreneurship Institute where he offered problem-solving workshops to representatives from 100 to 200 companies at a time; he’s now reviving the program as the Hirshberg Entrepreneurship Institute. In 2012, he was instrumental in launching the Just Label It campaign to require that companies identify genetically modified ingredients. And now, after a couple years absent from Stonyfield, he’s returned to the company with a new fervor for using the business as a platform for creating the world he wants to see. “In 2018, what that means is changing Congress,” he says. Stonyfield has launched a “Make Earth Cool Again” campaign to encourage consumers to vote for the environment in the mid-term elections, and is also recruiting 35 communities around the country to convert to using organic, non-toxic methods in managing all their playing fields and parks.
“This isn’t just socially responsible,” Hirshberg emphasizes. “This is good business. This is how you are more successful.” And through his decades of commitment, he’s paved the way for others to follow that path.
Lessons from Hirshberg
“The most essential attribute for success is not education, knowledge, intelligence, connections, or money — it’s determination. Judge yourself and others not by how well you are doing when things are going great, but on how quickly you get back up on your feet after you’ve inevitably been knocked down.”
Robison is one of the youngest and one of the few female CEOs in the outdoor industry, and head of a B Corp whose mission is “to equip and inspire others for life-changing adventure.” After three years as a consultant at Bain & Co., she went on to add more meaning to her career by completing a year-long theology program, a semester with the National Outdoor Leadership School, and a joint MBA and master’s in education from Stanford. She joined Kammok as COO in 2015, and became CEO in 2016. She has created a culture that walks the talk when it comes to making room for adventure.
Conscious Leader Cred
“A conscious and unselfish leader, Haley shows love in her servitude and humility,” writes her nominator. “She is always jumping in to help when timelines are tight, is never the first in line, and constantly builds up our team members. We’re lucky to learn from her example.”
Lessons from Robison
1. “People can handle bad news. They cannot handle bad behavior. If you are forging new paths, mistakes and failures are inevitable. People will rally to problem-solve with you if they are treated with respect and compassion. There is no substitute for integrity and humility.”
2. Each week at their team hustle, Robison kicks off the meeting with a question meant to provoke reflection, such as “What inspired you this weekend?” “How do you see Kammok carrying out its mission?” “Why are you excited to be here?”
3. The company’s required in-office hours are 10 a.m.–3 p.m. to allow for flexible scheduling and time outside with family and friends.
“The nomination talked about how she’s really good at inspiring unity among people. That speaks to her inner work. I also like that she’s very involved in her local community.” — DC
“She has an internal practice, and her work is informed by that. I love hearing that a meeting with Robison usually looks like a walk around the East Austin neighborhood where Kammok is headquartered.” — KM
1 Lifetime Achievement
The first category, chosen by Conscious Company Staff, is awarded to one person a year.
2 Personal Journey
This category recognizes leaders who have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to cultivating the practice of conscious leadership on an individual level through self-development and who serve as an example for others. Our judges especially considered evidence of significant inner work.
3 Conscious Workplace
This category recognizes leaders who have created exceptional workplace environments where others can thrive. Our judges considered especially leaders’ investment in culture-building as evidenced through deliberate practices that help articulate and foster a strong, intentional company culture.
4 Global Impact Entrepreneurs
After reviewing the nominations we received for this popular category, our judges decided to split it into two subcategories, honoring both the thinkers who have advanced the conscious business movement over the years and the entrepreneurs making a difference on the ground.
Rodney Foxworth, executive director of BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies)
5 Global Impact Thinkers
Our judges added the Global Impact Thinkers subcategory to recognize individuals who have a long history of influential work on global systems change. “They are changing the narrative around what’s possible with business, how business can change society, and how business can be a solution to get the species through the next 100 years,” says Kim Coupounas.
Rachel is Conscious Company’s former editor-in-chief. Before joining the CCM team, she worked at Backpacker and Wired magazines.