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 www.consciouscapitalismchicago.org.