Matt Rogers, MBA’05, knows a lot of the local farmers in the Santa Cruz, California, area, where he lives. Those relationships stem from his work as a senior global produce coordinator for Whole Foods Market, where Rogers is responsible for a team of people who buy fruits, vegetables, and flowers from farmers not just in California but around the world.
When looking for suppliers, Rogers considers not only the quality and cost of products, but also how well those operations treat the environment and their employees, requirements that align with his personal beliefs in protecting the environment and promoting social justice. “It’s the ultimate commitment to values in business. It’s baked into everything that Whole Foods does,” Rogers says. “We can use the power of business to reward people for the work they do. I get to do that every day.”
Rogers enjoys working for a company with a conscious mission. As a youth, he wasn’t sure such a career would be possible. In high school, he wanted to be an environmentalist, but his father questioned how Rogers could turn that interest into a career. “My dad, who was always supportive but not one to let you get away with anything, said, ‘Well, that’s wonderful, but not necessarily a job. Do you want to be an environmental lawyer, a scientist, an activist?’” says Rogers, who at the time wasn’t excited about any of those options. “Working for a business wasn’t on the list of things to do for someone with my interests.”
Rogers came to learn about such opportunities after graduating from Villanova University in 1997 and taking a job with what was then the New Jersey Office of Sustainable Business. The nascent office, created by Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, helped craft policy recommendations in support of sustainable businesses, as well as locate and expand green businesses in the state. “The idea of sustainable business was a new concept at the time,” Rogers says. “I was exposed to businesses that were doing cool and innovative things, making a difference through the power of business, whether with an environmental product or service or through recycling or energy conservation or organic farming.”
After working for several years in the office, Rogers decided that instead of being the person who helped these companies, he wanted to work at a sustainable company. He also wanted to move to the Boston area. Researching options, he discovered Preserve, which makes reusable and recyclable household products from recycled materials. Founded by Eric Hudson, MBA’92, the company is based outside of Boston in Waltham. “I called up Eric and begged my way into a job,” says Rogers.
Initially, Rogers took a part-time sales position, and in time he became Preserve’s national sales manager. “It was a very formative time for the company. I was involved with all aspects of the business,” Rogers says. Developing partnerships with companies such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, which sell Preserve’s products, Rogers was introduced to the natural foods industry. He also learned about Babson through conversations with Hudson. “I realized that if I wanted to take my career to the next step, I needed some business fundamentals,” Rogers says. So after three years with Preserve, he left to earn his MBA.
But Rogers soon returned to the natural foods industry, taking an unusual job with Whole Foods in the fall after graduating. He became the business development coordinator for Earth University in Costa Rica, a position underwritten by Whole Foods. The job came about after Whole Foods executives learned of Earth University and reached out to see how the two could help each other, says Rogers. “Earth University teaches sustainable agriculture,” Rogers says, “but it also teaches entrepreneurship and business.” As part of its program, the school runs farms that grow a variety of produce. Whole Foods executives had a suggestion. “They said, ‘Why don’t you walk the talk and sell us your products. Sell us your products, and you’ll make money, and we’ll sell them,’” says Rogers.
Unfortunately, the arrangement wasn’t working very well. In addition to cultural and language challenges, says Rogers, Earth University had difficulty meeting Whole Foods’ stringent criteria for suppliers. “They’d be like, ‘We have 10 of these, the cost is $15 each, and we have them this one time.’ And Whole Foods would say, ‘That’s nice, but we need 1,000, and they need to cost $5, and we need to have them every week,’” Rogers says. Whole Foods realized that if it wanted the relationship to work, it had to hire someone to help the school, so it financed a business development position and support staff for three years. Rogers spotted the opening on Whole Foods’ website, applied, and got the job.
“It was a fantastic opportunity,” he says. “I used all my Babson skills, basically creating a business from scratch.” Rogers focused the business mainly on bananas, figuring out such logistics as how to get the fruit on a boat, how to make sure it was still fresh when imported, and how to get it on trucks and to Whole Foods distribution centers in good condition. “Whole Foods took a risk working with them,” Rogers says. “But many years later, we have bought millions of boxes of bananas from Earth University. We buy almost all of their production from an on-campus banana farm, where they do sustainability research to reduce the environmental impact of farming. And the profits from sales go to scholarships.”
Although he had a great experience at Earth University, Rogers was ready to come back to the States when his contract ended. “I was living in very rural Costa Rica, so the walls were closing in a little bit,” he says. When he told Whole Foods executives of his plans to move on, they offered him a job in their Watsonville, California, office, the company’s main location for produce procurement. “Whole Foods is a truly mission-driven organization,” Rogers says. “It was not a very difficult decision to work for them.”
During his time in the Watsonville office, Rogers has helped develop and implement the Whole Trade Guarantee and Responsibly Grown programs, which address a range of issues aimed at educating consumers about products and ensuring product quality while supporting suppliers, workers, and the environment. The work has been complicated, Rogers says, but satisfying. “We’re consistently dedicated to understanding the food supply,” he says, “and figuring out ways to drive things forward.”
The company’s desire for continuous improvement and long-term dedication to making a positive impact align closely with Rogers’ beliefs. He likes how Whole Foods’ values and mission are built into its business model, saying this frees employees to focus on their jobs. “Whole Foods is very competitive. It is exciting and a fun part of what we do. We want to win, because our success means success for the mission,” Rogers says. “It’s not always part of our daily conversation. It’s just part of who we are.”
From Nonprofit to For-Profit
As an undergraduate at Skidmore College, Amy Levine, MBA’01, was curious about how and why government policies are implemented, so she studied government to understand how things get done and psychology to explore why people do what they do. After graduating in 1993, she moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization called the Center for Public Integrity, which investigates and reports on corruption at public and private institutions. “It’s bigger now, but at the time I was the fourth employee,” says Levine. “We were looking into the flow of money and politics and how legislation is informed and enforced.”
Being part of a small, grass-roots organization also taught Levine about entrepreneurship, as she worked on everything from investigating organizations to figuring out how to keep the doors open to copying press releases the night before a press conference. She enjoyed the work but soon found it took a toll on her emotions. “I was seeing all the ways in which our country doesn’t work and all the ways in which money leads to decisions—and not necessarily what’s best for the country,” she says. “So I thought, I don’t know if I can do this day in and day out. We were shedding light on important things, but I felt like I needed to have a more positive direct impact.”
She began volunteering on weekends with the Alternatives to Violence Project, which offers workshops on personal growth and conflict management to prisoners, communities, and youths. “I was going into maximum security prisons and teaching inmates about conflict resolution and anger management, but I was energized by working with people,” Levine says. “It made me look at people in a different way, making me realize that in some ways we’re all just one bad decision away from lives that would be very different.”
Through that organization, Levine began volunteering with high school students in D.C. as well. Then, in 1996, a friend told her about a job in Ithaca, New York, serving as a mediator for students in trouble and teaching them anger management skills. She moved and took a job with the not-for-profit Community Dispute Resolution Center (CDRC), where she worked mostly with middle and high school students. “I was loving the work I was doing, but getting frustrated with the system around nonprofits,” she says. “The nonprofits in this community were fighting for a limited number of funds, and this was creating an atmosphere of competition instead of collaboration.”
Thinking there must be a better way to have a positive impact, Levine started reading about companies that are making money but also doing social good. “I realized that if I wanted to make a difference, I needed to learn about business,” she says. So after three years with the CDRC, she left to earn her MBA, coming to Babson because she liked its focus on collaboration and entrepreneurship.
After graduating, Levine moved to Vermont with her husband, who had taken a teaching job in the state, and applied for a marketing position at Cabot Creamery Cooperative. More than 1,100 dairy farms in New York and New England are part of Cabot, which is known for its cheese and dairy products. Soon after arriving in Vermont, Levine was offered the job. More than 15 years later, she is still with the organization. “Previously, I hadn’t been anywhere more than three years,” she says. “Cabot is a great fit for me. I love being grounded in the environment and farming and keeping land open and maintaining that connection to the land. Farmers are the stewards of that. It’s a passion for me. It feels authentic.”
Working for a cooperative can be complicated at times, notes Levine. “Sometimes you want to do something for business reasons,” she says, “but it isn’t right for the farmers, so you don’t do it.” Because the goal of the cooperative is to return profits to the farmers, Levine also doesn’t receive a huge marketing budget like she might at another company. So she and her co-workers take a creative and entrepreneurial approach to spreading their message. Many of the Cabot farmers volunteer in their communities, so the marketing team created programs about engaging and thanking volunteers and encouraging participation. Cabot has a food truck called The Gratitude Grille, for example, that feeds volunteers at the sites where they are serving. Cabot also sponsors a cruise for people who have been outstanding contributors to their communities. “We bring 40 to 50 people on the cruise, and we host some seminars on best practices and volunteering. It’s a great way to bring like-minded people together,” Levine says.
Cabot is a B Corp as well, a certification handed out by the nonprofit organization B Lab, which makes its determination after examining a for-profit company’s social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. “We’re part of a community that is saying we’re going to look at business as a force for good, and not just a way to meet the bottom line,” says Levine.
Collaborating with other B Corp companies has been exciting, says Levine. She is leading a steering committee of B Corp members who are examining how they work together and figuring out ways to grow the brand so that it becomes more recognizable to consumers. “The B Corp label will help consumers make a choice,” she says. “They can look at our product and say, ‘Oh, they’re a B Corp. I want that.’” Other initiatives at Cabot include belonging to the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program, which sets standards for animal care, and creating a group that addresses sustainability issues (Cabot recently won a U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award).
The challenging work at Cabot keeps Levine interested and busy. “I haven’t tired of it,” she says. Working for a company with a mission about which she feels passionate is important to her. “It’s always been about needing to be whole,” she says. “You don’t want your work life to feel separate from what goes on at home. When I entered the business workforce, I wanted to align my professional life with my true self.”
Levine believes more businesses need to realize that people increasingly want to choose jobs based not just on salary but on what a company stands for. “To attract talent, companies have to change the way they are. People don’t have to make a choice, either live a comfortable life or sacrifice and do good in the world,” she says. “They can align those values. It’s exciting.”
Spurred into Action
About eight years out of college, a book transformed the way John Moorhead, MBA’10, viewed his career. Moorhead grew up in New England, loving family, sports, and the outdoors. His main sport was lacrosse, which he played in high school and at Williams College, becoming captain of both teams and an All-American. During college, Moorhead also developed a greater appreciation for the outdoors, going on hikes in the nearby Berkshires of northwestern Massachusetts. “What a place that was to experience the outdoors and find ways to connect with the present moment,” he says. “It helped me to understand nature.”
After graduating in 2000, Moorhead moved to Australia and worked for Coca-Cola during the Sydney Olympics. Taking the money he had earned, he then stretched his savings into almost a year of traveling the world, mostly to developing nations. “I had some hair-raising experiences,” he says, “but through my travels it became clear to me that I needed a lot more fundamental, real-life business training to understand the difference between what I was seeing in the U.S. and what I was seeing in these countries.” Upon returning to the States, he took an internship with Cat Partners, a hedge fund focused on small- and mid-cap companies; six months later, he was hired as a full-time analyst.
Fast forward five years, when Moorhead is engaged to be married and making a nice living. A college friend gave him the book Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. “It was massively eye-opening, relating how much damage we’ve inflicted on the environment and those who can’t speak for themselves,” he says. “But it also detailed what we can do to help. Businesses can play a leadership role in helping people and the planet. Those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can be profitable and mission oriented.”
At work, Moorhead delved deeper into his analyses of companies, examining how they conduct business as well as how they perform. He wanted to figure out how he could marry his personal and professional values, and he took notice of people who were starting to transform business practices: Gary Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm and Ray Anderson of Interface, heads of corporations that built social responsibility and sustainability into their company models. “The deeper I got into it, the more clear it became that I could play a role,” he says.
At first, Moorhead tried to convince his firm to invest in the clean technology space. “They weren’t ready for that,” he says. “So it was time for me to go.” He talked with his fiancee (now wife) and decided to come to Babson to earn his MBA. “I fundamentally believe that entrepreneurship is the best way to drive systemic change,” he says, “so that’s why I chose Babson.”
While at Babson, Moorhead was president of the Energy and Environment Club, where he worked with the facilities team to bring single-stream recycling to campus and made connections in the sustainability industry. After graduating, he became director of business development for a startup called Banyan Environmental, which had developed a technology for capturing mercury emissions. “At Banyan, we were working all the time. My wife was six months pregnant,” he says. “The company didn’t succeed, but I learned more in that year about each of the operating functions of a business than ever before, and I figured out what I wanted for the next stage of my career. I realized that I loved brand management and marketing.”
From research and Babson connections, Moorhead also had a solid understanding of the sustainability industry. He decided to focus on companies in the consumer packaged goods sector, and Vermont-based Seventh Generation became his top choice. Founded more than 25 years ago, Seventh Generation formulates and sells plant-based cleaning and personal-care products aimed at improving the health and well-being of people and the environment. The company has social responsibility and sustainability built into its core business model and, like Cabot Creamery, is a B Corp. “Seventh Generation was one of the original companies to show that business can enter big markets for products that you use every day and do it in a better way,” Moorhead says. “I was elated to get an interview. It worked out very fast from there.”
Moorhead joined the marketing team and has worked on programs across the brand, most recently focusing on e-commerce. One of his responsibilities is to determine a revised strategy for Seventh Generation’s online shopping experience. “The online experience for a consumer is so different from their in-store experience. How do you make sure you understand this and address the needs of the consumer without driving up cost?” he says. “I developed an innovation agenda that I presented to the board in September. We’re resetting the way we think.”
Before tackling e-commerce, Moorhead focused on the baby business. During that time, one of his responsibilities was brand-building partnerships, and Moorhead helped connect Seventh Generation with Mamava, a developer of lactation suites that make breast-feeding in public places, such as airports, easier. Seventh Generation sponsored several suites. “We’re a business with a social mission, and we support moms. The deeper I got into the issue of how difficult it can be for women to find clean places to breast-feed when traveling, the more I realized it’s just a sad state,” Moorhead says. “I’m really proud of the inroads we made.”
Seventh Generation recently was purchased by giant consumer-goods company Unilever. Moorhead expects change but also believes that everyone, including the top executives at Unilever, is on board with preserving Seventh Generation’s core identity and mission. Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, has been recognized by industry observers for his efforts to make Unilever more sustainable and socially responsible. “Unilever will strengthen our ability to scale the business,” says Moorhead. “We need to appeal to more mission-oriented consumers. We also can do a better job of getting our products into the hands of people who can’t afford them. There are still lots of untapped opportunities for us.”
Moorhead believes in the future of companies like Seventh Generation. He knows being socially, environmentally, and financially responsible can be challenging, but that makes him more determined to succeed. “We can’t just come in to work and think about cost and performance. We have to think about the environment and personal health, too. We work really hard at it, from our research and design teams up through senior leadership,” he says. “But once you take a bite, you can’t go back. I’ve always been a passionate and purposeful person who is team oriented. Our mission is to inspire a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next generation. I have loved that process.”
Moorhead views Seventh Generation as a model for what businesses must do to continue to evolve. “Coming from an investment space and seeing as many companies as I have, I can tell you that the fastest and largest way to scale impact is a for-profit that stands for something,” he says. “Every time I go outdoors, I think about what I am going to leave for my kids. When they get older, I think they will really respect what we’re trying to do.”