Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jeffrey Swartz – What happened after he sold Timberland

Swartz used to be the president and CEO of footwear manufacturer, Timberland. Classic Timberland boots have become synonymous with hip hop culture, although more recent styles have opened the door for a bigger demographic to enjoy the brand’s shoes. Whilst the company was, and continues to be, successful, Swartz seemingly never ran the company with profit margins as the be-all and end-all. He wanted to provide customers with high-quality products and shoes that were comfortable and stylish.

Timberland is one of the most recognisable boot brands in the world today. Their designs can be spotted from afar, and they’re the perfect complement to a pair of modern, stylish men’s jeans. The thing is, when Swartz finally sold Timberland – for a cool $2 billion, less than 12 months ago – he changed his entire perspective, and started focusing on corporate social responsibility, rather than profits.

In 2000, Swartz drafted his first corporate responsibility report in which he wrote: “It is not enough for Timberland to make the absolute best boots, or shoes, or clothing in the world. We recognize we must also serve. Everything we do, everything we sell has an impact on the communities in which we live and work.” Following this initial report, an updated version was re-issued every three months, accompanied by that quarter’s financial reports.

In theory, Swartz should be a very satisfied man. Corporate responsibility is no longer swept under the table at board meetings, but is developed and fostered in companies across the UK. However, Swartz seems to see things a little differently. As he said in a recent Tel Aviv interview: “the data is all against me. Twenty-five years ago, when I started saying this, nobody believed business should do this. Now, business does it, and things are worse.”

The main problem, according to Swartz, is rage. Highlighting the Occupy Wall Street protests, he said: “It is just rage. It is not constructive. In fact, it is self-indulgent.” Wise words, indeed, for all businesses looking to improve their corporate responsibility policies and cultures.

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