Today, I attended the second annual SEER Symposium (formerly Magill Symposium) at the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University. This year’s topic was “tragedy of choice”— an exploration of the tough decisions that leaders will inevitably face as an organization grows and inherits increasingly complex issues. These issues can test the foundational vision of the organization, demanding management to choose between competing values when making strategic decisions. The idea of this symposium was to discuss the nature of values-led businesses (for profit and non-profit) and the method these leaders use to make the difficult decisions every day while staying true to the mission or the organization.
The lineup of speakers was very impressive, including entrepreneurs and business professionals from a variety of industries including Nate Smith, former Navy Seal and current CEO of iPATH; Scott Kerslake, founder and former CEO of Athleta and current CEO of PrAna; Kathleen Rogers, president of the Global Earth Day Network; and Casey Sheahan, CEO of Patagonia. The event is was moderated by Dr. Michael W. Crooke, former CEO of Revolution Living and Patagonia and current assistant professor of strategy and lead faculty for the SEER Certificate at Pepperdine’s Graziadio School.
We hope to post the presentations from the presenters very soon, but in the meantime, I’d like to provide a sneak peak from PrAna CEO Scott Kerslake’s presentation, “Five Things to Consider Before Embarking on an Entrepreneurial Venture.”
Kerslake defines this as an “inner alignment of your own values and principals with the content of the work and direction of the company.” He recommends seeking out people to get involved who share your values and the values of the company, but who can also bring varying viewpoints to the dialogue: “It’s boring when everyone thinks exactly the same way; then it becomes a cult.” Alignment, Kerslake says, is essential to the human experience: “Humans are built for alignment. Biological systems start to become haywire without it.”
Kerslake says that “no” is the most popular word you will hear as an entrepreneur. When he was building Athleta, a women’s athletic apparel company, he found raising capital to be much harder than he anticipated. “I did 1,200 fundraising meetings and calls all over the world. I could not get people to put money into the company.” He made a decision to not let the word “no” dampen his enthusiasm. “You have an opportunity in how you think about this word and your relationship with this word. It can give you a fair bit of tenacity. The world is full of challenges. It’s your realtiosnhip with them that matter.”
- Play to your strengths.
“You will serve the world better if you focus on what you are good at,” says Kerslake, who advocates for building a strong team around you to augment what you not so good at. “You can’t do it all.”
- Be careful who you climb into bed with.
Of course you need to raise capital and form equity partnerships when you’re starting out, but Kerslake says, don’t just accept money from anyone. “Give very careful consideration about who you align with. There’s a good possibility that a good many of them will not share your values,” he warns.
- Have a Plan.
“The best things I have been involved with have a direct correlation to how much time I spent building a plan for them and thinking about the market, the customer, and the brand. There is no substitute for a great plan,” he says, acknowledging, however that things will always come up that you didn’t prepare for. “It’s about how you respond to that.”
The Graziadio School of Business and Management is home to the Certificate in Socially Environmentally and Ethically Responsible (SEER) Business Practice program, which promotes the idea that when using a model encompassing a quality product or service, financial strength, corporate social responsibility, and environmental stewardship, businesses can and will drive profitability and have the ability give back to society.
Stay tuned for the presentations and video footage from the event!