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September 14, 2011

Staff Picks: A Giving Business is a Good Business

By: Sally Haldorson @ 9:25 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Teachers in the Milwaukee Public School system were surprised on their first day back in the classroom this fall with a gift from a local company, Penzey's Spices. The gift included a jar of their newest salt-free seasoning, Forward! (which not-incidentally is Wisconsin's state motto), and a jar of their all-purpose cinnamon. And, since my husband is a teacher, we were he was lucky enough to be a recipient. The gift box was created and given, as owner Bill Penzey explains in a note in their fall catalog, to send support to teachers who do a valuable if sometimes under-appreciated job.

If you are a subscriber of Penzey's monthly magazine or even get their seasonal spice catalog, you'll know that Penzey's has a very specific point of view. Owner Bill Penzey explains the teacher gift box in a catalog letter, saying:
Penzey's Forward! is dedicated to those in our past whose effort and kindness opened for us a world of opportunity. Forward! suggests we repay this debt to our past by honestly supporting those whose efforts keep the door to the world of opportunity open for those who come after us. In this way we move Forward. This is what teaching is all about, and it is also what cooking is all about.
Nothing provocative in that, but then he adds,
To add to their load the blame for our post-credit-swap economy when their work does more to build our economy than anyone else's is no recipe for a productive school year.
You only have to do a quick Google search to know that not everyone wants their spices to come with a dash of political and/or cultural opinion. But that same Google search will show ample support of Penzey's action and certainly strengthens the affiliation many of us already feel for the brand. It is refreshing to find a company like Penzey's that does not prevaricate. They aim to be exactly who they are—who their founder was—and they don't hesitate to advocate that position, yet still produce a product that is highly regarded and has found success nationally.

Seth Godin addresses this quality on his blog today in a post explicating Merging/Emerging.
Emerging is when you use a platform to come into your own. Merging is when you sacrifice who you are to become part of something else.

Merging is what the system wants from you. To give up your dreams and your identity to further the goals of the system. Managers push for employees to merge into the organization.

Emerging is what a platform and support and leadership allow you to do. Emerging is what we need from you.
Penzey's has not sacrificed who they are to become part of something else (to paraphrase Seth) and continues to emerge as a good and giving business. *** Blake Mycoskie started TOMS Shoes pretty much out of the blue while on vacation in Argentina in 2006. He was already a busy businessman, an entrepreneur with seriously diverse interests. But on vacation, a product and a problem presented itself, and he couldn't ignore serendipity. Mycoskie recognized that relying on donors to fund the shoe drives he was witnessing in Argentina was plumbing a well that would at some point dry up. But, if he could create a product (simple, comfy shoes also inspired by the locals of that country) that people would love, and a story that people could fall in love with, the funds needed to help children who need help the most just might keep rolling in and more and more children could get assistance. So he decided that for each pair of TOMS shoes he sold, TOMS would send a pair of shoes to a child who has none, and by 2010 he and his team had put a million pairs of shoes on the feet of kids who most needed them. When TOMS started selling sunglasses, TOMS tied it to a program that provides children in need of eye care and eye wear.

So what did you think would happen when Blake Mycoskie released his first book? That's right, if you buy a copy of Mycoskie's new book, Start Something That Matters, Random House will give a book to a child through FirstBook.org.

Mycoskie's tale shares yet another example of a company created to produce an excellent product that also stays true to its founder's beliefs, and encourages others to not only consume, but to provide. In Start Something That Matters, Mycoskie's story will bring tears to your eyes as he relays his emotions upon bringing the first pairs of shoes to children. But he will also show you that his personal values match the basic tenets of his company, such as his instruction to "Keep It Simple" in regards to both your business model and your personal life, where he advocates cleaning out your closets four times a year (though I think he'd probably hope you keep those TOMS Shoes in there). Mycoskie also introduces us to other giving companies such as method and donorschoose.org that make giving and social profit an imperative.

Of course, what stories like Penzey's Spices and TOMS Shoes make clear is that businesses do not have to sacrifice their social values for success, and that we don't have to either.


About Sally Haldorson


Sally Haldorson's job as 800-CEO-READ’s General Manager is to make 800-CEO-READ a great place to work for our employees, and a consistently high-performing customer service organization for our clients, authors, and our partners in the publishing industry. In addition to her General Manager duties ensuring collaboration, integration, and quality, she reads, writes, reviews, curates, and edits for the company. Helping craft The 100 Best Business Books of All Time used parts of both skill sets. Outside of work, she is most likely to be found hitting a tennis ball around or hanging out with her boys (husband, child, dog) at home.