“I can promise you that the term ‘socially responsible business’ was a term that was never uttered at And1,” said Bart Houlahan, thinking back on his 11 years as president of the basketball apparel company. “We didn’t even know what the term CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) meant back then.”
Since 2006, as Co-Founder of B-Lab, (the "B" stands for beneficial) Houlahan now focuses on attracting companies to B Corporation certification. To achieve this status, a certified organization must voluntarily meet standards of transparency, accountability, sustainability and performance, to create value for society, not just for shareholders.
Houlahan visited Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in February of 2020 to share insights on how to use business as a force for good while also harnessing the power of capitalism for change in order to address the world’s great challenges.
Houlahan began his Distinguished Speakers Series conversation with Dean Bill Boulding by talking about the transition from for-profit to nonprofit, and the challenges involved with building the benefit corporation movement.
“We are at a moment right now, where I honestly believe stakeholder capitalism has the possibility of truly being the economic system of the next century, it also could be a footnote that we forget about within five years,” said Houlahan. “It’s not going to be in between.”
“We are lifting up the power of the private sector to create public benefit, which offers the option of potentially shrinking government. There is both left and right support for this so much so that on 27 occasions, this legislation passed unanimously,” said Houlahan. “If we have been watching the political landscape over the last decade, that is pretty unheard of.”
The full video of Boulding and Houlahan’s talk is above, with excerpts below highlighting Houlahan’s comments about co-founding B-Lab, the theories of famed economist Milton Friedman in today’s business climate, and having a job versus a vocation.
Houlahan saved his most personal message for the Fuqua students for the end, “When I graduated, I went to Wall Street, I was trying to make as much money as I could, as fast as I could. And when I went to work every day, I checked my values at the door, with my coat.”
He highlighted the shift in student mentality by saying, “I don’t think this audience is putting up with that, I think they want to bring their whole self to work. They are looking for not only money, but meaning and purpose. And there is really compelling data about the tradeoff that they are willing to make to find a vocation instead of a job, and a vocation that has values and purpose at the center.”