E-Rewards and Give Something Back Office Supplies (GSB)are shining examples of competitive businesses that are doing business with purpose to change lives. At the 2013 Business4Better Conference, Kurt Knapton, CEO of E-Rewards, and Mike Hannigan, President of Give Something Back Office Supplies, shared their personal journey to create successful businesses that have a larger social purpose.
“I am capitalist first”, spouts Knapton. “While do social good is important, you need to have the business experience to compete at a very high level”. Knapton leads E-Rewards, a fast-growing B2B research company that organizes survey panels made of up 6.5 million consumers in more than 40 countries. Knapton was inspired by doing something bigger and better. He refers to Peter Drucker, father of modern management, who states that the business bottom line is measured both by business value and changing lives. E-Rewards is a for profit company who now is offering its consumers options in the form of both extrinsic rewards/gifts and intrinsic rewards. The intrinsic rewards are fulfilled through Kiva where survey takers can transfer their reward to microfinance loans. The result is $250,000 in loans impacting 11,000 people in just a few short months.
Knapton amplifies 2 learnings. The first is to make sure this is not just a “do good thing”. When presenting this concept to his Board he did not come with hard-hitting business data and evidence – something he quickly corrected on Board meeting #2. The second was the continuous focus on clear and deep communications to market this unique value to his B2B customers
Hannigan’s Give Something back Office Supplies is a different model. All of the company’s profits go to the charities and social initiatives they support. This does not mean they can get away without having the best talent, the best products and the best business model, says Hannigan. They are the third largest office supply company, competing with the likes of Staples and Office Depot.
GSB’s mission stems from the big disconnect between the wealth of resources in the U.S . and the people in need in the richest country in the history of the world. It is a tricky proposition as social good can’t just be a feel good thing. GSB has to take care of their customers first as these business customers have a responsibility to their company. “Finding the right balance is the key to our success,” advises Hannigan, “and we work on it every day”.
Like Knapton of E-Rewards, GSB President and Founder Hannigan hammers on the importance of leadership. This comes in the form of hiring, empowering and holding employees accountable to the business, as well as in the form of authenticity to lead by example. Hannigan also underlines the needs for bringing in high end marketing experience as an essential ingredient to communicate and embed mission and value to all stakeholders and community. He admits there is work to be done here.
It is clear business with a purpose is a work in progress. Knapton and Hannigan are two exceptional leaders at the helm of companies others can be inspired by to do Business4Better.