People Over Profit

Partridge and his family.

By JASON REYNOLDS

Tennessee Christian News

One entrepreneur argues in a new book that businesses must begin to value people before profits.

Dale Partridge is an entrepreneur and founder of Sevenly.org, an e-commerce website that promotes charities and donates a portion of its proceeds to various causes. And in “People Over Profit,” Partridge discusses his philosophies of philanthropy. Nelson Books is the publisher of the title that was released on May 5. Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes, wrote the foreword.

Partridge makes his arguments from a place of experience. Before the age of 30, he had generated over $25 million in revenue and donated over $4.2 million to charity. His most notable company, Sevenly.org, grew to almost 50 employees in less than two years and was named “Most Social Company in America” in 2014 by Mashable and one of the fastest growing social good companies by Forbes and Los Angeles Times.

Socially conscious business models are not only necessary in today’s world of instant news but also are profitable, Partridge writes.

“All around us, colossal brands that once stood for integrity and quality have begun to tiptoe across ethical eggshells — condoning growth strategies, marketing campaigns and customer-satisfaction policies that are not only unacceptable but downright disingenuous — hoping their customers won’t notice,” Partridge writes. “Unfortunately for them, customers have noticed, turning a corporate trend into a consumer-trust epidemic that has toppled more than one industry titan. The market-place has given many deceptive companies a stark choice: change or die.”

For proof, Partridge points to issues like agricultural biotechnology being used to increase efficiency of food production, even if it harms consumers and insurance companies forcing customers to call international call centers where employees speak broken English and use a one-size-fits-all script.

But hope is rising, Partridge writes. He quotes a 2012 survey finding that 47 percent of customers had bought from at least one brand that supports a good cause — every month. Shoppers once concerned with securing the lowest price by any means are now willing to spend more money for products made with higher ethical standards. Often referred to as “conscious capitalism,” these consumers support causes with their purchases, and nearly 75 percent say they would recommend a brand or company that supports a good cause over one that doesn’t.

He mentions a cool concept that I have heard of: Panera Bread Co. runs a handful of restaurants where customers pay only what they can afford. These experimental restaurants have proven profitable and the profits are used to train at-risk children.

Here is a Q and A with Partridge that Nelson Books provided:

Q: In the book, you say that many companies get into trouble when they attempt to manufacture authenticity rather than actually be authentic. Can you talk more about this?

A: We see companies today go back to their vintage beer can, put barn wood floors in their coffee shops, and use natural light photography in their marketing. They hope people won’t think they “feel” hollow or fake or disingenuous, but being authentic requires a detox. More companies and leaders need to ask themselves: who were we before the world told us who we should be?

Q: You say that a lot of “bad” companies didn’t start out that way. What do you think happens along the way for them to earn this reputation?

A: It’s a slow fade. No company crumbles in a day. In my opinion, the fall begins with leaders. There are no bad companies, only bad leaders. Leaders need to make a commitment to fanatically dedicate themselves to long term values and never compromise.

Q: In order to truly affect change, you argue we must learn to addres the why before we understand how to fix the what. Do you think it’s possible for major change  to come  from within an existing organization?

A: As I say in the book, it’s easier to prevent a baby from getting cancer than it is to cure an elderly man who’s already been diagnosed. The cure often demands surgery and removal. Which requires us to look deeper. The why. This results in the need to fire people and for the organization to shift back to the values that once dominated the culture. It’s rough and damn near impossible. But it has happened.

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