Guest Post: A Freshman Reflects

On January 6th I posted this guest blog from Chris Tuppen with Chris’s 20 year anniversary reflection on the field.  Late in 2010 I met Michelle Greene the recently appointed Vice President, Head of Corporate Responsibility, and Executive Director of NYSE Foundation at NYSE Euronext.  Michelle is new to the Corporate Responsibility role (although she brings with her a wealth of invaluable experience in the public and private sectors)   and I felt her thoughts as a relative newcomer would be a valuable complement to Chris’s perspective.

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As someone who has formally entered the Corporate Responsibility field quite recently, I think it is an exciting time to be here.  I believe that, collectively, we are on the cusp of significant changes in the way we all do business – and we in CR are helping to drive that change.

In the debate about CR as a passing fad vs. a seismic shift, the analogy I most like is to electronic commerce.  For a period of time, most companies were scrambling to develop “e-business” strategies.  These strategies lived in silos as add-ons to the rest of “traditional business”.  But today, these considerations are an integral part of all aspects of business.

The evolution of CR is poised to follow a similar path.  In the leading companies in this field, CR is integrated throughout the organization, with a CRO taking the lead in helping to define CR strategy that is embedded in and enhances the broader corporate strategy.   Decision-makers throughout the organization integrate thinking about the broader impact of corporate action on society in making smart business decisions.  I believe this will become the norm rather than the exception.

Those who deemed CR a fad thought that an economic crisis would lead to its demise.  The past few years have disproved this view.  It may seem counterintuitive that CR would increase in importance in the current economic climate, but the recent crisis has helped to alter further the corporate landscape, the management of risk, and the expectations placed upon corporations.

The past few years have proven that CR is not an option to be quickly eliminated when times are tough.  A recent survey (with which NYSE Euronext was involved) showed that even in recent tough economic times, only 5% of companies eliminated CR budgets or reduced them disproportionately to other departments.  Indeed, almost 20% increased CR budgets at the same level or higher than those of other departments in 2009.  A major driver of this ongoing focus is a growing recognition of the business imperative of CR.

In my own company, NYSE Euronext, the commitment to CR is serious and secure.  Given who we are, CR is a natural outgrowth of our corporate identity, and strongly aligns with a number of our key corporate strategies.   I think both of these factors – commitment from senior leadership and alignment with corporate strategy – are critical to success.  Neither one alone is sufficient.

Thus, one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for CR executives is to find, articulate, and sell within our organizations the places where corporate strategy and our CR efforts align or could align – at all levels, throughout the business.  This requires not only a thorough understanding of the business, but also some creative thinking and vision.  And, based on the cross-cutting nature of so much of CR, it cannot be done alone. Just like our e-commerce ancestors, we need strong allies in marketing, communications, corporate strategy, HR, facilities, and other functions throughout the organization.

The enthusiasm for CR, the recognition that its time has come, and the potential for real integration throughout organizations present an incredible opportunity for individual CR professionals, employees interested in CR, and the field more broadly.

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