Leadership Transition Includes Former CEO Ben Anderson Moving to B Lab Board of Directors
As businesses around the world continue to navigate turbulent markets and shifting supply chains amid continued challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent systemic disruption, the global community of Certified B Corporations is seeing consistent growth and recently welcomed its 4,000th company.
The B Lab U.S. & Canada B Corp community now counts over 1,700 companies — from solo entrepreneurs to industry-leading corporations — and looks to build on its growing momentum by focusing on three strategies for change by 2025: anti-racism, climate justice, and a stakeholder-driven economy.
B Lab U.S. & Canada is also seeing a transition in leadership. On August 2, Jorge Fontanez assumed the role of CEO B Lab U.S. & Canada. Fontanez is the founder of Marca Studio, a consultancy focused on business model innovation, advising founders to build inclusive and sustainable companies. He is a First Movers Fellow at the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program and a Clinical Professor of Marketing with the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, where he drives thought leadership on the value of stakeholder engagement and equitable inclusion in business. B Lab U.S. & Canada former CEO Ben Anderson has shifted to serve on the Board of Directors.
Anderson and Fontanez recently sat down for a conversation about the newly adopted B Lab U.S. & Canada strategy and Fontanez’s vision to advance it, how the organization reached this moment and is positioned for continued growth, and the unique perspective Fontanez brings to the nonprofit from his current role outside the B Corp community. Excerpts from their conversation follow.
Anderson: B Lab is just turning the corner on its 15th anniversary and continues to add new businesses, so it’s a really exciting time. We look forward to welcoming you as the new CEO of B Lab U.S. & Canada. To help others in the community get to know you better, please share why you’re interested in joining B Lab now.
When you mentioned the anniversary of B Lab, it reminds me that just about 15 years ago, I was in business school at NYU Stern. I raise that because I was studying at a time when corporate social responsibility, sustainability, ESG — whatever the latest terms are that we’re using — really were not part of the conversations that businesses were having at the center, it was a conversation people were having on the margins. I was so excited to be graduating from the program at NYU to take on a role at Colgate-Palmolive, which is a company that I had admired for a long time. I would come to learn about the value of B Corp Certification when Colgate-Palmolive, a legacy brand, acquired Tom’s of Maine, a much smaller company at the time, with a value proposition appealing to environmentalists. So, for me, this role feels like a great culmination of a 15-year journey as someone who has always been looking at the intersections of sustainability and marketing.Fontanez: Thank you for the warm welcome, and I, too, am excited to take on this role as B Lab U.S. & Canada has been evolving over the last few years. And I know that I have some big shoes to fill following you and Anthea.
As I think back on my journey, I see how we benefit now from the acceleration of technology to bring us to this point, where stakeholders — community leaders, suppliers, employees, investors and customers — are all contributing to the conversations on how capitalism needs to change. I see B Lab as a formidable platform and a standard bearer for many C-suite and industry leaders to think about what it means to embrace what is now — from the public’s perspective — seen as an urgent need for companies to take action and move away from shareholder primacy. It’s time to really think about how business delivers on purpose-driven, mission-driven values through its business model.
Fontanez: Why have you and the board decided to bring on a new CEO? Why is now the time?
Anderson: As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic had tremendous impacts on our global society and in our market, and we had an amazing response from our community to support one another. We had some of our strongest retention and accelerated growth in the midst of immense upheaval for individuals and companies. Meanwhile, we were developing a global strategy, and in parallel, creating a new five-year strategic plan for the U.S. & Canada.
Our global vision is an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economic system for all people on the planet. Our specific U.S. & Canada focus is in the next five years to collectively scale specific, transformational business practices and public policies that systemically advance climate justice, racial equity and stakeholder-driven economic systems.
At the end of last year, to support her personal and professional growth, Anthea shifted from co-CEO role to our B Lab U.S. & Canada Board of Directors. And that was a great moment for me to take stock with our board on how we’re going to best support the execution and evolution of our strategy. As I’ve been at B Lab for seven years, it seemed like this could be the moment to bring in new leadership with fresh perspective and a person with new and stronger skills and experiences that will accelerate our work. I also recognized that I don’t need to be the CEO in order to continue to contribute to our global movement. Now on the other side of the CEO search, I know we will be incredibly well positioned to achieve our strategy with you, Jorge, as CEO.
Anderson: When you think of the pillars of our strategy — racial equity, climate justice, and a stakeholder-driven economy — what excites you?
Fontanez: This question reminds me that it was easy for me to accept this role because I got to know you and the team during the interview process. When I reflected upon my experience in those meetings, it was the first time I felt that I was fully seen. What I mean by that is I could have conversations around this new strategy, and I could also talk about how my lived experience connects to the pillars of stakeholder governance, climate justice, and racial equity.
So a little background about me would be helpful, right? I identify as an Afro-Latinx Queer voice of the Puerto Rican diaspora who was raised in Philadelphia. And I use the word diaspora purposefully because I talk about how I was raised living in two worlds: I grew up in Philadelphia and often returned to visit my family in Puerto Rico. I’m going to fast forward to the last two decades, when Puerto Rico has not only served as a strong personal, and cultural, connection for me and my family, but it now serves as a lens through which I think about what the climate justice and racial equity movements need to deliver for our society.
So I’m walking into this work excited to be part of an organization and community that understands how business can be a force for good. This community understands that we can transform capitalism by having overdue conversations about how we’ve treated the planet and people along the way in the interests of the wealthy. As I see it, the strategy is one that almost any business might adapt.
The question that we’re asking ourselves now is, “What is B Lab’s role moving forward in realizing the strategy?” Given the racial reckoning over the last year and the urgency around climate change, these are conversations that more and more business leaders must have and consider for the long-term, sustainability and financial resilience of the companies they lead. If we have an opportunity to put forward a model for others to follow, that excites me a lot! I think that innovation happens in the most agile environments and I know we have to experiment boldly to realize change. B Lab has the organizational culture and will to try.
Fontanez: Explain a bit about the must haves for this role. I remember when I first saw it, I was excited because I thought I satisfied many of them, but I’d never done all of these things in one job. What’s different about the role that everyone should know?
Anderson: The nature of trying to transform capitalism, use business as a force for good, and drive long-term system change on a global scale is a mighty feat that we’re setting out to do.
So there were a million things that we’re looking for! Lucky us that you are so multifaceted. And while we want you to be all of those things, I will also say you don’t need to be all of those things, because a lot of the role is serving as a steward and orchestrator, and a bridger and catalyzer. The heart of what we do is stakeholder engagement, and stakeholder governance is where we’ve made our particularly distinctive mark in the world. That includes passing benefit corporation legislation, which creates new structures for the way corporations can behave. But we also need to govern that same way in our own organization, and our own movement.
Understanding and promoting stakeholder governance requires multi-sector experience and an understanding of how systems change is accomplished. The B Corp community is made up of predominantly smaller, privately-owned companies, and we have tremendous opportunity for scaling impact in partnership with larger and multinational companies. Thankfully, you have experience with both. The stewardship that you will help provide — with new communities, new movements, and new partners — is how we are going to drive system change by building from our strengths.
Anderson: Share a bit about your current connectivity to the B Corp community through your work as well as new connections you’ll bring.
Fontanez: If I were to use two words about my direct relationships with the changemaker community it probably would be to say that I have been a conscious observer, and I’ve had opportunities to be more steeped in the work. For the last six years since leaving my corporate roles, I have been advising Black, Brown, LGBTQ+ and women founders of early stage ventures and, in that capacity, I’ve been engaged in many conversations about the value of completing the B Impact Assessment and considering pursuit of B Corp Certification. Every time, frankly, the founders that I’ve worked with decided that it was not worthwhile, at least at that time. This is part of the opportunity, as well as our challenge, in serving small- and medium-enterprise companies. How do we put B Corp Certification on their to-do list, alongside everything else that is being asked of them? What’s exciting is that we’re seeing a new wave of thinking, both amongst founders as well as in the investor community, where the value proposition for B Corp is increasing.
But we’re not the only option. There are many ways that businesses, especially for Black and Brown-led companies and women-led organizations, can certify with their local Chambers of Commerce and pursue opportunities to become diversity suppliers to brands. So depending on your business, you’re not only trying to evaluate B Lab amongst the many options for certification, you are also having to prioritize which relationships and affiliations will drive revenue. Having steeped myself in a community of Black and Brown identifying founders, who are actively weighing these decisions and priorities, I see an opportunity for us to reduce unintended barriers and reshape our community to make it a more inviting place for everyone.
I see community as being a precious asset. We know, for each of us, community means something different. What I mean by precious asset comes from how I’ve been connected to the community the last 18 months in New York City, specifically in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Like we saw across the boroughs, and across the country, our community found unique, timely and relevant ways to support families in need. We saw amazing work happen in mutual aid, not just in New York, but around the country, and the world. Experiencing life during the pandemic makes me even more optimistic in humanity, when we focus our energy to do good.
I see B Lab as a community of businesses within the communities we all live in. That’s how I want to continue thinking about what it means to join this community. Along the way, it will be important for me to maintain those relationships and bring in new businesses and partner organizations so we can learn from each other.
Over the course of the next few months, Fontanez and the B Lab U.S. & Canada team will be hosting B Corp Community Virtual Town Halls. Stay tuned for more information on those soon.
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