Conscious leadership comes in many shapes and sizes that are not necessarily mutually exclusive: the entrepreneur whose business model, from the get-go, is a vehicle for positive global change; the impact investor who funds purpose-driven companies; the CEO who radically transforms a traditionally run business or industry for the good of all stakeholders; the leader who creates a workplace culture where team members thrive and feel genuinely valued; the person who has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to cultivating the practice of conscious leadership on an individual level through self-development work; and the thought leader whose ideas inspire a new class of game-changers to join the movement. The common denominator here is someone whose values extend beyond self-gain to the wellbeing of others, whose business practices align with and reflect those values, and whose stakeholders — employees, consumers, and planet — can attest to the positive impact of their strategies.
These 22 superstars, nominated by their communities and handpicked by our editorial staff, are making a difference through their work on personal transformation, the thriving workplaces they create, and the global impact of their businesses and ideas. May their efforts inspire us and serve as a reminder that we’re all in this together. Without further ado, meet the 2019 trailblazers of conscious leadership.
1. SUNNY WILLIAMS
Co-founder & CEO, Tiny Docs
Sunny Williams spent his childhood in and out of hospitals due to his self-admitted accident-prone nature. Of particular note was when his eye was scratched by a defender during a game of basketball, damaging his cornea, retina, and tear duct, which required surgery. Sitting in the examination room, Williams was anxious and scared. When the nurse handed him medical brochures to help him understand the procedure he was to have the next day, he felt even more confused. For a child, these written explanations were not helpful at all — but this experience served as the impetus for a business Williams would launch years later.
Tiny Docs is a for-benefit company that creates cartoon videos to educate children about health scenarios — from strep throat to anesthesia — in easy-to-understand language. Kids enjoy the videos, and so do the company’s paying customers, including doctors’ offices, hospitals, and healthcare systems. To date, Tiny Docs has helped more than 13,000 families. The company will partner with Special Olympics Indiana this summer.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Sunny is a sterling example of someone who identified a problem, rolled up his sleeves, and recruited the resources to address the problem,” says his nominator.
LESSONS FROM WILLIAMS
“When I finished the improv program at Second City in Chicago, I learned the value of listening — truly listening. This means listening with heart. As business leaders, we have a responsibility to listen to many stakeholders. It’s easy to listen to words, but often, words don’t communicate everything. Absorb what’s said and unsaid. This will allow you to better understand what is going on with the individual and your organization. It will help you ask better questions and discover more. It will help you establish a culture of empathy, enhance communication, and put the organization in a better position to succeed.”
2. MARCUS BENEDETTI
Chairman & CEO, Clover Sonoma
Marcus Benedetti may be the third-generation owner and leader of his family business, Clover Sonoma, a certified B Corp dairy company located in California’s Sonoma County, but he first honed his conscious-leadership chops in college. When his grades dipped below the agreed-upon metrics, Benedetti’s parents stopped financially supporting his studies. This period of tough love caused him to look to nature for motivation. He worked his way through college as a wilderness guide in Alaska — learning how to earn people’s trust and communicate well with others on secluded and sometimes scary 10-day excursions.
Clover Sonoma embarked on its own expedition as one of the first dairy companies in the US to say no to Monsanto’s rBST hormone in the ’90s and was the first dairy in the US to be certified by the American Humane Association. As chairman and CEO of the company, Benedetti continues his family’s legacy, serving as a thought leader in environmentally sustainable and conscious dairy-production practices.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Marcus is a humble, mindful, and compassionate leader,” says his nominator. “He has built a culture of making business personal and driving change to elevate the entire dairy industry. He’ll tell you that his employees do all the hard work and that his father and grandfather laid the foundation, but he has been the catalyst for the elevation and success of Clover Sonoma.”
LESSONS FROM BENEDETTI
“Measuring revenue growth by positive impact creates a flywheel that generates more efficiency, profitability, and sustainability that will transcend generations. It’s that simple.”
3. JARED MEYERS
Co-founder, Florida for Good
Jared Meyers was the owner of two successful Florida businesses, Legacy Vacation Resorts (LVR) and Salt Palm Development (SPD), when he became aware of his desire to use business as a force for good. Through his research, he found that the most credible values-aligned organizations were certified B Corps, and he embarked on the rigorous process of certifying both of his companies; SPD became the first real-estate development to become a certified B Corp in the Southeast. In hopes of inspiring other companies to follow suit, Meyers cofounded the Florida for Good movement, which provides free resources and events to facilitate the spread of conscious business and certified B Corps.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
Since its inception in 2018, Meyers and his companies have contributed close to a million dollars to Florida for Good’s endeavors, about half of that as cash and the remainder through in-kind support. As part of their missions, LVR, SPD, and Florida for Good encourage companies to take B Lab’s free B Impact Assessment so they can learn how they measure up against other businesses and the areas in which they can most improve. His companies are also members of 1% For the Planet and Conscious Capitalism.
“What strikes me the most about Jared’s journey is the fact the he did not pursue the certifications for publicity or as a marketing ploy,” his nominator says. “He did it because he genuinely believes that business can be transformed into a tool to help our society and our planet.”
LESSONS FROM MEYERS
“We are the sum of those we choose to spend time with and the aggregate of our decisions over our lifetime. We have the resources to solve most problems if they are deployed based on love — not fear or greed. Inaction is also a choice.”
4. KHALILAH OLOKUNOLA
Vice President of Human Resources, TRU Colors
Wilmington, North Carolina
Born and raised in New York, Khalilah “KO” Olokunola spent much of her teen years on the streets in Brooklyn and Troy’s most notorious street gangs — Bloods, Crips, and Folks. She eventually served four years in prison, where she became passionate about the importance of education in her life and spent nights dreaming of an opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of others. When George Taylor founded TRU Colors Brewing to put a stop to gang violence in Wilmington, North Carolina, by employing active gang members, Olokunola found her calling. As VP of Human Resources, she has created a company culture that provides stability and drives both personal and professional growth for the team. In December 2018, though TRU Colors had not yet opened its doors, gang violence in Wilmington was already down by 90 percent due to the work they had already begun. [See more at This Brewery Staff By Gang Members Is a Case Study in Measurable Impact Investing.]
CONSCOUS LEADER CRED
“The guys trust her guidance. KO provides them with educational tools to thrive both at TRU Colors and at home, and even offers courses to their significant others,” says her nominator. “In addition to transforming the perception of the gang member, KO is also an author, speaker, and personal care coach to female business leaders.” She has also become an advocate for diversity, inclusion, and underserved talent.
LESSONS FROM OLOKUNOLA
“Conscious leadership is a superpower. The ability to see value in your product and your people is not something everyone can do. See your ROI in the oak tree that started from an acorn — and be intentional on the process in between. Not everyone will be a star performer, but you can create a strategy to get them there. As a conscious leader, remember that your return on investment is never just tangible; it’s intangible, homegrown, and human.”
5. RAVNEET VOHRA
Founder & CEO, Wear Your Voice
Los Angeles, California
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and a South Asian in a predominantly white community, there was a period of time when Ravneet Vohra felt like she did not have a voice. She was working in the fashion industry when she recognized something that echoed her larger life experience: a lack of inclusion, particularly in terms of size and color. Her solution to this diversity gap was to break the silence with her digital platform, Wear Your Voice (WYV). Launched in 2014, Vohra’s intersectional feminist publication challenges cultural norms and unconscious biases and features voices from historically unheard and marginalized communities — creating “a safe space without the constant pressures of being pretty or skinny or white or tan being shoved down their throats.” Vohra has always prioritized the payment of her writers, whose work often involves reliving emotional trauma, and thanks to the funding of well-known investor Mark Cuban, she can now value the voices of her community at an above-average rate.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Even with a powerful, highly opinionated, multibillionaire investor backing her, Ravneet does not get swayed from her vision and values,” says her nominator. “She’s not just shaking up media; she’s shaking up corporate culture.”
LESSONS FROM VOHRA
“As an entrepreneur I am consistently pulled in all directions and required to wear many hats and be successful at it. When I get overwhelmed, I often think of Arlan Hamilton’s story [founder and managing partner of Backstage Capital]. There were way more barriers to entry for her, so many challenges she had to overcome, and she still made it happen. In that moment, I take a deep breath and carry on.”
6. KEVIN CHRISTOPHER
Founder, Ridgeline Venture Law
Kevin Christopher is a benefit trailblazer in Tennessee — but not in the way he originally envisioned. After living in central China and then working for Habitat for Humanity in the Deep South, Christopher entered law school in 2007 wishing to pursue an environmental justice career. Then the recession hit, budgets were cut, and he found himself without employment in the field where he had assumed that he could effect the most change. Instead, he found opportunities in technology, first working for a renewable energy startup, and later more broadly in technology commercialization.
His law firm, Ridgeline Venture Law (RVL), is one of only five total certified B Corps in the state of Tennessee — and the only law firm with that distinction. Since his firm specializes in intellectual property, Christopher works with numerous entrepreneurs, and in doing so he encourages each to instill and safeguard benefit principles in their businesses so as they grow, so does their ability to positively impact the world around them. In addition to his daily legal work, Christopher serves as an elected commissioner in his home county and is also on the boards of IMPACT Cookeville, Mustard Seed Ranch, and The Biz Foundry, all nonprofit organizations devoted to lifting up and empowering marginalized communities.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“In 2018, Christopher was recognized by the Tennessee Supreme Court as an Attorney for Justice for his pro bono service to Tennessee residents,” says his nominator, “and in 2019, he was Tennessee’s only recipient of a Patent Pro Bono Achievement Certificate from the US Patent and Trademark Office for his representation of area low-income inventors.” Christopher also adopted, through his firm, a one-mile stretch of the Calfkiller River under the umbrella of Living Lands & Waters and Keep Tennessee Beautiful. The RVL team and 30 volunteers removed 1,500 pounds of trash from the waterway and plans for this cleanup to grow into a quarterly event.
LESSONS FROM CHRISTOPHER
“Don’t be afraid to pivot. While I was initially dismayed by pivoting away from my career goals, I found a way to somewhat redefine my path without being redefined myself.”
7. JANÉT AIZENSTROS
Chairwomen & CEO, Ahava Group Global
Janét Aizenstros’ mission is to “empower women to create a whole life they deserve, filled with joy, love, and wealth” — an endeavor she embarked upon herself almost a decade ago. In 2010, Aizenstros mustered the courage to leave a toxic marriage and start a new life with her two little boys, only a few belongings, a lot of debt, and the beginning of what would become a successful business.
In 2011, Aizenstros launched Ahava Group Global — a women-led media holding company that serves Fortune-listed companies around the world and is comprised of Ahava Digital Group, LOVE Lifestyle Publishing Group, LUXE House Publishing, Twelve Twenty One Illustration, and Ahava Entertainment. In 2016, she founded the Janét Aizenstros Foundation to support pioneering programs in arts, education, literacy, technology, and entrepreneurship. Aizenstros’ newly launched Ahava Holdings & Ventures invests in underfunded female entrepreneurs who have sustainable, scalable businesses in the technology sector.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
Aizenstros is a member of numerous committees and associations, including the 30% Club Canada, an organization that includes chairs and CEOs to achieve better gender balance at board and senior management levels.
LESSONS FROM AIZENSTROS
“Be intentional with your mission and have patience. It’s about pacing, not racing; striding, not striving; thriving, not surviving.”
8. BEN VALORE-CAPLAN
Founder & CEO, Syntrinsic Investment Counsel
After a start as the founder of a nonprofit program that helped underprivileged students see their way to college and beyond, Ben Valore-Caplan moved into finance and investing at UBS. He built a reputation among nonprofits, foundation leaders, and philanthropists for having a knack for helping them develop ethically grounded investing strategies for their assets, but Valore-Caplan still wanted to give his mission-focused clients more than he could at a standard firm. So he left — just days before the Lehman Brothers crash and the recession of 2008 — and built a new firm, Syntrinsic Investment Counsel, from the ground up. Syntrinsic is 100 percent employee-owned and offers a holistic workplace culture, which includes full financial support for leadership education programs and encouragement to serve on nonprofit boards and volunteer on company time, matching $1,000 in donations per employee annually.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Recruitment isn’t by automated system, but happens over long coffees,” says his nominator. “The culture rewards curiosity, not self-protection or aggression. In meetings with staff, Ben is more likely to ask real questions than to give speeches or assume he knows everything. In meetings with clients, he is genuinely appreciative and humble.”
LESSONS FROM VALORE-CAPLAN
“Build bridges between people, sectors, and communities that don’t seem related. It turns out opportunities lie in unexpected connections.
“Make your leadership about unleashing others to do more good in the world. Managing can often be more about cultivation than control. Make good people even better. Make those around you more powerful. That’s easier if you’re doing something important. You can prove that values and business not only go together but thrive together.”
9. BRIAN SCHULTZ
Founder & CEO, Studio Movie Grill
In 1993, Brian Schultz founded the in-theater dining experience that became Studio Movie Grill (SMG) in Dallas, Texas, with an aim to “open hearts and minds, one story at a time.” Since then, due in part to Schultz’s numerous purpose-driven initiatives and SMG’s thriving workplace culture, the company has grown to 32 locations in 10 states, with more major expansion underway.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Brian has a learner mindset and engages in and encourages ongoing education,” says his nominator, “which has enriched the SMG team culture in so many ways.” In 2003, a kitchen manager at one of the SMG locations noted that he was unable to attend movies, telling Schultz that it was because he has two children on the autism spectrum and he didn’t feel he could bring them into a theater. This motivated Schultz to start sensory-friendly screenings and a Chefs for Children program, where 5 percent of proceeds from select menu items go to local special-needs nonprofit partners. In summer 2018, the company created the Movies + Meals program. For every 1,000 points guests earn in the SMG Access rewards program, SMG donates a movie and a meal to a local nonprofit; since launching the program, the company has contributed over 12,000 movie tickets and meals to deserving nonprofits in various communities.
LESSONS FROM SCHULTZ
“Servant leadership puts people first. We do that by modeling good stewardship through all ranks and creating an open forum where ideas and thought leaders can flourish.”
10. TERI RIDDLE
Founder & CEO, The Crossland Group
Teri Riddle is the founder and CEO of the Crossland Group, a strategic advisory firm dedicated to unlocking individual and organizational potential. Since 2000, the firm has been helping purpose-driven corporations, foundations, and nonprofits translate their missions and execute their strategies by designing aligned organizations. And when it comes to unleashing her own company’s potential, Riddle knows that delivering on her firm’s purpose starts with a thriving workplace.
Riddle has created a culture at the Crossland Group rooted in three philosophies: 1) radical truth-telling — having open and hard conversations within the team as well as with clients; 2) having the courage to do the right thing instead of being invested in being right; and 3) acknowledging and honoring that a healthy inner condition is the key to discovering personal and collective potential. She has implemented team benefits such as wellness reimbursements for healing services, human development plans, flexible work hours, remote working options, opportunities for the remote team to gather in person, and starting all meetings off with a meditation practice.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Teri has created a flexible work environment that places the greatest value on each team member living his or her best life,” says her nominator. “She has made a major commitment to deepening her own self-awareness and getting out of her comfort zone this year by intentionally taking time away from her work to participate in a six-month transformational program along with 11 other carefully selected remarkable women who are taking on big things in the world.”
LESSONS FROM RIDDLE
“Focusing on managing my energy, rather than just my time, is essential to experiencing joy and keeping the light within me lit. To enable deeper (individual and organizational) transformation, amplify the attention on equity, service, and whole systems. To unearth real potential, help leaders and organizations let go of fear and ego and embrace courage and compassion.”
11. MARYAM SHARIFZADEH
Founder & CEO, Office Yoga
San Francisco, California
After graduating with her master’s in Sport Management from the University of San Francisco, Maryam Sharifzadeh led a wellness program for faculty and staff at UC Berkeley, where she witnessed the true benefits of making exercise easy and convenient for people at work. In 2012, Sharifzadeh founded her own company with these benefits in mind. Office Yoga brings specialized instructors and custom-designed programs directly into the workspaces of participating companies, helping to increase mental clarity and efficiency and alleviate chronic physical symptoms that can occur from long periods of inactivity.
With the help of her certified Office Yoga instructors, Sharifzadeh has transformed countless workspaces — including the offices of Estée Lauder, Oracle, McKinsey & Company, and the Oakland Athletics. She has also helped elevate the yoga industry by providing livable working wages and opportunities for instructors. Today, Office Yoga is the number-one corporate yoga and meditation service in the US.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Maryam is a generous leader who works hard to take care of our team,” says her nominator. “She is a teacher at heart and offers [Office Yoga instructors] the tools they need to be successful teachers, too.”
LESSONS FROM SHARIFZADEH
“Let the core of your work be an authentic expression of who you are and what you believe in. When you’re in alignment with your inherent strengths and higher purpose (dharma), you’ll love what you do and never have to ‘work’ another day in your life.”
12. MICHELLE HAYWARD
Founder & CEO, Bluedog Design
Michelle Hayward spent much of the ’90s in the then-new field of brand strategy, working with some of the biggest consumer products companies in the world — and yet she felt that the approach was lacking. Hayward dreamed of starting a new type of consultancy, one that focused on clients’ visions of the future, not just the execution of campaigns. In 1999, she founded Bluedog Design, a modern growth consultancy that specializes in business transformation, strategy, and innovation.
Hayward’s progressive workplace culture provides her team members with holistic support including a sabbatical every five years, full transparency, employee engagement surveys, yoga, acupuncture, parenting classes, meals, and even a concierge to help arrange things like car washes and dry-cleaning services.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
Bluedog Design made the 2019 Crain’s Chicago Business Best Places to Work list and made it into the top 1 percent of the list’s Best Small Companies. “The culture of Bluedog is all-encompassing,” says her nominator. “It isn’t just about employees; it spills over to clients and resources. The Bluedog ‘feeling’ is palpable.”
LESSONS FROM HAYWARD
“Culture makes or breaks strategy. At our company, we set out to solve hard problems and how we behave together matters if we want to accomplish what we set out to do. We need to all be moving together in the same direction with limited friction.”
13. ROBERT GLAZER
Serial entrepreneur Robert Glazer wasn’t always the go-getter type. The founder and CEO of global performance-marketing agency Acceleration Partners (AP) and co-founder and chairman of affiliate marketing and content platform BrandCycle is candid about having felt like an underachiever in his early career. But over the past decade Glazer has developed a mindfulness routine that includes meditation, journaling, and exercise that serves as his foundation for living a more purposeful life.
Committed to finding better ways to lead, Glazer formed AP’s Mindful Transitions program, an initiative built on a culture of trust and inspired by his recognition that the standard “two weeks’ notice” paradigm for employee departures can be damaging to both the employee and employer. Within a Mindful Transitions framework, employees feel comfortable sharing their future plans, even if those plans involve leaving the company. By having open, respectful discussions early and often, employees and their managers are aligned and better positioned to address problems that are impacting engagement. And in situations where it’s determined that it’s time for a team member to move on, the employee is given a longer window in which to transition into their new position and the company has more time to recruit and hire their replacement. The result is a system where people leave companies on the best possible terms without leaving their employer in a difficult situation. Glazer is also openly sharing this system with other companies.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“His inspirational ‘Friday Forward’ newsletter was developed to inspire people to build their capacities and set and achieve audacious goals,” says his nominator. “Since Bob began installing these concepts into AP’s culture, employees have been achieving their personal goals — running races, improving their health, taking once-in-a-lifetime vacations — while also improving their work performance.”
LESSONS FROM GLAZER
“Business leaders should not be only concerned with the work performance of their employees; they should be dedicated to helping them live more fulfilled lives in general. The biggest mistake companies make is thinking that treating people well and having high expectations are mutually exclusive, but the best leaders do both. By investing in people’s wellbeing and pushing them to improve holistically, leaders will see the best results.”
14. RAPHAEL BEMPORAD
Co-founder & Principal, BBMG
New York City, New York
An expert in brand strategy, social innovation, consumer marketing, and public affairs, Raphael Bemporad has designed consumer and nonprofit brands, created national advocacy campaigns, drafted public policy, and managed communications for local, state, and federal elected officials. He co-founded the brand and design studio BBMG out of a desire to put purpose at the center of brands. BBMG is a founding B Corp, a Benefit Corporation, and 88 percent female.
Bemporad manages his business using three core metrics: team health (are we growing and happy?); quality (are we doing our best work?); and profitability (is the value equation in check?). His collaborative workplace culture includes growth feedback groups, 12-week parental leave, five-week sabbaticals after five years, and an annual “Inspiration Account” for every employee to pursue a passion outside of work and share lessons from their journeys with the team.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Raphael is a servant leader,” says his nominator. “He seeks to welcome and inspire curious, fearless, and adventurous spirits who show up every day to connect their creativity with their values, do work they love, and never stop growing.”
LESSONS FROM BEMPORAD
“I’ve always believed that the core purpose of BBMG is to nurture the creativity of our team, to stretch, learn, and grow every day, and to do brave work that makes a positive impact in the world. True leadership is about being in service to others and being part of something that’s bigger than yourself.”
15. BEN CHESTNUT
Co-founder & CEO, Mailchimp
When Mailchimp made the cover of Inc. magazine as the 2017 Company of the Year, co-founder and CEO Ben Chestnut asked the whole company to draw mustaches on images of himself and co-founder Dan Kurzius as a reminder of one of the email newsletter company’s core values: stay humble. The tech startup launched in 2001 and has grown to $600 million in revenue despite being entirely bootstrapped; Chestnut and Kurzius never raised funding, turned down multiple acquisition offers, and have no plans to ever go public. In this way, Mailchimp is able to run independently under their leadership with only two principal stakeholder groups — employees and customers. Chestnut has fostered a workplace culture with an internal focus on growth and ongoing learning through programs like Mailchimp University, Night School, and the Mailchimp mentorship program, which all contribute to the company’s impressively low employee turnover rate of 4 percent.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Ben has always been passionate about helping the underdog,” says his nominator, “and through his leadership, Mailchimp is an active participant in Atlanta, where the company is headquartered: through its corporate citizenship program, Mailchimp has invested $6 million in more than 120 organizations and initiatives that help stop cycles of poverty, support artistic excellence, and encourage considerate urbanism. As a result, employees feel connected to a workplace that embraces a shared set of values and prioritizes diversity, inclusivity, and intentional engagement in its community.”
LESSONS FROM CHESTNUT
“Hire experienced leaders to guide your team. Early on, I learned a hard lesson about leadership when a company-wide meeting went wrong during a period of high growth. I realized I needed to scale my leadership to guide and grow the company, so I hired a very capable senior team and got leadership training for myself, which enabled Mailchimp to scale more effectively into the company it is today.”
16. NICOLE SNOW
Founder & CEO, Darn Good Yarn
Schenectady, New York
While operating an international imports business, Nicole Snow discovered that problems like plastic pollution and fabric waste were rampant in the craft industry. When she realized that there weren’t any players in the space selling sustainable options like recycled silk yarn, Snow started her own enterprise, Darn Good Yarn, sourcing and producing natural yarns that contain no synthetic materials harmful to the planet. While in the company’s early stages of growth, Snow learned that the women making the yarn did not have secure employment, so she embarked on a second mission to create safe and sustainable job opportunities in underprivileged communities. Under Snow’s leadership, Darn Good Yarn now employs over 300 female artisans in India and Nepal. Since its inception, the company has transformed approximately 1 million pounds of material waste into the products it sells and has enjoyed over 900 percent growth in the last three years.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“As the company grew, Nicole could have switched to more traditional fulfillment channels and non-recycled products, allowing for cheaper large-scale production and shipment,” says her nominator. “But she didn’t, because she knew it would take the work away from local vendors who sourced environmentally responsible recycled product and paid employees higher wages. She decided to keep localized suppliers and find more like them instead of shifting to large-scale methods.”
LESSONS FROM SNOW
“Make all positions interdisciplinary. This means that you don’t just get hired into one department. You get stretched and pave your way into your strengths. It decreases employee burnout and allows people to have multiple viewpoints on business operations and how things are interconnected. As a leader you will see natural strengths arise. It is your responsibility to then gently guide and uplift the employee to the next place on their path to a more fulfilling existence and career.”
17. NICOLA ACUTT
Vice President of Sustainability Strategy, VMware
Palo Alto, California
As the VP of Sustainability Strategy at VMware, a public company that specializes in cloud computing and platform-virtualization software, Nicola Acutt has spearheaded numerous sustainability efforts in her nine years at the company. VMware’s virtualization technology has helped customers across the globe avoid putting a cumulative total of approximately 540 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The collective impact of this savings is equivalent to the power consumed by 68 percent of US households for one year. With Acutt leading the charge, VMware recently reached several milestones including becoming a certified CarbonNeutral® company two years ahead of its goal and launching the first clean-powered community microgrid with the City of Palo Alto.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Acutt advocates the principle that sustainability is innovation’s next frontier,” says her nominator, “and the principle that it is our shared responsibility that technology is used as a force for good.” Under Acutt’s leadership, VMware has become a Green Power Partner of the Environmental Protection Agency; a member of Ceres, a nonprofit organization that tackles the world’s biggest sustainability challenges; part of the RE100, a global collaborative representing businesses committed to using 100 percent renewable electricity; a member of the World Economic Forum; and a founding member of The Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, a community of clean-energy buyers, developers, and service providers dedicated to a zero-carbon-energy future.
LESSONS FROM ACUTT
“I’ve learned that inviting people to build a shared vision often takes more time and intentional effort. This African proverb sums it up: ‘If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’”
18. MICHAEL BAKER
Founder & CEO, SOLE
Great Falls, Montana
Michael Baker is making a positive impact in people’s lives, starting with their feet. It was a back injury that caused the Canadian-born adventure-seeker to recognize a market need: consistency in quality and cost of underfoot care. In 2001, Baker launched SOLE, a company that provides heat-moldable, over-the-counter orthotics. In 2008, SOLE adopted ReCORK, a wine cork recycling program that harnesses cork, a renewable natural resource harvested from cork oak trees, to replace the harmful petroleum-based materials most commonly used in footwear products. ReCORK has become the world’s largest natural cork recycling program, salvaging over 100 million corks to date and helping realize Baker’s vision of a closed-loop manufacturing system that extended into the company’s industry-leading eco-friendly shoes and sandals.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Baker has proven himself as a strong leader and visionary with a track record of getting things done,” says his nominator. “He is committed to building a healthy, balanced organization that creates shared value.”
LESSONS FROM BAKER
“As suggested by Harvard professor Michael Porter back in 2006, the competitiveness of a company and the health of the communities around it are mutually dependent. If we are unable to solve some of the large existential threats we face, we will of course lose the health of the communities we live in and rely on to sustain us.”
19. CHRISTOPHER GAVIGAN
Christopher Gavigan is a champion for environmental and human health. He serves as Chief Purpose Officer of The Honest Company, an ethical consumer-goods brand he co-founded in 2011 with Brian Lee and actress Jessica Alba. In 2018, alongside Laurel Angelica Myers and Jessica Assaf, Gavigan launched Prima, a premium plant-based wellness company championing the therapeutic potential of non-intoxicating hemp CBD. With Prima he aims to create a science-driven, elevated CBD brand by raising industry quality and transparency standards to the highest level and creating a wellness space that provides better and healthier wellness options for all. He also sits on the board of directors of Mount Sinai Hospital’s Children’s Environmental Health Center and is The New York Times bestsellers list author of “Healthy Child Healthy World: Creating a Cleaner, Greener, Safer Home.”
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Christopher aims to make the world a happier, healthier place,” says his nominator. “Through his work he continues to strive for better, safer, and healthier options so that consumers can make conscious spending decisions with a positive impact.”
LESSONS FORM GAVIGAN
“Relationships matter. Raise your self-awareness to be a better, more real human. Create and build your tribe; you only get what you ask for.
“Build your purpose. Do the work to know what you care about, at your deepest core. This is your legacy.
“Sacrifice is good. Do the hard work to make success look easy. Focus on the smallest details along the way; people will sense your level of care and quality.
“Lift others up. Find the love of watching your tribe win. Everyone is elevated when you empower and take care of those around you.”
20. JESSICA ASSAF
Co-founder & Chief Education Officer, The Uplifters’ Prima
Santa Monica, California
Since the age of 15, Jessica Assaf has been an advocate and activist for safe products, corporate accountability, consumer wellness, and female empowerment. A graduate of Harvard Business School, Assaf was the first woman in her family to go to graduate school and pursue a career outside the home. She has produced nationally recognized work in the beauty and cannabis industries and recently co-founded the CBD beauty and wellness brand Prima. As the company’s Chief Education Officer, she helps answer lingering questions about the use and efficacy of CBD products. Since launch, Assaf has produced more than 60 pieces of original content about all aspects of health: physical, mental, and social.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“After helping to influence policy changes, Jessica has realized that she has the opportunity to make the largest positive impact through commerce,” says her nominator, “by creating a brand that provides better wellness solutions to consumers, establishes the highest-quality industry standards, and maintains credibility, transparency, and accountability.”
LESSONS FROM ASSAF
“When you are a lifelong entrepreneur, there is no such thing as failure; every shift is a conscious pivot that gets you closer to your final destination, to the idea that will break through the noise. Resilience is the most important quality — to acquire tough enough skin to never take no for an answer. I only started succeeding when I learned to fully love myself, which empowered me to fight for what I really want: the right business partner, the right idea, the right funding, and the right products.
“Part of leadership is learning how to trust your team enough to ask for help when you need it. Vulnerability is a strength — one that inspires others to crack open and be human.”
21. FRED HABERMAN
Co-founder & CEO, Haberman
Co-founder, Urban Organics
As an agent for change in the good-food movement, Fred Haberman has helped bring organic food into the mainstream. For 25 years, the marketing communications firm he founded in Minneapolis with his wife Sarah has operated with a singular focus — to tell the stories of pioneers making a difference in the world. Under Haberman’s leadership, the agency has advanced the missions of pioneering organizations in a wide range of business sectors, and within the food industry, Haberman has spurred the growth of brands like Annie’s, Organic Valley, Traditional Medicinals, and Earthbound Farm. The firm has also supported the work of the Organic Trade Association, National Co+op Grocers, and the McKnight Foundation. As one of the co-founders of Urban Organics, a USDA-certified-organic aquaponics farm that uses just 2 percent of the water used in traditional agriculture, Haberman forged a new path in sustainable food systems. Urban Organics has not only increased access to healthy food, it has also ignited more than $200 million in economic development and hundreds of jobs in its early years. Pentair acquired Urban Organics in 2017 and expanded it to a second facility in St. Paul, Minnesota. And keep an eye out for Freak Flag Foods, Haberman’s latest foray in pursuit of his passion to make the world more sustainable and delicious.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
Haberman has its own organic garden for employees and hosts activities like in-house yoga, square dancing, and mindfulness sessions. “There’s a constant emphasis on fun and working together,” says his nominator.
LESSONS FROM HABERMAN
“In my experience, the soft stuff of business is the hard part. How you treat people matters. How you treat yourself matters. And here’s why: the reality is we’re all going to fail, and fail a lot. In the face of adversity, how a group of people comes together, bounces back, and finds a new path forward starts by simply being able to work together. That means hiring kind, brilliant, and adaptable people, and creating a workplace culture of respect and mutual support. If you provide people with purpose, they can find new energy every day and develop their problem-solving skills to keep advancing the mission of the organization. If people don’t trust each other and have each other’s backs, the system falls apart. Sweat the soft stuff. Always.”
22. HENRY ROCK
Founder & Director, City Startup Labs
Charlotte, North Carolina
Henry Rock believes that business can be a springboard for a rising group of entrepreneurs. He founded City Startup Labs (CSL), a nonprofit, hybrid accelerator-incubator in Charlotte, North Carolina. CSL conducts an annual Center of Excellence event where Black Millennials and formerly incarcerated citizens learn how to research, plan, launch, and operate startup enterprises — and unlock access to human capital, social capital, and economic capital.
Rock has been chosen as an Encore.org Purpose Prize Fellow and has singlehandedly garnered the support of Rockefeller and Kauffman Foundation grants, among others, in addition to local resources like Wells Fargo Bank. He plans to expand the scope of his work in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area, which has the distinction of being the worst of the nation’s top 50 cities for the expansion of economic mobility for underserved segments of the population.
CONSCIOUS LEADER CRED
“Henry is extremely socially conscious in the way he conducts his business and urges his cohort participants to do the same,” says his nominator.
LESSONS FROM ROCK
“A profound lesson is the role that spirit plays in all that we do, including founding and leading a company. By ‘spirit,’ I mean the divine intelligence that tells me there’s absolutely no way that I could have plotted out where the dots appeared, much less how to connect them. I contend that that is spirit. Can we create the place within our work for spirit to show up? Are we attentive to what’s divine in the work that we do — the doing of it, as well as the outputs? Can we both govern and lead while releasing control? Do we listen to our instincts along with the analytics? By the way, we can put spirit to work with a clear intention. It happens all the time; it’s built for that.”
Vanessa Childers is the Editorial Director of Conscious Company Media, where she bolsters digital brand awareness and drives the overarching content strategy.