Branson’s call: A new role for capitalism
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group PLC, hopes it might some day become just as popular. For the British billionaire, it’s an ethos he hopes will spawn a movement to change the face of capitalism and improve the world. Attaching that number to our economic system is meant to emphasize that every business person has the responsibility for taking care of the people and planet that make up our global village. “It means reinventing how we live in the world to create a far more balanced, healthy, and peaceful place,” Sir Richard writes in Screw Business as Usual. He wants business people to break from the mindset and practices of the past – abandoning business as usual, and taking some unusual paths that can improve the world while still being consistent with their entrepreneurial, money-making instincts. His approach is not simply about not polluting – as many business people are trying to do – but of going further and undoing the pollution of the past couple of centuries, restoring harmony with nature. Now 61, Sir Richard oversees an empire of more than 200 companies, most built from instinct rather than bureaucratic calculation: He often responds to a tantalizing idea with his pet phrase, “Screw it, let’s just do it.” “I run Virgin Unite just as I would any other business, making sure that our investments have the best possible social and environmental return. I also feel strongly that it’s not just about the money – in fact, often money is the least important bit. It’s about people using their skills and figuring out ways to use the assets of their business to drive not only profits but a better world,” he says. Of course, foundations run by successful capitalists are not new, even if today’s wealthy believe they are taking a more businesslike approach. Sir Richard makes note of some other companies getting into the social-justice fray, such as the Paul Newman food line, which began under the motto of “Shameless exploitation for the common good” and has grown to more than 100 products with all the profits going to charity; and Montreal native Jeffrey Skoll’s Participant Media, whose movies such as An Inconvenient Truth, Fast Food Nation, and Darfur Now tackle important issues for a wide audience. The book is like an extended, sometimes dizzying, monologue by Sir Richard, with lots of wonderful examples of social energy that he lovingly shares with readers. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the ventures are philanthropic, non-profit, social enterprise or good-spirited capitalism, but maybe that’s beside the point. For Sir Richard, what matters is stimulating change – bringing people and ideas together, with business people worrying less about profit and more about redressing social and environmental ills. He quotes Ben Cohen, co-founder of the iconic ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s, at a leadership gathering hosted by Virgin Unite: “When business starts using its voice for the benefit of the country as a whole, not just its narrow self-interest, it can really be the force that can make the changes that need to be made.” Illinois-based consultant Matt Anderson has built his business through referrals; he shares his advice in Fearless Referrals.
MOD Pizza’s Scott Svenson: People First
The serial entrepreneur’s latest venture, MOD Pizza, embraces what he calls “Enlightened capitalism.” Yes, the company aims for profitability, but not at the expense of its greatest asset – its employees. Many MOD Squaders find the fresh start that they need at the company, earning a level of trust that in turn creates a great customer experience. Spencer Rascoff: For today’s podcast, I stayed local in Seattle to connect with Scott Svenson, serial entrepreneur, pioneer of the fast casual pizza concept, co-founder and CEO of MOD Pizza, which is, incidentally, one of my kids’ favorite restaurants. Scott’s had a sequence of deliciously successful ventures, including Seattle Coffee Company in London, which was purchased by Starbucks as their entry point into Europe; followed by the Italian-style deli, Carluccio’s, also in London; and now in Seattle with MOD Pizza, which has grown 220 percent to over 125 stores today, with new ones opening almost every week. Talk to me about Seattle Coffee Company, this is a company that you started. So we complained about it for years, until some good friends of ours said, “You should either stop complaining about it or do something about it.” And so we decided, with encouragement, to start this company, Seattle Coffee Company, which was an attempt to bring both the Starbucks-style coffee experience, as well as a little bit of the Seattle culture and ethos to London. Being inside of a big company, where there was an – Howard Schultz took my wife and I out to dinner right after the deal was done, and the first thing he said to us was, “We love what you’re doing here in London. The way you’re approaching it, the culture, don’t change.” And then he said, “I want you to build a wall in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean,” and specifically he said, “Don’t let the bastards in.” And what he meant was -. So you sold Seattle Coffee Company to Starbucks, ran Starbucks Europe for a while, sampled retirement, dabbled in some other industries, and then you got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug again and started MOD Pizza. We started another company in the UK after Seattle Coffee Company called Carluccio’s, which was a very successful Italian deli-cafe concept. In 2007, we started the company, opened our first store in downtown Seattle in 2008, spent about a year trialing and realized we had something. In the first two chapters, both Seattle Coffee Company and Carluccio’s, they were very culture-driven companies. We evolved with MOD to add another dimension, which is to really put a significant and meaningful purpose behind the company. We bring new general managers -general managers are the people that run our stores, the most important people in our companies. We – my wife said this very, very early on when we were starting Seattle Coffee Company, which is you spend more time with the people you work with, generally, than you do with your spouse, and wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could find a way to combine those two. Rascoff: In speaking with Scott, I learned that leading a tech company and a pizza company really aren’t all that different.