Erika James, Ph.D., said business school students are no longer flocking to traditional corporations for jobs upon graduation.
“It has been a pretty dramatic shift in the past five to eight years, I would say, where people are actually making significant choices about what they want in their … professional life, and what they want to do and how they want to spend and invest their time,” said James, dean of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. “… They’re choosing to walk away from companies that historically would have been the top echelon of what you would aspire to, if they don’t believe those companies have a set of principles, values and missions and a purpose that resonates with them.”
James spoke as part of a panel discussion at Leadership Sandy Springs’ sixth annual Live Learn Lead event Feb. 27 at Cox Enterprises in Sandy Springs. Its theme was “Shareholder or Stakeholder … What’s Your Bottom Line?” and much of the discussion focused on sustainability and the new generation of workers.
James was joined on the panel by Michael Goltzman, vice president for global policy and sustainability with the Coca-Cola Co., and Christopher Womack, president of external affairs for Southern Co., and it was moderated by David Rubinger, market president and publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle.
Rubinger asked her and the other panelists were asked about the Business Roundtable, a group of about 180 CEOs of some of the nation’s top corporations, including Southern Co. and Coca-Cola, that was formed to “promote a thriving U.S. economy and expanded opportunity for all Americans through sound public policy,” according to its website.
“I think this time the motivation for this roundtable has been largely around: We need to attract talent. This is what the talent cares about, which means we need to modify our behavior and our actions be seen as attractive employers,” she said.
Womack added, “There was not a conversation (about joining the roundtable) because we were already doing it. That made it easier to encourage others to be a part of this movement.”
All three panelists said education is paramount when it comes to providing a strong workforce, whether locally or globally.
“Many of you in these leadership programs are saying, ‘We’ve got to find solutions. We don’t have enough money to solve the problems,’” Womack said. “But we do have, I think, resources that are committed and interested in solving the problems. By creating wonderful examples of things that can be done.
“One thing I’m so proud of about my company and Mike’s company is (transforming) East Lake (in DeKalb County). I take my $1 (donation) and I leverage it up by bringing in others, so that takes it to $10. We take a zip code that had the highest crime rate in the country and one of the worst-performing schools in the country. Now you have Drew Charter School that graduates nearly every senior. We host every year the Super Bowl of golf, the Tour Championship at East Lake.”
Goltzman said Coca-Cola’s success is measured by the communities it serves both in the U.S. and worldwide.
“Coke’s a local business everywhere in the world where we operate,” he said. “If you’re in Brazil or you’re in South Africa or you’re in China or you’re in Turkey, you’re going to drink a Coke produced by local employees using local ingredients and distributed through a local network. That means that for (nearly) 130 years, the company has understood that our long-term success is tied to the sustainability of local communities and helping them address their challenges.
“If Coke is in your community, then you have quality products and you’ll have good jobs. If you have Coke in your community, then they are helping you to actually address some of the biggest challenges you may have, whether that’s around economic empowerment or water stewardship or sustainable packaging or carbon emissions reduction. If you have opened your community, they are helping to build those networks, those social networks. They promote strong and vibrant communities through supporting education and youth empowerment programs.”
The panelists said companies must quickly learn to adjust when it comes to sustainability and other factors.
“We’re an energy company and supply the South with energy,” Womack said. “For most of that time we created energy from coal, which produces coal ash. We had to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and our CO₂ emissions. … By 2030 we plan to reduce our emissions by 50% and be low or no carbon by 2050.
“We’re proud to say we’ll make our 2030 goal a lot sooner. … We have to pay attention to our younger employees. … We’ve got to keep listening and we’ve got to keep learning. It will make us a better company. We’ll provide better returns to our shareholders and it will improve our bottom line.”
In response to Rubinger’s question about the coronavirus’ impact on businesses, James said, “This could be it for those companies that don’t know how to adjust to these types of changes. … But I think many companies will fall into that trap.”
The panelists also stressed diversity in the workplace, and Goltzman said, “You must pay attention to all groups of people. You ignore those opinions at your peril because they represent a portion of your stakeholders, a portion of your employees and a portion of your leaders.”