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  • August 11, 2021 9:54 AM | Anonymous

    This special issue of CATALYST features an in-depth discussion about Conscious Leadership and Core Values with Dan Costello, CEO of Home Run Inn Pizza.

    For the uninitiated, Home Run Inn Pizza has been serving up some of the best-tasting thin-crust pizza since 1947. What started as a neighborhood tavern that quenched the thirsts of southside Chicagoans, quickly became known for their piping hot pies. After nearly three-quarters of a century, Home Run Inn is still treating families to their famous recipes. It is no longer just a neighborhood joint but a hugely successful chain of 9 locations throughout Chicagoland. And that's not even half the story. Their famous frozen pizza is now available in grocery stores in more than 40 states!

    So, New York, you can have your big foldable slices. Here in Chicago, we like our pizza cut in squares and served with a frosty cold one! Mangia!


    The northeast corner of West 31st Street and South Kildare Avenue in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood is, to many Chicagoans and their families, the spot where their love affair began with authentic Chicago pizza. That’s the home of the original Home Run Inn. Mary and Vincent Grittani opened a small tavern there in 1923. Located across the street from what is now Piotrowski Park, the tavern got its name when a baseball from the park crashed through one of the bar's windows.

    When their son-in-law, Nick Perrino, returned to Chicago from World War II he joined the family business and began experimenting with pizza recipes. By 1947, they were serving pizza to bar patrons to attract the drinking crowd. When customers started buying more of what was coming out of the oven than what was behind the bar, the family decided to focus on the pies. After fully embracing its pizza destiny, Home Run Inn expanded from the original bar seating 10 to a full-service restaurant seating 50.

    In the 74 years since they first began serving families their now world-famous tavern-style pizza cut into squares, the business has grown more than the family could have imagined.

    Home Run Inn now operates nine restaurants in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, a shop in busy terminal B at Midway airport, and a 60,000-square-foot USDA certified manufacturing facility specifically designed to support the company’s rapidly growing frozen pizza business.

    Home Run Inn frozen pizza is available in grocery stores in more than 40 states and generates more than 70% of the company’s revenue.

    In 2020, the company announced a partnership to become the official pizza of the Chicago Cubs with two pizza stands on the main concourse in Wrigley Field. Home Run Inn ranks among the top 10 national pizza brands and is consistently rated as Chicago’s number one pizza.

    In 2018, the company’s CEO, Joe Perrino, Nick's son, and Mary Grittani's grandson, unexpectedly passed away. Joe had guided the company’s expansive growth since being named CEO at the age of 37 in 1990. Joe’s nephew, Dan Costello, then president of the company’s restaurant division, was named CEO.

    Since then, Dan, his fellow family members, and their management teams have guided the company to even greater growth. At the height of the pandemic, their factory was producing nearly 100,000 frozen pizzas a day. Throughout this time of significant change, rapid growth, and unexpected shifts in their business, the company leaned on its core values of Family, Pride, Grit, and Courage.


    The Chicago Chapter of Conscious Capitalism sat down with CEO Dan Costello to discuss the importance of conscious leadership and how Home Run Inn’s core values are central to the company’s long-term success.

    Mark Vance, Marketing Chair, Conscious Capitalism Chicago

    Why is working on yourself as a leader and being a conscious leader so important?

    Dan Costello, CEO, Home Run Inn Pizza

    I equate the idea of consciousness with creating healthy choices. Being able to thoughtfully choose paths. When you're not aware of the things that are going on around you, with yourself, personally, or what's driving your habits, then you greatly limit your choices.

    We are all driven by our habits and our habits make us reactionary. When you take the time to learn and understand what drives you, your fears, and your desires, you give yourself options to make better decisions instead of being controlled by those very things.

    What I've learned the hard way is that when you're not aware of those things, then when you're challenged and stressed, you wind up being controlled by those very habits. For me, that might look like procrastination or avoiding difficult conversations or, telling myself a story that everything will be fine but not really doing anything fundamentally different to change and impact it.

    The idea of conscious leadership is becoming more aware of those patterns and those habits. That then allows me to make a thoughtful choice about where I want to go personally, the direction I need to set for the business or the direction I need to set for the executive team.

    Once I became better at understanding myself, I could also see these patterns with people that I'm working with on my executive team and even the habits of the business.

    These habits would create patterns and many of them would not be productive. We call them cul de sac problems. They are circular and they keep repeating themselves.

    Every one of these problems would have a different cadence. Some might repeat weekly, quarterly, or annually, or semiannually, or maybe every couple of years. It depends on what the issue is.

    Being a student of conscious leadership helped me identify some of these patterns and habits - circular problems. I would think, who wants to live their life like this? Who wants to run their business like this with the same problems reoccurring over and over?

    With some great coaching and tools, I can now see the patterns developing, and I have a better chance of breaking them in a positive way because I've become more aware of my own habits. I recognize I have to do something differently to impact it. Ignoring it simply does not get the job done.

    That's where you have to have the will to lead, the will to make a thoughtful choice which is sometimes a lot harder than it seems.

    Another key takeaway from all these studies is that conscious leadership helps me consider all stakeholders when making decisions. I’ve really come to understand that decisions impact many people and stakeholders and that can’t be taken lightly.

    I’m constantly thinking about how can I create win-win-win scenarios? It’s not to be confused with making everyone happy, but I find myself focusing on crafting a future vision that everyone can at least understand and hopefully support.

    Mark Vance

    When you first took over the business following the death of your uncle, was there any conflict avoidance or was it a situation where you told yourselves we all know something has to change? Is that dynamic different for family-owned businesses?

    Dan Costello

    I don't know if it's related to being in a family business or not. I would say, we had a heavy dose of artificial harmony, where even our family members weren't sure or confident about how to clear issues between themselves. We were more passive-aggressive. We had habits that would lead many of us to avoid tough conversations. We would leave people and issues alone, don't touch it, don't step into it. It's not worth it. Let that person be.

    I think members of my generation of the family would agree that was probably our primary default. We would avoid things.

    Going through some of the educational programs we went through, we started being able to understand how to bring tools into our workplace to help us have those productive conversations.

    We now do team assessments to understand how we're doing with that. Our results suggest that we have gotten a lot better at having productive conflict which is critical to building trust.

    People are much more confident and comfortable having an issue clear and giving feedback, both positive and constructive.

    The key was giving everyone tools to help them work through the conversations. We have a “Story in my Head” dialogue that helps us separate facts versus perceptions.

    We also use situation, behavior, impact models to provide both positive and negative feedback. Teaching these models is being intentional about what is important.

    For us, that’s educating people on how to have healthy conflict, so individuals and teams have a trust foundation. It’s fundamental to team health and great execution.

    When you are the executive leader of a family business, and when a large portion of your executive team are family members who cannot or do not know how to engage in healthy debate, that can spill over into the rest of the executive team. If your entire executive team can’t handle clearing issues, then your middle management teams won’t be able to do it either. That’s not a recipe for success so we attacked it aggressively.

    We've been working on this capability for the last year and a half, two years. We are teaching and training these concepts every month. The main focus is creating the conditions for teams to collaborate and thrive.

    When I took over, I didn’t understand the impact of not being able to do this well but now I know. Trust, alignment, commitment, and results all improve when you give your teams the right tools and you as the leader model how to use them. When you walk your talk, your team responds.

    Mark Vance

    I noticed that you cannot spell "Grittani" without "Grit," Which is one of your core values. Tell me about Grit and how that manifests itself. How do you promote Grit as a core value?

    Dan Costello

    That's a good one. You would think Grit is just working hard, right? We wanted to build on that, and we added that it’s working hard and having a desire to continuously improve. Working hard in and of itself is great but what if you’re not getting better? We decided Grit needed to connect to the desire to be better which isn’t always easy to do.

    Let’s say a company has been in business for 20 years. The real question is, does this organization have 20 years of experience or does it have one year of experience 20 times?

    Are you simply repeating the same ideas and processes every year without truly evaluating if you can make them better and continually improve them? I think that is what happens when you don't have a continuous improvement and learning mindset.

    We were like that for many years, and I was a part of that underperforming mindset. As my awareness of this grew through education and learning, I realized how hard it was to sustain learning and improving. We really needed to embrace the value of Grit to move through the hard work of getting better. It’s easy to be complacent, but that’s not where you want to be in any part of your life.

    Today, we are actively working to operationalize Grit. We started with executive leadership and how to improve individual effectiveness. Then we worked on communication skills, how to handle difficult conversations, and finally how to determine the root cause of a problem.

    Once we learned how to ask the right questions and enough questions, the next step in operationalizing Grit was instilling a concept of committed action by identifying the next steps available to us to create real change. Committed action, for us, takes Grit. It seems simple but it’s not. It is hard work to identify WHAT needs to be done, WHO needs to do it, and WHEN it needs to be done. We learned that being very explicit about these steps is tedious but if we skip them, we aren’t doing the hard work and we aren’t living up to our value of Grit.

    We have to do the tedious work to create the accountability systems we need. When we have a group of people who want to be in alignment with their values and they understand how the correct work gets done and it gets done well.

    I had the opportunity to join the Stagen Leadership Institute and the founder, Rand Stagen said something that has stuck with me to this day. He said, 'the truth will set you free, but not before it pisses you off.’ I thought that was fantastic and it's true.

    Sometimes when you get feedback on a KPI or something you've been doing, and it's not the result you want, it hurts, it can be frustrating. You must be gritty enough to learn through it. You have to be gritty enough to say, ‘Something's not working. I have already put in six months of work on this, but I have to keep going because I'm not there yet.’

    That's how we think about Grit. As a manufacturer, it's classic root cause analysis. It’s getting to the answers to the “Five Whys.” What we're able to tell our people now is, when we say Grit, it doesn't mean working hard, we expect people to work hard. Every business has to do that to be successful. For us, Grit means that you have to dig in with a learner’s mindset. When we have education classes, you have to be willing to go.

    You have to be willing to take a look at the things you've been doing. Sure, you may have done it this way for 15 years, great. Maybe that's the right way. But what we're going to ask you to do is to be gritty enough to poke holes in it, to challenge it. To see if that is the best way to do something, whether it's how you do forecasting, how you do budgets, how you run meetings, how you do scheduling, how you communicate. All these things can be improved upon as long as you have the Grit to engage in the continuous improvement process.

    Mark Vance

    There is an intentional nature to this kind of continuous improvement and getting through it better on the other side.

    Dan Costello

    It is intentional. I think that's the whole idea for me. It’s a conscious form of leadership. That's a choice. If you're choosing things, you're being intentional about things.  We've reviewed our values many times. We may be on our 10th iteration. You start with one thing, and they get more intentional.

    We're introducing our values to the company and some people will say, 'oh, why the change?' It’s not that we're changing. We're just getting more intentional. We’re getting more defined. We're getting more operational with them so we can help people understand them. Our definition of Grit used to be eight sentences long. I couldn’t even remember it. How is anybody else going to remember it?

    Someday I would love for somebody to come in and pick anybody in our company and ask them to tell them the four values of the company- it doesn’t matter what level the organization. You could grab somebody off the floor at one of our restaurants and my vision is that they would respond with Family, Pride, Grit, and Courage.

    More importantly, though is that they could describe exactly what they have to do in their roles to be in alignment with those values. That is the end goal! How do we do that? We have been more intentional about communicating these values and integrating them into all our systems, processes, and roles.

    When we interview people, during phone screens, we introduce our values. It's not even day one, it's the phone screen to see if you are a potential match to come to Home Run Inn. We introduce values right there. I'm hopeful because I think we're getting better at it. We're getting more intentional about how to use our core values.

    Mark Vance

    What have you learned over this past 12 to 15 months, not only about your business but about your effectiveness as a leader?

    Dan Costello

    I learned how resilient our business is. When I think about February 2020, as the pandemic was starting to loom, I remember how uncertain we felt about things. When the lockdown started in March, it was scary. While the frozen business is a bigger part of our business, we were shutting down restaurants and we were worried about what’s going to happen to our people. 

    We were also becoming very concerned about how to give confidence to our teams that they could come to work safely. That was very concerning.

    Could we convey a level of comfort to our manufacturing team when we needed them the most?

    The result of those anxieties was gaining a greater appreciation of the importance of communication. I think one of the best ways to describe that is if you're talking to your people, or not talking to your people, you're communicating either way. If you're not putting out messages you are communicating in a sense. You're allowing for stories to be out there in your workforce. You’re basically telling them you don’t care enough to tell them what’s going on.

    I think everybody sees everything differently. We have all these folks in our company, and they all have different worldviews, and they all have different lenses, how they see things. If I'm not speaking to them as the leader and telling them what's going on, this is what we know, this is what we don't know, this is what we're confident in, this is what we're unsure about, I’m not doing my job. If I don't do that, they're going to do it for themselves. That is maybe one of the biggest lessons I learned.

    When you send a communication, it is like an archer pulling back an arrow and trying to hit a target. How often does our arrow miss the target? I learned how to be more intentional around that, and how to think about it. What's the target I want to hit? Who's my audience? What do I think their worldview is? What's important to them? My manufacturing team may be looking for more safety, security, and stability information. My sales team might be looking more for "rah, rah, let's go!" kind of information.

    It takes Grit to learn that because it’s hard. I have to say the same message in two different ways. It's not easy but it’s necessary as a leader to take the extra time and effort to craft the right message for your people.

    If I only want to say something once and how it’s meaningful to me, that's the easy way out for a leader. You have to think about how it lands on different people in your organization. I learned how important that was. I have to take the time to craft messages for people in a way that’s meaningful to them not just to me or my exec team.

    Because I couldn't forecast what everybody wanted to know, I needed to poll someone from the restaurants, someone from manufacturing, someone from the office teams, and ask ‘What do people need to know? What do you guys think I should be talking about?’ I would then craft a weekly message.

    I think that was an important thing to do. When we surveyed people about what they thought was going well throughout the pandemic or their confidence in leadership, those scores were coming back high, because they said, ‘we know what's going on.’

    Also important is understanding the right time to use email, and the right time to jump in, visibly. Whether that means going to the shop floor at 5:30 in the morning, before people started, or jumping into a Zoom meeting for restaurant teams across the company. It is important to be present so people can hear it. Reading an email is one thing, but hearing it is different.

    One of the most important things I learned about myself as a leader during this time was that one of my past habits was a lack of confidence and that I would rationalize not communicating directly by asking myself, ‘Who wants to hear from me?’ Thankfully, I learned how to navigate that personal challenge and that as a leader I can’t make that challenge an issue for the people who need me to do my job well.

    I got through the confidence crunch by relying on the concept of ‘go where the pain is.’ If it feels scary or if it’s something I don’t want to do, maybe that’s the place I should go.

    Maybe I should be showing up at 5:30 in the morning to speak with the manufacturing team even though they don't speak English.

    The easy thing might be to just give the message to somebody who speaks Spanish and tell them to tell everybody. That's the easy thing. The hard thing is actually to show up, ask for a translator, be patient, ask people to ask questions in Spanish, listen to them, ask the translator to repeat it back to me, and craft a good response for them. It’s communication and being present.

    I also learned not to let my lack of confidence with anything prevent me from stepping in and leaning in. I like the idea of going where the pain is, going where the anxiety is. Not doing so would produce that artificial harmony I mentioned earlier. I learned that when I did do it, I discovered that it wasn't so bad. I can do that. I built my own confidence and it forced me to grow as a person and as a leader.

    Mark Vance

    Earlier you mentioned your association with the Stagen Leadership Institute. Rand Stagen is a member of the Conscious Capitalism, Inc. (CCI) board of directors.  CCI's Senior Leader Network provides leaders an opportunity to share best practices, support each other through challenges, and learn new ways to grow their business. How important is a peer network as you continue your conscious leadership journey?

    Dan Costello

    Very important. I have a network through Stagen and YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization.) I have an executive coach as well. I view members of all these networks as my personal Board of Directors.

    I feel like they are people I can rely on. Most importantly these are people who will tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. That’s invaluable as a leader or any person who wants to be better and improve.

    Of course, I can rely a lot on people in my organization, but there are certain things that I need to talk about with somebody who is dealing with the same thing at my level or has dealt with it and has a broader lens regarding potential ramifications from decisions.

    Being part of something with people who have these great diverse perspectives on the world, while sharing this great alignment around conscious leadership or personal improvement gives me a measuring stick or a benchmark. It's like, wow, look at what they're doing. I may think I'm doing so great, but I can look at how they're impacting things, and it helps me set the bar, it helps me set the pace. I think that that kind of community is going to be healthy for anybody.

    Otherwise, how do you know what is possible?

    Conscious Capitalism – Chicago Stories

    As the first national chapter of Conscious Capitalism, the Chicago chapter has striven to tell the stories of Conscious Leaders in our community. Chicago Stories is a celebration of people throughout the Chicagoland area who understand that business, done well, can elevate humanity.

    You are invited to join our community of business leaders who know that Chicago is and always will be the City of Big Shoulders AND Open Arms. Visit us at to see how you can get involved.

    Maybe we can tell your Chicago Story!

  • July 19, 2021 4:27 PM | Anonymous

    Ace Metal Crafts was founded in 1960 by 16 sheet metal workers who, when their company was leaving the Chicago area, pooled their money, and started their own metal fabrication and finishing business. The Bensenville, IL-based company’s entrepreneurial roots run deep as does its commitment to building a culture of learning, continuous improvement, and conscious leadership.

    Shortly after Jack Lichter bought the company in 1982, his daughter, Jean Pitzo, joined him in the business. In January of 1991, Mr. Lichter sold the company to Jean, who became president, and her sister Mary Lichter who became the human resource manager.

    Having worked on the sales and finance side of the business, Jean knew very little about bending, welding, or polishing metal. But she knew who did – the company’s employees. “I trusted them, and they taught me,” she says. “That's how it works. I could spend a million dollars on a new machine, but I didn’t know how to turn the thing on. I had to get comfortable early on with the fact that I had a lot to learn. 

    That willingness to ask questions, learn, teach, and coach has been central to the culture at Ace Metal Crafts from the beginning, so Jean did what came naturally, she asked questions and listened to the answers. One of the first people she sought out to learn from was the general manager of the company, Jack Stout. “Jack was the brain of the whole business and was one of the kindest, nicest people you’ll ever meet,” Jean, now the company’s CEO recounts. “He took me along and taught me so much."

    A Culture of Learning

    Teaching, coaching, and continuous learning are ingrained in Ace's culture, and it has always been that way. Jack Stout’s son, Keith, now the president of the company describes his father as the person who first laid the foundation of the company’s learning culture. “My father was a self-taught engineer. I remember him going to flea markets and picking up calculus books to teach himself,” recalls Keith. “Back then you had to do a lot of blueprint drawing, or layout engineering where you had to use a lot of geometry. He taught himself the necessary skills because he wanted to teach other people how to do it.”

    “He started a class teaching layout engineering and even invited our competitors. He didn't think twice about that. He never thought that would be bad for business. To him, it was, ‘how do we make everybody better?’”

    “My dad knew how to make things. And Jean’s dad knew the business side. I always think about those guys and how they were so kind,” recalls Keith. “I have been here since I was 18 and have heard so many stories about them. When talking about my father, people used to say, ‘If your dad asks us to work overtime, we can't say no because he's done so much for us.’ He would paint guys' cars on the dock and take chances on guys who maybe were down on their luck. He would give jobs to people who just got out of prison. I mean, you name it. He was always trying to help.”

    The legacy of Jack Stout and Jack Lichter lives on as Jean and Keith work with company executives to build a team of coaches. Along with Deb Benning, the company’s Chief Relationship Officer, Jean developed a course on emotional intelligence which is taught to everyone at the company. “There are eight classes in the course starting with self-awareness,” Jean says. “We are teaching welders and grinders about victimhood. We teach triggers. We teach forgiveness. We have different tiers or tracks focused on leading. Beginning with leading yourself then leading others. You progress to being a value stream leader then leading other leaders.”

    So, how do company team members react to this type of training? “I think it's just expected because we are intentional in our effort to build a learning culture,” says Benning. “Over 80% of the company has been trained in the tools for them to learn and use in their day-to-day work at Ace. We now teach it in Spanish and Polish. We are so committed to learning that we hired a training leader this year who will build on the training we have developed and make it a more formalized program – an internal Ace University.”

    The leaders at Ace view their culture as a competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting as well. “I think people are starved for leadership,” says Benning. “I think people want to belong. They want to know they matter. They want people to see them. Recently a candidate asked me what I liked most about Ace. I said, ‘it has never felt like a job.’ It has always felt like I was going home to be with my friends. I have a voice in what happens here, and I am part of something special. I think that when people feel that way, regardless of their job, they give everything they have.”

    A Higher Purpose

    The company’s conscious culture journey began when Jean first read Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey and Raj Sisodia. “I couldn't put it down I was so excited. I had never met anyone trying to do what I was trying to do, work on culture,” she says. “No one else even talked about culture back then. So, to read this book that lays out what a great culture looks like and describes what I've always felt, was just amazing. I was like, finally, somebody else is talking like this!”

    Starting in 2008 with Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth, discussing self-awareness and ego, Jean and the executive team had been reading books together. So, it was natural for Mackey and Sisodia's book to become part of their book club discussions. After finding that the philosophy gave them a framework to bring into Ace, the team got more organized around their intention to build a conscious company. They landed on a unique and inspirational higher purpose – To Create Joy Through Kindness.

    “It promotes a psychologically safe workplace,” explains Jean. It is also a constant reminder of why we're on the planet. Not why we're at Ace Metal Crafts, but why we're here on this earth - to create joy through kindness. And yes, we bend metal. Yes, we've got to deliver our parts. But boy, Ace is our lab to do our life's work, our God's work.”

    Keith echoes Jean’s thoughts about the company’s higher purpose. “I believe strongly that we're here to bring heaven on earth. It’s our responsibility to bring heaven here. So, ‘on earth, as it is in heaven' doesn't mean wait to go to heaven. It says make on earth as it is in heaven.

    To me, I feel like there's a responsibility to do that.”

    A Conscious Culture Pays Dividends

    “I gave a speech at a conference on lean manufacturing in 2005 entitled “A Culture to Lean On,” says Keith Stout, Ace Metal Crafts president. “I said you can't just ‘do lean.’ You must have a culture that will support it and sustain your efforts. I was like the weirdo dude. You know, I'm talking about values and behaviors and people are like, what? Who are you? But if I went to that conference today, you couldn't find anything that isn't about culture. It's all about culture. It's everything.”

    In 2013, ACE applied for and was selected by Toyota Motor company’s TSSC division to advise them on their continuous improvement journey. ACE introduced a new profit-sharing bonus plan to reward each team member for their part in our collective success.

    In 2019, the company expanded its overall position in the stainless-steel fabrication and machining industry with its acquisition of IRMKO Tool Works, also located in Bensenville. Fully incorporating the separate location’s workforce into the Ace culture is a high priority for Keith and his team. “I remember the reaction of one of our new team members when he got his uniform, his Ace Metal Craft shirt,” says Keith. “He said, ‘I feel like now I'm a professional.’ That pride in what you do, who you do it for, and why you do it, to him, it was heaven on earth.”

    Brutal Reality and Credible Hope

    During the pandemic, an important part of fostering and maintaining a strong culture was what Jean calls delivering regular doses of “Brutal Reality and Credible Hope” at company town hall meetings.

    “We had to be honest,” Jean says. “We didn't know if it was going to last two years, five years, five months, two seconds. We didn't have those answers and people were scared and nervous, so nervous."

    "We just said you know, here's the brutal reality, here are the numbers, we lost this much in revenue, this much in profit. We didn’t have the orders coming in, but we did a forecast. If sales go down to X, this will be the loss. If sales go down to Y, this will be the loss. So, that’s the brutal reality. The credible hope was a firm belief in the fact that we’ve got this. It’s not going to be easy, but we're going to make it through because the company is financially healthy despite the downturn.”

    The company began to take on projects that had been on their to-do list for years to make sure everyone had work to do. Keith Stout explains it this way. “We took advantage of the time we had,” he says. “We shaped what we called ‘leap forward’ projects. By completing these tasks that we never had the time to accomplish before, we were preparing ourselves to be more ready than anyone when the economy came back. We wanted to be the company that could leap forward faster than anyone.

    The importance of this approach was not lost on one of the newest members of the Ace Leadership Team, Vice President of Operations - Machining, Gino Rigitano. “I was always in search of something because I knew there was a different way to lead. There's a different way than the conventional, you know, MBA approach of metrics only. Last year was a fearful time with a lot of uncertainty,” he says.

    “As leaders, we don't want to sugarcoat things. I think the town halls gave people a chance to just be present in that. It was also an important part of our continuous journey of building a culture of conscious leadership. To be there for our team members, even when we didn’t have all the answers, was so important.”

    The Universal Language of Trust

    The company's transparency with its workforce and its commitment to honest and open communication are consistent with its core values of Trust, Respect, Care, Clarity, and Discipline. “Our values are the bedrock of our conscious culture,” Jean emphasizes. “If you visit Ace, you will probably not notice any big words on the wall that tell you what our values are but, you will feel them as you visit with our team."

    As part of the company's efforts to bring its core values to life, team members were asked to identify behaviors that support those values.

    The shop team members decided that promptly returning what you borrow is a sign of respect. “Think about that," Jean says. "In a shop full of 150 guys and toolboxes. If you borrow a tool and you don't bring it back, how disrespectful is that?

    Another behavior is sharing knowledge. In some shops, people don't want to share knowledge because they think that's job security. They don't want to tell the other guy how he welded that job the last time. We believe that sharing the things we have learned will help others get better. That’s really what Jack Stout and my father talked about from the very beginning.”

    There are many different ethnic cultures at Ace and five languages are spoken there. That diversity brings with it many different meanings for those words. “It's a challenge that I think every CEO around Chicago should accept and take on,” says Jean. “Throughout 2020, while dealing with the impact of the pandemic, we held 75 meetings. We interpreted every one from English to Spanish, Polish, Vietnamese, Bosnian, and Serbian. When you do that it's such a gut check for leaders because you're losing productivity as people are in meetings longer. It is just so important to recognize the strength that kind of diversity brings to our culture.”

    A Legacy of Love

    Today, Jean Pitzo has taken a step back from the day-to-day operations of the company. With a team of leaders including Keith, Deb, Gino, and Jean's daughter Angela, the company's Vice President of Manufacturing picking up the mantle, she reflects on her legacy. “I have been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to guide this team to another level and create an environment that enables them to go home at the end of the day with pride in their work. Conscious Capitalism can amplify the influence a CEO has on the long-term future of a company, and I am so grateful for the association with the movement.”

    Jean recounts a story that helps her know that it’s working. “One year, we discussed with team members a ‘value a month’ and this particular month, it was ‘Care.’ The value stream leader who was facilitating the meeting wanted to write the word 'care' in English, Vietnamese, Polish, and Spanish. There were four or five Spanish-speaking people that were from Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala in the room. They were disagreeing on the correct way to spell the word 'care' in Spanish. At the end of their five minutes back and forth, they came up with the word ‘amore’ which is ‘love.’"

    "I was like, that’s it! Right there! That's how you know what you’ve been talking about all these years is making a difference.”

    One More Thing...

    The Ace Huddle

    Show up at Ace Metal Crafts in the morning and you will find team members gathered in a group for something called The Ace Huddle. This morning ritual of coming together was started by company president, Keith Stout, to reinforce that the team is the most important thing.

    “I don't know how to weld, I'm an engineer,” says Keith. “In college, I was a cheerleader. I joke that I use my cheerleading way more than I use my engineering. Growing up, I played 16” softball, and then I coached my daughters who are now playing in college. Before every game, we would huddle up and put our hands in and say, ‘let's go, we got this!’ The image of everyone coming together as one, recommitting to each other as a team is so powerful to me.”

    “For more than two decades, at the end of every quarterly meeting, we all put our hands in, and I reinforce that we can't be beaten if we work together as a team. If we can resolve our conflicts and remember that the people we want to beat are outside these doors, there’s no way our competition can touch us.”

    Conscious Capitalism – Chicago Stories

    As the first national chapter of Conscious Capitalism, the Chicago chapter has striven to tell the stories of Conscious Leaders in our community. Chicago Stories is a celebration of people throughout the Chicagoland area who understand that business, done well, can elevate humanity.

    You are invited to join our community of business leaders who know that Chicago is and always will be the City of Big Shoulders AND Open Arms. Visit us at to see how you can get involved.

    Maybe we can tell your Chicago Story!

  • June 10, 2021 12:54 PM | Anonymous

    How a journey of self-growth led to a culture of caring in an industry not known for that sort of thing.

    This issue of CATALYST features the story of someone who got a glimpse of the future and didn't like what she saw.

    Nancy Pautsch, President of Madison, WI-based Envision IT, LLC decided to take control and change forever her life and the lives of countless others all while building a successful business with her team members.

    Nancy is what the people who came up with the saying "lightning in a bottle" had in mind. A dynamo who will greet you with a broad, sincere smile and a servant's heart, Nancy shares the story of how she came to the Conscious Capitalism movement and hasn't looked back.

    Nancy has served on many local and national charitable boards and is currently the Chair of the Advisory Board to the Chicago Chapter of Conscious Capitalism.

    So...try to keep up! Envision's story is inspiring.


    Ask Nancy Pautsch, President of Envision IT in Madison, WI, about her early years in the tech industry and you’ll quickly learn that it is not for the faint of heart. Sharp-elbowed and short-term focused environments notorious for a churn and burn mentality, tech industry corporate cultures can be challenging if not downright poisonous. Like the Atlantic killifish, which has adapted to living in some of the United States’ most polluted waters along the East Coast, many people in the tech industry adapt to a toxic environment because they’ve known nothing else.

    For Nancy, that was no way to live, much less thrive. She knew there must be a better way and she was at a crossroads. After a colleague suggested that she should just “trust her gut” when trying to solve a particularly vexing problem at work, she began a personal journey to truly understand what her gut was trying to tell her. All she really knew at the time was that something needed to change.

    Feeling conflicted and still in search of the path that she was destined to travel, Nancy had what she calls her “dark night of the soul.” For years, she and her colleague, Bill Crahen had toiled together and fought the kind of foxhole battles that forge an unbreakable bond. The pressures of those constant struggles eventually took their toll.

    One day Bill came to the office and was clearly in physical pain. His face disfigured, he was suffering from a textbook case of stress-related Bell’s Palsy. “That was a reckoning for me, and it shook me. I told Bill that we’ve got to get the heck out of here, it can’t be this way,” Nancy recalled.

    As fate would have it, Nancy had discovered the book Firms of Endearment by Raj Sisodia, the co-founder of the Conscious Capitalism movement. “That book was really my inspiration. That was the intersecting point of my career and the personal growth journey I was on,”  she says.

    “I started asking myself these big questions. What’s my purpose? Why am I here? I began to awaken and see the toxicity of the business that I was in. I was leading, but not owning.”

    After reading the book, she immediately went to Crahen and said, “Bill, this is the answer. There’s another way." I gave him the book and he read it just as quickly and absorbed it just as enthusiastically as I did.

    He was equally inspired, but how are we going to do this? Are we going to start our own company or what?”

    Fate intervened once again when Nancy met with the founder of Envision IT, Beau Smithback, to discuss a project she was doing as a favor for one of her team members.

    One thing led to another and before she knew it, she and Beau were talking about Firms of Endearment and their shared vision of growing a conscious business in an industry that was far from conscious. “I gave Beau the book and told him that this is what we want to build," said Nancy.

    "Beau is this brilliant, young, and kindhearted founder who was also searching for a better way to do business. He said this is what he wanted Envision IT to be, come on and do it.” So, in 2013 armed with a vision and a resolve to focus on the well-being of the people in the company, Nancy and Bill joined Beau determined to build a conscious business positioned for the long term.

    While you can feel the spirit of the place when meeting with the team at Envision IT, it is important to remember that has only evolved because of the intentional, structured effort to build the company’s conscious culture.

    That structure allows a level of trust and fearlessness to permeate the business. “I think it fuels innovation and creativity because, with no fear of judgment, people can bring crazy ideas, wackadoodle ideas that might otherwise not be put on the table. We all know that we can trust each other and agree to give those ideas a look and build on them together,” explains Nancy.

    Nancy is particularly grateful that the other team members at Envision IT – they call themselves Envisioners – have embraced and emboldened the culture at the company. “It’s palpable. It’s just heartwarming," she says with pride and gratitude.

    "You can see how Envisioners care for each other, and all our stakeholders. It’s inspiring. They certainly inspire me every day. It’s fuel for me.”

    “I also think many conscious cultures are almost naturally diverse because if we're going to innovate and be creative, we have to have people with different experiences, different backgrounds, who bring new ideas that haven't been in our purview yet,” she says.

    “In the technology industry if you're not innovating and looking at things with a broader scope and empathy for things that you haven't experienced – you’re not going to be very competitive. That becomes an important competitive differentiator for us.”

    That intentional focus resulted not only in positive financial performance but also is measured by their numerous industry accolades and global recognition for engineering excellence, project delivery, and customer satisfaction. “After every engagement with clients, we send out a one-question survey asking if we did ‘Awesome, Good or Bad.’ Our latest survey results reflect a 97.7% ‘Awesome” rating,” Nancy exclaims proudly.

    A self-described "type A-cubed" personality, Nancy's dynamic intentionality as a leader, teacher, coach, cheerleader, and “mama bear” to her work family at Envision IT manifests itself in the numerous ways that she and her team foster what she refers to as the ‘beautiful interdependence among thriving Envisioners and stakeholder success.’

    “When I say thriving, I mean supporting a whole life. We’ve learned that employee engagement plus well-being equals thriving,” she explains. “It comes from wanting to care for people. We learned that ‘cared-for people care for people.’"

    "We thoughtfully looked at the interdependence of the bad carrots and sticks that we had experienced before and how they hurt the company's reputation, hurt personal brand, hurt quality, hurt culture, and everything. We just turned it on its head. We didn't have any answers at first, but we said let's start with caring for people and the rest will come.”

    Nancy believes that when Envisioners are thriving, they’re working from their ‘zone of genius,’ a concept author Dr. Gay Hendricks discusses in his book, The Big Leap. “When folks are in their zone of genius, loving their work and they’re doing their best work, they’re thriving in their best work."

    "When folks do that, they have a great day at work. It's an awesome day at work! When they leave work, they're their better selves when they see their family. They're their better selves out in society and we've helped contribute to that great day,” Nancy explains.

    The love and compassion integral to building this type of culture, as mentioned before, is typically not the norm in the technology industry and could be interpreted as a weakness. Nancy disagrees, saying “If Envisioners are doing their best work, they're doing their best work for our clients and our clients are really happy because they're getting such quality work. So, if our clients are happy because they're getting this great output, they will talk to other companies and spread the love. That leads to business development and that's a beautiful thing!”

    ALL IN

    When faced with a turning point in their lives and their careers, Nancy Pautsch, Bill Crahen, and Beau Smithback all knew what they wanted to build – a company founded on a noble purpose. Their passion, inspiration, and dedication led to doing business in a way that enriches the lives of all their stakeholders.

    That is the “All In” embodiment of Conscious Capitalism. While these leaders didn’t know for sure where the journey would take them, they knew where they wanted to start – the organization’s purpose.

    "We knew from so many years of being treated, frankly, as not human, but as revenue generators, that we wanted to do the exact opposite,” says Nancy.

    “Early on it was really awesome undoing everything we had learned and trying to do the opposite. We began with our higher or noble purpose – To Enrich the Lives of our Stakeholders.”

    "We had not found the Conscious Capitalism community yet, but when I go in, I go ALL IN," she admits. "So, it was a lot of self-work including therapy, workshops, and coaching, plus doing a lot of research and reading a bunch of books."

    Nancy says that finding the common language, support structure, and community of like-minded people at Conscious Capitalism has been like an "explosion of love."

    “When I saw the four pillars of Conscious Capitalism, I realized that maybe we’re doing something right."

    "While we could certainly feel it, the business results came as well," Nancy says. "But that’s not why we went ‘all in.’ It was truly focused on defining our purpose, creating meaningful rules of working together, and caring for people. That inspired us – and still does to this day."

    Nancy credits fellow Conscious Capitalism advocate, Roy Spence, Co-Founder and Chairman of GSD&M and Co-Founder and CEO of the Purpose Institute with saying ‘Purpose makes things clearer, not easier.’ “You need a sound business strategy. I mean come on, it’s not all daffodils, rainbows, and unicorns for crying out loud, especially in our industry."

    Nothing solidifies a deep understanding of the power of the Conscious Capitalism approach better than building relationships with like-minded leaders. Nancy and the team at Envision IT have found that is especially true through their active support of the Conscious Capitalism movement.

    "We help Envisioners with their individual conscious leadership journeys and share all the resources that we have – books, podcasts, videos, workshops, etc.,” Nancy continues. “We are actively involved in the Conscious Capitalism Chapters in Chicago and the Twin Cities. Chicago conducts a course called Conscious Capitalism 101, which we offer to all Envisioners."

    "There’s so much to offer to our team from the chapters and the national organization.”

    One More Thing...

    A life-long learner and voracious reader, Nancy often shares that passion for seeking out new perspectives and ideas. Asked what five books on purpose, leadership, personal empowerment, and growth she recommends to Envisioners, Nancy offered the following suggestions:

    Notice how she snuck in a sixth suggestion in that list? As you might expect from a “type A-cubed” personality, Nancy provided additional examples of books that inspire her in her personal growth journey.

    Conscious Capitalism – Chicago Stories

    As the first national chapter of Conscious Capitalism, the Chicago chapter has striven to tell the stories of Conscious Leaders in our community. Chicago Stories is a celebration of people throughout the Chicagoland area who understand that business, done well, can elevate humanity.

    You are invited to join our community of business leaders who know that Chicago is and always will be the City of Big Shoulders AND Open Arms. Visit us at to see how you can get involved.

    Maybe we can tell your Chicago Story!

  • April 30, 2021 8:39 AM | Anonymous

    For Marc Blackman, CEO of Chicago-based manufacturer and distributor of specialty chemicals, automotive aftermarket fluids and additives such as Heet and Sta-Bil, there wasn’t a specific moment where he knew that the principles of Conscious Capitalism needed to be implemented for the company to succeed. In fact, the company was already successful and has been since its founding nearly 90 years ago. No, Conscious Capitalism was not a savior for the company but more a confirmation that the company was already on the right path.

    “There wasn't some inflection point that said, ‘We've got to lead with Conscious Capitalism,’” says Blackman. “It's because it's who we are – who we are at the core. Our values already existed, and what Conscious Capitalism is doing is giving us some definition of those values, and some purpose behind those values.”

    “Conscious Capitalism says that ‘conscious companies’ seem to be more successful, well, that's been our premise unofficially, forever. You treat your people right, you treat all people with high integrity, you do the right thing, you have very ethical standards. You lead by example.”

    Unassuming and earnest, the leadership at Gold Eagle, personified by Blackman, maintains an authentic focus on the four pillars of Conscious Capitalism – A Higher Purpose; A Stakeholder Orientation; Conscious Leadership; and A Conscious Culture. You won’t find pretense at Gold Eagle, but you will find a group of people who have united with a common purpose, a common set of values and common commitment to leading consciously. How the company responded to the challenges of the past year is testament to their commitment to doing things the right way.

    Filling the Leadership Void

    Blackman has strong feelings about that commitment and the role business leaders should play in the future. “I have always had this belief that as I see more corruption going on in the world, and certainly in our government and very pervasive elsewhere, that there's a leadership void” he says. “People are jumping into those positions, not for the right reasons, or once they get in those positions for the right reasons, and they feel the power, they become corrupted and it's all about them instead of what's right for the country, or what are the right decisions to be made.”

    “I felt ultimately leadership is going to have to be shown by business leaders. At some point, business leaders are going to have to step up and fill that void, whether we have to run for office, or we do it in other ways to help this country – business leaders need to step up.”

    “Through several organizations that I was involved in, I heard about the Stagen Leadership Program. It was through Stagen, which is an outstanding leadership program, I got exposed to Conscious Capitalism, because Rand Stagen is one of the founding members of Conscious.”

    “It was there that I felt as though I had found my tribe – or people who think about the responsibilities of business leadership the way I do. It's not that I can spend as much time with the tribe as I'd like, but it has given some definition behind the things that we believe in.”

    It’s that common language and guiding principles that Blackman and his team rally around to govern themselves. “You've got to have a successful business, to be able to be a conscious, capitalistic company and be able to be very empathetic and understanding of your people and all stakeholders,” he says. “You have to be successful, but you've got to be able to look at all the tenets of it and that's what we've always done. I think this has given definition to our approach, and only made it stronger. And frankly, given definition to our people.”

    “I think many companies today believe in the values of Conscious Capitalism,” Blackman continues, “they just haven't necessarily attached it to that label, or attached to any specific thing, or have even had it defined that clearly for them in terms of how they run the company.

    “Conscious Capitalism – and its alignment with Gold Eagle core values – resonated with me for those personal reasons. It’s very frustrating when I see companies that are not being conscious, that are being the antithesis of that, frankly, giving business a black eye. I feel sorry for those folks. I think the people that approach business as I think we and so many others do, need to be raised up. They need to be celebrated for what they do. The more that happens, I think the more Conscious Capitalism will resonate with people and they'll understand it.”

    Innovation as a Core Value

    “It’s been a dream of mine and my team members to get this company to be much more innovative,” Blackman says. “Every five years or so we'll put a team here together to review our core values and make sure we're living them and see if there's a gap and if there's anything missing. The team came back to us last time and said ‘Innovation’ now needs to be a core value. I was blown away. But if you really look at it, Innovation isn't just in product development, it's also in the way we approach things. It’s process innovation. It's thinking differently. It's empowering your people, to be leaders. It has nothing to do with team members’ title. It has everything to do with being a leader in their role. And so that all ties together in terms of being an innovative company and thinking differently on behalf of all stakeholders.”

    In politics, it has been said that the office of United States President and the stresses of that role, do not make you who you are but rather reveal who you are. The same could be true for the team at Gold Eagle. During the past 12 months, like in virtually every walk of life, Gold Eagle has faced a number of unprecedented challenges. As the business world takes stock of the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing becomes clear for the team at Gold Eagle. Because of its dedication to its core values, the business and its people are emerging stronger than ever.

    Now More Than Ever

    Blackman is quick to give credit to his team for having the dedication to doing things the right way and staying true to the company’s core values. This was especially true in the early stages of the pandemic.

    “The first thing we focused on was how to continue to keep our people safe,” he says. “We learned through the pandemic that the steps that we had taken like having all the office people work remotely, except for my team; manufacturing and distributing hand sanitizer to our people and their families; making available the necessary PPE to Team Members and their families including masks; having regular on site temperature checks and hourly hand sanitizing; disinfecting their area before and after each shift; employing a full time, on-site cleaning service; and the additional deep disinfecting of common areas a couple times a week formed a level of trust.” It was that trust that sustained and deepened team members’ knowledge that company leadership had their best interests in mind. That trust has only grown over the past year.

    “Everybody here, the people working in our factory and in our distribution center realized that they're safer being at Gold Eagle than being outside with all the things that we've put into place,” Blackman says with understandable pride. “This is like a sanctuary and it became very obvious to them that it was more about how you handle yourself outside these four walls.”

    The company instituted premium pay and told the team members that the only way they’re all going to stay healthy and keep themselves safe is for them not to be forced to come into work or be worried about a paycheck. Gold Eagle implemented a policy that said that anyone that is not feeling well, even a sniffle, a slight fever, or thought they might have been exposed to somebody, just call in and let them know. “You’re staying home, and you are being paid,” emphasized Blackman.

    That really made team members feel safe and appreciated. Blackman, does say, however, that there were skeptics. “A lot of people I've told that story to wondered how did we get our hourly folks not to take advantage of us? How did we know if they were really sick? We said we didn't know what was going to happen, we suspected that would not be the case, but we didn't know. And when we did it, nobody took advantage of it. Nobody. In fact, they couldn't wait to get back.”

    Then in December, Gold Eagle gave all hourly team members a bonus. “It was just to say you guys have done one hell of a job, not only inside Gold Eagle – because this has been one of the most chaotic years we've ever had – but they did a great job outside Gold Eagle. They kept themselves safe. They were conscious about it and didn't come in and spread the virus,” Blackman said.

    Now, as they approach the end of their fiscal year, the company gave out another bonus. Blackman explains it this way. “We couldn't have had the kind of year and couldn't have accomplished the things we have without our people. Despite the premium pay going away, they're excited for this second bonus and they really appreciate it; and the company appreciates them!”

    Honoring the Community’s Heroes

    Once the efforts to provide their workforce with safety, security and stability were in place, the company asked themselves how it could pivot if they needed to. They knew the business was facing a great deal of uncertainty, but they still needed to figure out a way to help the community.

    Using their existing iconic bottles, the company launched the Heroes’ brand of liquid hand sanitizer for use by frontline health care and essential workers.

    “We gave it the Heroes’ name with the apostrophe at the end. We were and still are seeing heroes out working on the frontlines. We wanted to celebrate and keep safe the heroes working on the front lines from our very own heroes here at Gold Eagle. That appreciation and affection, if you will, has really gone both ways,” Blackman said.

    Measuring the Results

    The positive results are not only evident on the bottom line, but Blackman and his team can see it daily in the level of pride and satisfaction the team members have in the company’s efforts to stay true to their core values and still focus on doing what they do best. As anyone at Gold Eagle will tell you, the company’s purpose is not just to make a profit, they are “driven to protect and preserve the things you love” – which just so happens to be the company’s Higher Purpose.

    There are many ways to measure the results and profitability is certainly key. Among the others, is customer satisfaction. Are they viewed as a thought leader? Do they add value and bring insights? Based on customer surveys, the reputation Gold Eagle has in their industry is strong. “People keep telling us this all the time. For a company our size, that's nice,” says Blackman.

    The company also measures how they are doing internally with Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys. Is it a great place to work? Is it a place where people feel appreciated? Is it a place that has a vibrant culture that they’re always working on? Blackman acknowledges that NPS is a roadmap for continuous improvement. “Our net promoter score is good. Can we continue to get better? Absolutely! And we keep trying to improve. Does that mean, it's this utopia and everything's perfect and there's never a disgruntled employee? No, but do we treat people right? Do we appreciate them? Do we listen to their concerns & ideas? Do we try to empower them as much as possible? Again, absolutely.”

    But Blackman takes the concept of NPS a bit further – to former team members. It's also about their work experience. “One of the things that we've told people, and I've told my team, I've told myself, when somebody leaves, to go to a better job, I've taken it very hard in the past, especially if it's someone you don't want to leave. Because it's like, how could you leave us? This is a great company.”

    “What we realized is that we're part of their journey,” Blackman continues. “There may be much bigger opportunities out there than we can provide. We're a fairly flat organization. If someone has the opportunity to grow, and continue to move along in their journey, what I measure is what they say about us when they leave. Did we give them the experience, did we give them the learning and the growth to enable where they've gone? That's a big mind shift. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves when people leave, have gratitude and, know that if we have done our job, we were able to contribute to this person, and you never know if that person may come back someday. But if they leave feeling really strong about the company, that's going to be promoted and paid off, over and over. And forget the payoff. It's more fulfilling to know that we positively impacted their career.”

    A Seat at the Table for Other Stakeholders

    Gold Eagle takes a measure of pride in working closely with all their suppliers to figure out solutions that will help achieve the win-win-win scenarios that Conscious Capitalism is founded upon. The pandemic caused shortages and supply chain issues, and the company recognized that they needed to have some flexibility. “We would not have been able to do what we've been able to do if we didn't have great suppliers and great relationships with our suppliers,” recounts Blackman. “There’s one thing we learned, and I will say is this is happening throughout business today as a result of the pandemic, you can't be single sourced. You've got to have some backup. We were single sourced in some areas. We had to find substitutes just because of the supply chain. Our suppliers get it.”

    As they are innovating and doing new things, the leadership team at Gold Eagle knows that suppliers must have a seat at the table. “We don't want to come up with all these great ideas and great new things and then all of a sudden find out there are problems with it, or it can’t be done. If it's real innovation, our suppliers must have a seat at the table,” says Blackman.

    If Not Us, Who?

    Marc Blackman and his team at Gold Eagle represent a growing group of conscious business leaders who are thinking about business, not just to maximize dollars, but rather as something where you can have an impact, and leave a legacy by impacting the community, your team members, and all stakeholders.

    If you are thinking about that, or if you have been operating that way, Blackman encourages you to check out Conscious Capitalism and the community of support it offers. “My experience is that it's helped take those same instincts and feelings that I've had, and it's given them definition. It might further refine and help other CEOs focus more and even improve on some things. They’ll hear best practices that they may not have otherwise thought about or understood,” states Blackman. “From exposure comes further learning. When you talk about being a conscious business leader, from that exposure, you have the chance to help others learn as well.

    There’s one other thing the pandemic has taught Blackman and his team about the value of approaching business as a Conscious Capitalist, and it's aligned with their focus on innovation. 

    “You’re not going to know unless you try,” he says. If you have a twinge of an interest, if something resonates with you, you're not going to know what it fully can be unless you lean in a little bit and try it. And if you don't, you may be missing something big.”

    If you or members of your organization’s leadership are interested in learning more about Conscious Capitalism and how its focus on creating win-win-win scenarios for all stakeholders, you’re invited to reach out and let us know how we can help.

    Please visit our website at

  • November 14, 2019 9:33 AM | Deleted user

    The work day is busy. We all go through our day - driven by deadlines, meetings and schedules. We are constantly debriefing on the past or planning for the future. What about the present?

    Practicing mindfulness means purposefully setting your attention and awareness on the current moment – without judgment. It means acknowledging how you are feeling in that moment and accepting those feelings without believing they are right or wrong. Mindfulness leads to stronger focus, conscious listening, happier employees and higher productivity.

    Here are five tips for increasing your mindfulness at work.

    • 1.      Prioritize your to-do list

    The never-ending to-do list. You cross one thing off and then add two more. To be mindful about how you are spending your time and to help you be more present with the task at hand, you should prioritize your list and focus your energy on the items that fall into the Important/Not Urgent category in the Time Management Matrix below.

    The activities in this category are proactive (vs. being reactive) and will help you prioritize the long-term, strategic initiatives that will make you, your team and your work more productive and effective.

    • 2.      Don’t be a slave to your email. Turn the pop-ups off!

    Multi-tasking has never been a way to become more productive. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Every interruption decreases productivity as your focus is pulled into different directions. Don’t let the blackhole of your email swallow your day. Turn the pop-ups off. You are much farther ahead if you close your email while you’re working on a project or in a meeting and open it once you have the time to devote attention to it. In this day of instant communication, it’s difficult to refrain from the urge to respond for the sake of responding. Don’t do it! Stay in the moment and don’t be disrupted by email notifications.

    • 3.      Be present in meetings

    Ah, the meetings. So many meetings! It’s difficult to get your work done around a day full of meetings. First thing’s first: don’t attend meetings that are not going to move your priorities forward or that will not benefit your work or your team’s work. Decline meetings that are not pertinent to you. Another solution is to only join for the parts of the agenda that are relevant to you.

    For those meetings that you do attend, it’s important to be a present and mindful participant. This means focusing on the topic at hand and listening to your colleagues without judgment. Be open to their thoughts and ideas. Try to understand where they are coming from first and provide feedback and ideas second. Avoid checking your phone. Avoid side conversations. And if you’re leading the meeting, be sure to start and end on time. This will help your participants remain focused and attentive for the duration of time they blocked off for your topic.

    • 4.      Spend time planning and regrouping

    Planning is time well-spent! All too often we dive into our day, then our week, reacting to what’s being thrown at us. Instead, it’s important to create a plan incorporating your priorities among the must-do tasks that often consume our time. The more you feel overwhelmed and/or out of control, the more you need to take 15 minutes to regroup and revisit your plan. It’s smart to invest time into getting back on track. Having a realistic, doable plan will allow you to focus on the task at hand and be more productive.

    • 5.      Take a break!

    The best way to stay focused and centered is to take breaks – and often! You should take a five-minute break every hour that consists of walking, stretching, deep breathing or relaxing in some way. Getting away from your screen is key. Checking your email or social media is not a break. This sounds so simple, but is often very difficult to put into practice. Find a break buddy. Find a colleague who you can go for a walk with or an officemate who enjoys a quick chat. Work cultures that practice care have happier employees. Those who are mindful during breaks will be more mindful at work, and happier overall.

    These are five simple tips for increasing your mindfulness at work, which will in turn increase your job satisfaction and productivity.  

  • November 08, 2019 12:56 PM | Deleted user

    One of the pillars of Conscious Capitalism is a business’ commitment to a purpose beyond just making a profit. As Conscious Capitalism co-founder, Raj Sisodia, is fond of saying, our bodies have to produce red blood cells to survive, but our purpose in life is not to make red blood cells. Similarly, business needs profit to fuel the pursuit of their purpose, but profit is not a purpose.

    I had the pleasure of attending an Executives’ Club breakfast in September that featured Allstate CEO, Tom Wilson. Tom’s message (“Building and Leading a Purpose Driven Culture”) was intriguing; I don’t often think of Allstate as a conscious company. The insurance giant, headquartered in Northbrook, is the second largest property and casualty insurer in the U.S. – and insurance does not naturally spring to mind as a conscious industry. But I was at the breakfast to learn and be curious.

    Tom shared the genesis of Allstate’s journey around purpose beginning with leadership development at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando. One element of HPI’s program is exploration of personal purpose. Tom shared his personal purpose as to “help other people have more meaning and success in their lives”. As more Allstate leaders engaged in their own purpose work, Tom brought the process in-house and engaged his leadership group together to develop Allstate’s purpose. Today, their stated purpose is to “help customers realize their hopes and dreams by providing the best products and services to protect them from life’s uncertainties and prepare them for the future.” Helping people realize their hopes and dreams – I can get behind that!

    And, having a clear purpose is not the end; it’s just the beginning. How do you align your business with the purpose and lead from there? Tom said it requires balancing stakeholders, and Allstate has a few: 40,000 employees, 11,000 agencies and over 16,000,000 customer households – not to mention shareholders as well as the communities they serve. He aspires for Allstate to be a purpose-driven company, fueled by purpose-driven people, such that customers come before company and people come before policies. That requires a shift to a conscious culture, and Allstate has surrounded its purpose with clear values, priorities and leadership and operating principles.

    Tom shared further about his recent tenure as immediate past-Chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. While there, he challenged the Chamber to articulate its purpose, and the result was two-fold: to help businesses grow and create jobs. For him, the purpose of business is to create prosperity by:

    • Serving customers – adding value for them
    • Making a profit – which is a measure of their effectiveness at transforming resources into that value
    • Creating jobs – as technology improves human productivity (and reduces jobs), business has a mandate to create more jobs that will be both engaging and rewarding. He said we need to “pay people what we can, not just what we can get away with”. In the end, he maintained “engaged employees is where the money is”.
    • And, improving our communities, so that we all have better lives.

    Great lessons from a conscious leader. Thank you, Tom Wilson!

  • June 12, 2019 7:45 AM | Deleted user

    “Love and Impact”, that’s how First United Bank in Oklahoma describes its values. Unusual for a financial services organization, wouldn’t you say? First United Bank’s CEO Greg Massey shared the bank’s story with us at our chapter event last month, hosted at Loyola’s Baumhart Center for Social Enterprise.

    As a younger man, Greg reluctantly joined his father in leading the bank in Durant, OK. Together, they grew the bank, and Greg took the lead in creating a more conscious culture. They articulated a purpose beyond making profits – “to inspire and empower others to Spend Life Wisely” – and began to align business practices around that purpose. First United hosts financial management seminars for its customers and makes business decisions based on customers’ financial welfare. Greg shared an anecdote about an opportunity to provide a customer with large mortgage; after consideration, the loan officer discouraged the customer, explaining how it would burden his personal budget. This was an excellent example of living out the purpose – helping the customer “spend life wisely”, even though it meant reducing short-term revenue.

    And yet, the purpose has not inhibited the business results. In fact, since 2013 First United’s assets have tripled from $2.4 billion to over $7 billion. Over the same period, the bank’s earnings have also tripled from $40 million to over $120 million. This is a powerful example of how purpose and profit need not be mutually exclusive; focus on purpose can dramatically increase profit.

    During its journey, First United strengthened its culture by clarifying its stakeholders and articulating its values. It identified five core stakeholders in its business: customers, employees, shareholders, partners and the communities it serves. It strives to live out its purpose for each of these stakeholders, balancing their needs so that no one wins at the expense of another.

    The bank also engaged its employees in formalizing its values and culture – the beliefs and behaviors that guide how it does business. The process surfaced seven core values, perhaps too many to remember and actively demonstrate. Upon further discernment, it was clear that the values aligned around two primary themes - love and impact:

    • Love – including faith, family, integrity and lifelong learning
    • Impact – including high performing team, relationships and communities

    These two themes energize the organization. Loving themselves, their families and their customers and making a positive impact on the lives in their communities. And, the values within the themes help to guide behavior and decision-making on a day-to-day basis.

    Greg shared an unusual example of these values at work. A bank teller was working the drive-through window when a customer pulled up, crying and obviously upset. The teller inquired if she was OK, and the customer replied that she had just been diagnosed with cancer and was trying to deal with the news. Now, most of us would have expressed our concern and wished the best for her, but the First United teller asked, “May I come out there and pray with you?” The customer gratefully accepted her offer, and the teller exited the bank, came to the driver’s window and spent a few minutes praying with the customer. This example may seem over-the-top in our urban, secular life, but it was the perfect expression of First United’s values in Durant, OK. It impacted the customer through an expression of love, and it allowed the employee to be authentically connected to her faith and integrity (Greg also shared that the teller was a cancer survivor). While the example may challenge our norms or sensibilities, it’s a vivid example of how purpose and values need to resonate for the stakeholders and communities a business serves.

    Great lessons from a very conscious leader. Thank you, Greg Massey!

  • March 11, 2019 8:16 AM | Deleted user

    This quote recently went viral on social media.

    I have a few modifications to it.

    One important way leaders make everyone better (including themselves) is by empowering their colleagues to be their best, to try new things, to share their opinions and ideas. This leads to a win-win scenario where the employee is motivated, invested and productive while the business spends fewer resources managing staff and reaps the benefits of new, creative ideas/programs/initiatives that keep the business competitive.

    Outcomes of Empowerment

    Outcomes for the employee

    Outcomes for the business

    Sense of purpose

    New, creative business ideas and models

    Feeling of ownership & responsibility

    Cost savings from less turnover and micromanagement

    Motivation & investment in the work

    Motivated, inspired staff and work environment

    Portfolio of successful programs/projects

    Increase in sales and profit

    Increase in sales and profits?

    Yes. You read that last outcome correctly. It has been proven over and over that Firms of Endearment (a term coined by Raj Sisodia, David Wolfe, and Jag Sheth) regularly outperform the S&P 500 firms by large margins. In fact, the companies featured in the first edition of their book Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose returned 1,026 percent for investors compared to 122 percent for the S&P 500.

    The Firms of Endearment that they studied include companies such as Patagonia, Whole Foods Market, Stonyfield Yogurt, and Adobe Systems. However, you don’t have to be a national or global company to increase sales and profit by implementing a conscious culture. Companies of all sizes are seeing the benefits to leading with empowerment. Companies of all sizes can be high-trust organizations.

    High-Trust Organizations

    Empowerment leads to trust, which is another element of having a conscious culture. As a leader, once you empower your staff and realize they can do so much more – you trust them with larger projects and trust them to lead programs and implement ideas. But trust also goes the other way. As a staff person, once you have been empowered to take ownership over a project – you trust that your leader has your back. You trust that you have the support and guidance you need to do a great job – and be your best self.

    Also, it’s worth mentioning that empowerment does not only have to be between a boss and a subordinate. Empowerment can come from anyone at any time. Any time you are working with another you can both empower each other – regardless of your title or position in the org chart.

    Many high-trust organizations – such as Southwest, Google, The Container Store and IDEO - build in time for social events and playfulness. Similar to how families take family vacations and have family dinners, high-trust organizations create opportunities to connect. These connections lead to a deeper trust between colleagues, as well as trust between staff and the business/organization.

    How to Lead Using Empowerment

    The Empowerment Dynamic

    David Emerald presented at a Conscious Capitalism Chicago event and shared The Empowerment Dynamic with us. The Empowerment Dynamic is a positive approach to problem-solving. The focus is on turning a reactive disposition into a proactive orientation. See the diagram below. The Victim at the bottom of the Dreaded Drama Triangle becomes the Creator at the top of The Empowerment Dynamic, taking control of his/her actions and response to problems and obstacles.

    We all play each role of the triangle at different times. At times, we feel like we are the Victim. “I’m getting dumped on. I always have to do everything. Why is this happening to me?” This is the mindset of the Victim. On the other hand, the Creator understands he/she is empowered to choose how to respond to each situation and is focused on the outcome of the situation versus dwelling on the scope of the problem.

    At times, we all play the role of the Persecutor. The Persecutor often times dominates the Victim’s time and energy (think project manager, boss, etc.) and is often seen by the Victim as the source of the problem and feeling victimized. Interestingly, the Persecutor often sees the Victim as the problem. In The Empowerment Dynamic the Persecutor becomes the Challenger. The Challenger is empowered to do his/her job while being focused on learning and growth, constructive criticism, and trust.

    Finally, at times we all find ourselves sympathizing with either the Victim or the Persecutor and our natural instinct is to save the person. This role is called the Rescuer. We’ve all been there. We decide the Victim is right and we confront the Persecutor. Or we think the Persecutor is in an unfair position, so we try to intervene. Or, more common yet, we simply want the pain and discomfort to go away, so we jump in and offer to handle it ourselves. “I’ll just do. It will be faster if I do it. I’ll take this on so you no longer have to worry about it.” These are all very reactive responses to the situation.

    In The Empowerment Dynamic, the Rescuer becomes the Coach. The Coach supports and assists the situation. The Coach may facilitate a conversation to foster clarity. The Coach asks questions and delivers options and solutions to the situation that are outcome-driven. And the Coach does this without taking the burden on him/herself.

    But, how do I do that?

    First of all, leadership comes from all levels of the org chart. The Empowerment Dynamic is not just for management. Every one of us can lead – and empower.

    Here are some specific steps:

    • 1.       Lead by example. The next time you feel like the Victim, take control of the situation and become the Creator. When the time comes (and it will) that you realize you are the Persecutor, rethink your approach and become the Challenger. And the next time you find yourself swooping in to be the Rescuer, pause, adjust, and become the Coach instead.
    • 2.       Be respectful. Be respectful – always. It doesn’t matter if the staff person you’re working with is above you or below you in the org chart. Treat him/her with respect.
    • 3.       Have integrity. Integrity is not how you treat your superiors, but instead how you treat those around you when no one is watching.
    • 4.       If you are a manager - invest time in hiring the right staff. We’ve all heard the phrase: “Spend more time hiring and less time managing.” It’s true. You should hire people with big ideas - ideas that are better than your own. The fear of having a subordinate be more creative or more strategic holds some leaders back. The best leaders I know welcome the challenge and create the space for that person to shine. You need to empower those staff members to vocalize those creative ideas and then put them in a position to lead the implementation of those great ideas. You must think of your staff as thought partners – and stop thinking of them as task masters. Once you make that transition – hold on! Your world will shift for the better VERY quickly and catapult your business or organization to the next level.
    • 5.       Focus on the outcomes. Do not get caught up in the drama, the process, or the intensity of the situation. Instead, say calm and envision the desired outcome. Then create incremental steps to reach that vision.

    And remember, leadership is not about being the best. Leadership is about making everyone better (including yourself).

  • February 10, 2019 9:08 PM | Deleted user

    Business as a force for good on Chicago’s South Side was celebrated on Wednesday, Jan. 16 as business leaders from all over the city gathered at Chatham’s Studio Movie Grill (SMG), on West 87th Street for a panel discussion hosted by Conscious Capitalism Chicago.

    Moderator La’Keisha Gray-Sewell, General Manager of Urban Broadcast Media and Founder of the Girls Like Me Project led a panel discussion that included Brian Schultz, Founder & CEO of SMG; Aaron Thomas, General Manager of SMG Chatham; Michelle Kennedy, Founder of the South Side Film Festival; Cydni Polk, Owner of Xposeur Photography; and 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr.

    “We’re here to recognize the efforts to grow the South Side business community,” said Gray-Sewell. “We’re here to push back on how Chatham is portrayed in the media and to show that we are a vibrant middle class community.”

    Fully renovated and reopened in February 2017, Studio Movie Grill serves Chatham and the greater community by combining first-run movies, alternative and family programming with in-theater dining from an extensive American Grill menu and full-service bar. As an advocate of community building and conscious capitalism, SMG offers programs such as The One Story Movement™ to open hearts and minds one story a time, capturing authentic stories from amazing people; SMG Community Outreach which is committed to contributing to issues impacting SMG teams, their families, and friends; Special Needs Screenings designed for families raising children with special needs; and Chefs for Children where SMG donates 5% of proceeds to local non-profits serving Special Needs Children in the community.

    “I’ve been in the movie business for more than 20 years, and worked at the theater for years before the renovation, starting when I was 16,” said Venisha Johnson, Midwest & East Coast Sales Manager at Studio Movie Grill. “It’s gratifying to see the resurgence in the community that our space has fostered. As a conscious business, we feel it is our responsibility to contribute to the community and serve our neighbors. We host special events, parties and corporate functions as well as provide a safe and fun place for people to enjoy a first class movie-going experience. We are so proud to be a member of the Chatham community.”

    Panelist Michelle Kennedy had a dream of showcasing South Side filmmakers and needed a venue. After several unsuccessful attempts, she came to Johnson, and her immediate response was positive. “Venisha immediately said ‘yes, let’s make it happen’, and then I knew that the dream of a South Side film festival would become a reality”, said Kennedy. “I’ve travelled the world attending film festivals, and creating a festival showcasing local talent has been a dream of mine. South Side filmmakers want validation. Now we have a home to do just that.”

    Schultz acknowledged the critical role Alderman Brookins played in realizing his goal to bring a Studio Movie Grill location to Chatham. “Alderman Brookins was instrumental in paving the way for us,” said Shultz. “My mom grew up across from Marquette Park and I am a Chicago native, so I knew the area. I was on a noble quest, and I fell in love with the community. I had to sell the idea to the community and we couldn’t have done it without them. When we took over the theater, it was only serving 120,000 guests per year. This year we are on track to serve one million customers. I’m very proud of what we have built together.”

    “We want it all, added Brookins. “We want businesses to locate in Chatham, we want to see development on the South Side, we want to people across the city to know that we are a vibrant community of people with disposable income who are willing to spend it. We want to feel pride and shift the culture. We are well on the way to doing all those things. Chatham is an underserved area, but we’re worth the risk. The entire 21st Ward is delighted that Studio Movie Grill took a chance on us”

    Conscious Capitalism is a worldwide non-profit organization dedicated to elevating humanity through business and making a positive impact on the world. Over the past ten years, the Chicago chapter has formed a web of more than 1,500 people across the Chicagoland area who believe that trust, compassion, collaboration and value creation in business are vital to our future. And the more than 100 business owners, CEOs and leaders involved in Conscious Capitalism Chicago are dedicated to driving change from the top.

  • January 12, 2019 5:12 PM | Deleted user

    I’ve become a relatively frequent flyer on Southwest, so I’ve learned a bit about their ways. For instance, passengers board in groupings labeled A, B and C, depending on how quickly you check-in online (or whether you’ve purchased an early check-in privilege). The running joke is that C stands for “check bag” (because there won’t be enough overhead space) or “center seat” (because that is all that will be left).

    On one recent trip, I ended up with a high C number. So, I scanned for a center seat near the front of the plane, and – lo and behold – there was one. Except it had two Southwest pilots sitting in the aisle and window seats, chatting together with great animation. The last thing I wanted was chatty neighbors, but it was a choice seat. As I did the customary nod with raised eyebrows, they immediately acknowledged me, and the pilot on the aisle rose to allow me to sit. Once seated, I said, “OK, fellas, I’m looking forward to a quiet flight, so please don’t think you’re going to talk to each other over top of me.’ They laughed, and we settled in.

    As we prepared for take-off - and realizing I had a captive audience - I said, “So, all the commercials and advertising for Southwest show happy employees. Give me the inside scoop: what’s it really like to work for Southwest?” Without missing a beat, one of the pilots said, “AWESOME!” (I have to acknowledge that I hate that word – it’s so overused and inexact – but it’s the word he used, and the caps do reflect his spontaneous enthusiasm.) I swiveled my head and looked at the other pilot, who was nodding vigorously. “Exactly what I would have said…”, he agreed.

    So, I probed deeper – why was it so awesome? The first pilot said that his objectives were clear and that he felt empowered to take the necessary actions to accomplish them. As you might guess on your own, the objectives were to: leave the gate on time, make customers happy and save money. “For example”, he said, “when I’m sitting at the gate, I choose to have only one engine running to serve the electrical and airflow needs of the plane; but, at the same time, I’m saving gas. And, no procedure manual tells me to do that; I just do what makes sense.” The other pilot chimed in, “And, it’s in our best interest, since we’re shareholders, too.” The conversation continued, but you get the idea.

    These employees had clear success criteria, felt a very real sense of ownership for results (and costs), appreciated the importance of the customer, and felt empowered to make decisions and act on them.

    Southwest has a stated purpose to “democratize the skies”. In pursuit of that purpose, it has recognized the importance of all stakeholders in its ecosystem, not just the shareholders. This value orientation requires them to balance the needs and welfare all stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers as well as investors and shareholders. None can win at the expense of others, and all need to align on the overall approach.

    If shareholder return is depressed, this model would not fix that problem on the backs of employees or customers. We’ve seen this discipline reflected in countless business decisions by the company, ranging from their customer treatment to employee empowerment to fuel purchase and flight pattern design. And, their shareholders trust this balanced approach – or they can choose to take their money elsewhere.

    Interested in engaging further with stakeholder orientation?

    The Chicago chapter of Conscious Capitalism is hosting a panel discussion on January 16 from 6:00-8:30 at Studio Movie Grill (SMG) at 210 W 87th St. in the Chatham neighborhood. SMG’s purpose is to “open hearts and minds, one story at a time”. They are committed to delivering on that purpose to all of their stakeholders – customers, employees, the community, shareholders and partners and suppliers. The panel will include representatives from those stakeholder groups here in Chicago along with SMG’s CEO Brian Schultz. Join us for a rich evening of connection and learning. You can register here.

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