Conscious Capitalism

by Bruce Burtch
I nearly stumbled out of the second day’s activities at the recent Conscious Capitalism conference due to an overload of information, inspiration and note-taking. Though still ringing in my ears was the infectious laugh of Tara Sheahan, CEO of Conscious Global Leadership Institute.

Earlier in the day I attended a workshop, Conscious Leadership is an Inside Job, she gave with her husband Casey Sheahan, president of Patagonia. Tara and Casey’s message was that we need to start inside before we can change the world; that we need to be authentic and comfortable with ourselves; and that our negative self-images were destroying us. And if their presentation was any indication that this conference’s focus is on purpose rather than profit, this purpose stuff is hysterical. For throughout their presentation Tara would explode with laughter, nearly falling off her chair, erupting from some deep well of lighthearted self-assurance. Her laugh equaled one thousand words, and we all got the message.

Innovative hotelier, Chip Conley, who recently sold his 80-property boutique hotel and spa company Joie de Vivre, joined the panel on Conscious Culture. Chip and I go way back, well at least to 1993 when I spearheaded the successful drive to build an afterschool program in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. Chip created the outrageous “Celebrity Pool Toss” where everyone from the Mayor of San Francisco to some of its most eccentric characters were tossed fully-clothed (and my what colorful clothes) into the pool of his Phoenix Hotel as a fundraiser for this much-needed intercity children’s program.

Chip said that when there is a problem, there is usually an artery blockage between culture and employee satisfaction, and that must be cleared. He stated that “What is most valuable in life is the hardest to measure. And that, “Money is easy to benchmark – meaning not so easy”. Chip created a tremendous culture at Joie de Vivre, envied in and out of his industry, and I can’t help but wonder what he’s going to do next.

Speaking both from his heart and his experience Howard Behar, former president of Starbucks Coffee Company International, spoke of a cycle of success (my term) – a business philosophy which starts by establishing a strong company culture, leading to employee happiness, leading to customer happiness, leading to profit and circling back again to company culture. For Howard, culture “is who you are” and “what your values are”. My favorite take away was his saying that he “was ready to bet his job every day to do what he believed in.” And he actually did, but that’s a whole other cup of coffee.

Raj Sisodia ran a shiver through the audience discussing that over the past 50 to 60 years marketing spend has grown to be 50% or more of corporate expenditure, while management and manufacturing have gone down to about 25% each. How this formula has gotten completely out of whack by putting the emphasis on puff rather than substance. He applauded Whole Foods Market which has no vice president of marketing and spends about 10% of the industry average on marketing. Whole Foods believes that working in their community is the most effective form of marketing.

Joining Rag was Susan Reilly Salgado, managing director of Hospitality Quotient, who working with Danny Meyer, one of the most celebrated and successful restaurateurs in the country, focused on creating a culture of hospitality. In addition to great advice on the importance of service, she offered one of the best quotes of the day, from Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said; people will forget what you did; people will never forget the way you made them feel.”

Several purpose-driven mantras punctuated this two-day event, such as Kip Tindell, CEO of The Container Store, referring to his employees and saying that “One great person is equal to three good people.” And that “Working closely with all of your stakeholders is both more fun and vastly more profitable.” Ed Freeman, Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia, saying, “The only thing that is unlimited is our creativity and imagination.” Jeff Klein, one of the event organizers and a director of Conscious Capitalism, Inc. stated, “Business is a powerful force for good.”

Reflecting upon two joyfully intense days, my hope is that these positive and very well-intentioned messages move from the “what if” into the “how to”. Conscious Capitalism will gain traction and become a national or global movement only when it actually trains others how to run a profitable, purpose-driven business. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

For further information on Conscious Capitalism, visit