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Choose to Matter! — Julie Foudy on Work and Life

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Julie Foudy, former Captain of the US Women’s Olympic Soccer Team, current reporter and analyst at ESPN/ABC, and founder of the Sports Leadership Academy for girls.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: You are one of the six people I profile in Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life. You especially exemplify the important skills of knowing what matters, helping others, and challenging the status quo.  You chose, for instance, to compete in an international soccer tournament over your high school graduation.  You were the first athlete to go overseas to inspect a factory before accepting an all-important and lucrative endorsement.  How did you come to understand what was important to you, what mattered most, and how did you have the courage to act on your core values?

Julie Foudy: Julie Foudy I think probably my parents helped. I was the fourth of four kids and maybe it was a consequence of being the fourth or maybe they were just hands-off, in a positive way, to the point of not coming to soccer game when I was little. I was not ever dependent on their praise. Everything I did I did it because I wanted to. I was innately competitive.

So, when I chose to go to Italy with U.S. National Team instead of my high school graduation, there was so much drama – girls saying, “How could you?”  But that’s how I won my spot on the team. I asked my parents. Now, today, parents would say, “Go!” Today parents want “success.” My parents said, “What do you want to do?”

SF: How does knowing what’s important play out in your philosophy for your Leadership Academy?

JF: We say “choose to matter.” I’m a big believer that there’s not a box that’s checked off when you’re born that says you’re a leader.  Leaders come in different shapes and sizes, including those who are not most vocal or confident. Girls, instead of raising hands, they defer. It’s the norm even with the popular and confident girls. We emphasize that you choose your attitude. “Success isn’t a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice” was an epiphany for me. We help empower girls to make decisions which strengthens them because they know we trust them.

SF: So this cuts against cultural values that girls grow up with and they have to be taught, even the athletes.

JF: Yes, we teach them that it’s OK to voice opinion, to raise a hand. It’s a transformational experience that it’s OK to be different.  Parents comment, “My kid is totally different.”  They go home with a service project in their home community. Everyone can lead. It’s personal, not positional. So, some give time once a year at local nonprofit, or once a week at senior center, most do soccer clinics for kids with disabilities. So they have to create a team to support their idea, they need mentors to learn from, and they have to work with their parents. This quiet, awkward kid…and then the school takes it on, and then the community. It’s transformational.  We ask, “If I had a magic wand, what would I change?” End bullying, clean the local park.

SF: Everybody has something they are passionate about.

JF: Yes, and that helps develop confidence. We say, “I am the change.” Empowering young women.

SF: When you were playing and you learned that the women on the soccer tour were getting a raw deal and you began your new role as an advocate for women in sports.  How can people develop the courage to challenge the norm?

JF: The Women’s Sports Foundation, founded by Billie Jean King, is where I first learned about all this. Title IX one of the most profound civil rights laws: Back then, only one in 27 girls was playing sports and now one in three are playing!  Title IX is an education amendment meant to help women get into universities and colleges. But in the fine print it says that any institution that receives federal funding has to provide equal educational and sports opportunities.

SF: So, what’s the most important piece of advice you have for challenging the status quo, for standing up for what matters most?

JF: I was told, “If everyone likes you, then you’re not doing the right thing.”  And the other piece of advice is to smile through it. You’ve got to laugh.

Julie Foudy, former Captain of the US Women’s Olympic Soccer Team, current reporter and analyst at ESPN/ABC, and founder of The Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy for girls.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7:00 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.


Building a Life, Not a Resume — Tom Tierney

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Tom Tierney, Chairman and Co-founder of Bridgespan, the leader in non-profit consulting, and former CEO of Bain.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: You are one of the six people I profile in Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life.  In my analysis of your life story, I describe how you exemplify the skills of envisioning your legacy, weaving disparate strands, and seeing new ways of doing things.  What do you do to ensure you’re building a life and not a resume?

Tom Tierney: Tom Tierny I heard recently that “days are long but life is short.”  It’s important to step back and ask what matters.  We are all different and have an opportunity to take advantage of our unique circumstance and gifts and apply those to achieve “success” as we define it. I try to step back and ask, “Have we achieved those things in life that matter most to us?” “What have you done with your gifts?” It’s not what’s in the bank or on paper.

SF: So toenvision your legacy, you try to keep the big picture in mind.

TT: What is success in life for me? I ask myself periodically. And at the end of the year I do a retreat with myself, and with my notebooks.  How’d I do this year with my wife? My sons? Work? Community? My volunteer activities? How’d I do? What can I do better? I keep a journal. A couple of dozen by now.  The act of writing helps me think about it and to overcome inertia.  Time marches on and we have to get ahead of time. I keep notes, get feedback from others.  My wife is my best coach. She asks, “Are you sure you’re living up to what you want to achieve?”

SF:  You have a commitment to continual learning and reflection, examining what is and what might be. And you invest time to reflect. But you must face pressure to get on with other things and pressure from others to do so.  How do you keep that commitment to journaling, reflecting?

TT: Discipline is a really important attribute. Someone asked if, all things being equal I’d rather have 20% smarter or 20% more disciplined on my team. It’s the later, because that person is able to make tough decisions at the margins, tiny tradeoffs. For example, I walk to work, and then there’s the escalator or 45 steps. I take the 45 steps.

SF: You’re smart about your choices.  They’re deliberate.

TT: Discipline manifests itself in little ways.  Do I exercise? Work at home or go in on the weekend? Not check email in the evening.  It’s the little choices on the margins that add up.

SF: How do you manage pressure from colleagues? How do you keep those boundaries?

TT: I find that most of the challenge is in my own head; thinking that I’m indispensable. I’ve experimented with being off the grid and surprisingly the world does not stop. And of the hundreds of emails, I find that someone else handled it, or it wasn’t really urgent. We too often focus on what is urgent versus what’s important.

SF: How do you remain focused on what’s really important and not get caught up in the urgent?

TT: I’ll ask the question, “How important is it today? And how important is it for the future?”  Here are my priorities, things I value, that really matter to me.  We are too reactive to the urgent. It’s asking the question. Making time to look backwards and forwards.  Creating feedback loops. And not getting caught up with inertia or what other people want.

SF: Is this what you’re teaching about leadership at West Point?

TT: I conduct seminars on how to succeed at life. People say the cadets are too young.  But this is always relevant because we are always confronted with choices. And we can learn from each others’ experiences.  We are all the same. Who isn’t struggling with having a great home life and work life?  We want to learn from authorities. But everybody around you can teach you.  A 19 year old cadet asked the question: How can I develop confidence to confront superior who I think is making a mistake? I turned it to class. Some had been deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan. We had a robust conversation about how to address problems with a boss. How to manage up by exerting influence versus control? You can ask questions and go through others.

SF: Exactly, others can answer if you engage in dialogue. So, what’s been your worst mistake?

TT: I have diagnosed my mistake patterns. When I have strategic life decision like who you’re going to marry. Then I think long and hard. My mistakes occur when they’re insidious voluntary errors, tactical mistakes. I rush to judgment without leaving my mind open. I can pigeon-hole ideas and people.  I can shut down the receiver and when I do that I am worse off.

SF: Maybe that’s why you are relentless in asking yourself the difficult questions, to counterbalance this tendency you believe you have.

TT: If I’m not careful, I’ll ignore, because I’m task oriented. It’s my fundamental flaw.

SF: But youcompensate for what you perceive to be a flaw.  What do you do, and what can others do too?

TT: Awareness. And put on the brakes. If I’m off, tell me that. My son says, “Dad, I hear you, but have you ever thought about it this way?” That’s the cue for me to hit the pause button.

SF: To keep the receiver open.

TT: You miss a lot of texture if you shut stuff out that which doesn’t fit with your mental model.

SF: So what’s the big idea in order to lead the life you want?

TT: I find it’s true in philanthropy in volunteering:  humanity (care about something broader than just you), humility (it’s not just about me), and courage (do right thing in the right way).  Success is defined as building a life, not a resume.

Tom Tierney stepped down as CEO at Bain to co-found The Bridgespan Group, the leader in consulting in the non-profit sector. To learn more follow @BridgespanGroup, @ThomasJ_Tierney


Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7:00 PM ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

Why Play Matters — Andy Stefanovich

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Andy Stefanovich, provocateur and leading thinker and doer in the field of creativity and innovation at work.  The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: In 1990 you founded a company called Play, which was such an innovative, original concept, to think of play at work, because we typically think of work and play as a dichotomy.  Why does being playful and creative matter in all parts of our lives – even at work?

Andy Stefanovich:  StefanovichWork should be more like play, not playful. Serious, strategic, provocative, thoughtful, innovative, creative, spirited. Those were the things I wanted to affirm. I wanted to bring this important philosophy to executives to unleash imagination, and change organizations.

Watching my father work for GM for 48 years, with no college, but a strong work ethic. He worked for a living and he was rewarded. But he wished the spirit of people were more alive.  He wished we could be more authentic without it being looked down upon on.  Mylife and career is taking that legacy and bringing it to life, asking questions.

How we can change the mood, ethos, culture?  It’s like the weather, creating a mood of innovation and truth. What mental preparedness can we build to face confusion with tolerance?  How long can you stay in a place of grey?  How do you build a mindset that is founded on consciousness and awareness?  What mechanisms do you have that are levers, tools, technology, and strategy to drive change?  How are you measuring what matters?

SF: How do you tap into the wellspring of energy and power from playing. Where do you start?

AS:  A good journal. Write about what empowers you.

SF: You write by hand?

AS: I imagine, I dream, I believe. Write the way a TED talk is constructed. Imagine walking on the stage, I believe deeply in _____.  Passion persuades. Let everyone know who you are. Be a one trick pony. It’s a profound way to capture the imagination of people. I believe it’s important now for these three or four reasons.

SF: So, you need to focus onhere’s what I believe” and “here’s why it’s important now.”

AS: And invite the world to participate. Have an open aperture.  Work should not be work, it should be play.

SF: So how to open that aperture?

AS: Figure out your strong belief, your strong view. Let those in your circle know. Create a consortium of believers

SF: Off broadway, on the road.

AS: Yes, test it with your close-in community. Condition the room, say, “this may be off the wall, but I believe that ____. “ People like intuition vs. intellectual.

SF: How is this playful?

AS: It meets the room where it needs to be. Now it’s too organized, too constructed, too perfect. Ceremonial, like a Greek Orthodox script. Ritual is half script and half chance. Give people more permission, more honesty, more truth.

SF: How do you find creativity, innovation, and change in work and life?

AS: From a curatorial standpoint. Editing the excellence of the world and putting it before others. The High Line in NYC is a good example. There are three words to guide all of it: slow, wild and quiet. Not manicured landscaping. Slow steps. What are the three words that will steward you?

SF: And mood, as you referred to earlier?

AS: It’s a way to access more of your creativity, play, innovation. Make people know that these are the three things that guide me. What are yours? Then use each other for implied expertise.

SF: What have you learned about how can a person live a more inspired life?

AS: A truthful existence. Not waking up and behaving parts. You taught me about family, community, being whole. Not whimsy, but creative center, comfortable, controlled, thoughtful, intentional. Awareness level unleashes. More truthful.  People want it. There’s too much inauthenticity.  People are starving for it.

Andy Stefanovich, author of best-selling Look at More: A Proven Approach to Innovation.  

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7:00 PM ET on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.




The Best Companies to Work for in 2014 — Carol Evans

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Carol Evans, President of Working Mother Media about their just-released 2014 list of 100 Best Places to Work.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman:Working Mother just released list of Best Companies for 2014.  What makes a company a great Working Mother pick?

Carol Evans:  Caro lEvansWe ask 500 questions, and we get very detailed.

SF: Who has time to complete a survey like that?

CE:  Companies who care about working families including parental leave for both working parents, corporate culture, leadership, having women in middle level positions and top level positions, mentorship, support, and more.

SF: This is now a coveted position for corporations to be on this list.  It helps them compete in the labor market.

CE: It’s a big differentiator. Women look to the list for where to work. Men now want to know, too.

SF: So how can a corporation get to the top 10?

CE: Parental leave, childcare, excellence across the board on many, but not all, factors. A lot of these companies have been on the list for a long time.

SF: So the list covers all dimensions of work and life issues.  Will having good programs that support life beyond work get you on the list?

CE: If you have programs, but women aren’t advancing, then no, you will not accumulate the points you’d need to be on the list.  It’s not subjective. We want to know how many people have access to each policy and then how many actually use them.  And what about the culture; do people feel afraid to use programs designed to retain them?

SF: Policy and practice only go so far.  So cultural mores determine if they’re really being accessed.

CE: Companies have to market it to their employees. If people don’t use it, it becomes the norm not to use it.

SF: How do you ensure the data is valid and accurate?

CE: We fact check data.  And we put in magazine. That’s the best check and balance. If it’s not accurate your employees will call you on it. The companies don’t know what we’ll put in the magazine.

SF: Have you ever had situation where the company said one thing and employees said it wasn’t so?

CE: Yes, before but not now. We had a typo.  We wrote a 16 week not a 6 week leave policy.  Oh my gosh, we heard from everyone in the company!

SF: So, what happened?  Did it create pressure to increase the leave?

CE: Yes, they increased it!

SF: How does the list influence policy – apart from typos?

CE:  We launched in 1986 and we’ve seen tremendous change because of the list. First, the companies themselves benefit via the application process itself. The people writing the answers to our survey get to know what their organization even has to offer and how much it’s used – flex, childcare, going to the gym, mentoring program, ERG (employee resource group). Second, after publication they learn that they have 8 weeks of maternity leave, but their competitor has 12 weeks.  And they have to ask, as their employees do, why don’t we have that?  And then if all the top ten have X, let’s get up to that so we can be competitive. Relative to your competition or to the best. Knowledge is like gold; it’s a competitive advantage. It’s a great carrot. You give us your data. And we show aggregates. Finally, for the talent, that is for individual women, they find out from reading the magazine once a year what’s the latest and greatest in work/life. They learn ideas of what to ask for and this helps them to be brave enough to take advantage of the benefits.

SF: So it’s the knowledge that’s empowering.  In 30 years – what’s changed? What’s the big idea, the big shift? Has there been real progress?

CE: The pregnancy act was in 1978. That made it illegal to fire someone for being pregnant. Before 1978 it was perfectly acceptable to do so.  When we started the list only 30 companies were doing something. Now the offerings are much more sophisticated and culturally embedded, and they’re demanded by moms and dads and by millennials.

SF: Is technology a catalyst for some of the change you’re seeing especially for millennials?

CE: It’s a double-edged sword. Some companies are experimenting with new policies about not having the digital line crossed. For instance, Deloitte has digital free weekends to renew and refresh. On the list we uncover new things that companies are doing.  We codify the new stuff, put it in magazine, discuss it at the Work/Life Conference, tweet about it. Then next year we ask everyone else if theyr’e doing it.

SF: The list is a catalyst for change not a catalog of policies.

CE: Yes, so now we ask, Are you sponsoring, not mentoring? Do you have paid paternity leave.

SF: Working Mother is the name, so what about dads? Other demographics benefit from work/life practices. How has it spread and how does the list address these changes?

CE: Millennials demand it and that helps to get it across to CEOs. Women are like the icebreaker and behind you all the other boats get through. Women get these benefits, and then everybody benefits.


Carol Evans, is President of Working Mother Media, CEO of the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) Diversity Best Practices (DBP), and author of This is How We Do It: The Working Mother’s Manifesto. For more information check out www.workingmother.com and follow Carol at @CarolEvansWM

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

A Champion for Change: David Thomas

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with David Thomas, Dean of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, about the state of diversity and inclusion in corporate America.  The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: How did you first get into this topic of diversity in corporate America?

David Thomas: David Thomas (by James KegleyI wasinitially interested in three topics: how organizations change, how people manage their careers, and the influence of race on opportunities. In the early 80s I was studying the dynamics of mentoring in large corporations under differing circumstances – mentoring within the same race and across race, mentoring with the same gender and across gender. This was in the context of an organization trying to change its culture.  It was so far ahead of its peers. I remained passionate about this for leaders, society, and for organizations.

SF: How wereyou personally shaped by mentoring relationships?

DT: I grew up in Kansas City MO, born in 1950s; a very segregated time. At younger than five years old when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “President.”  Only later did I say I wanted to be “the first black President.”  It’s interesting to say this now, as I’m sitting blocks from the White House which is occupied by our first black President. What’s interesting is that at five I wanted to be President, but only later, with the realization of my group identity, did I say “the first black President.”   Later, when I was not yet eight, I said “I’m going to be a lawyer.” By then I’d realized a black man couldn’t be President.  A lawyer was the next best. I saw the civil rights movement – preachers and lawyers. One went to jail, one got them out of jail. I wanted to be a lawyer.

SF: You wanted to liberate people.

DT: Yes, I wanted to try to create change, to make the world a better place. And I found my way into organizational behavior.

SF: How did you go from wanting to be a lawyer to the field of organizational behavior?

DT: In college I was a student leader around black identity in black community. At Yale, I studied the African movement in 1970s and stumbled on an organization behavior course relevant to student leadership work. I realized these were concept and tools that could change the world. There’d be lots of lawyers but few that had knowledge to make organizations better. So I went to grad school at Columbia and then back to Yale.

SF: You’ve been an observer of race, diversity, inclusion in organizations for decades — what has changed and was hasn’t?

DT: What has changed is that the gates of opportunity have opened up in a way so that no child can say that anything is impossible in the way that it was for me when I was a little kid; at that time it was not possible for a black kid to aspire to be President. That’s the positive. If you are black you can be President, a CEO, a senator, a CFO, a Corporate Board member. But still, when we look at the Fortune 250 there are only five black CEOs and the number of African Americans on Boards of Directors has been stagnant. The percent of African Americans in these elite ranks have remained about the same for two decades. There’s a sense that opportunity is not expanding and yet lack of representation is still connected to stereotypes. There is a great body of work on unconscious bias. I think this is the explanation, not intentional discrimination.

SF: Unconscious bias – define that for our listeners. It’s more pernicious than explicit racism.

DT:  Unconscious bias is the automatic reactions we have to particular people or demographic groups that are out of our awareness and that don’t necessarily represent what our intentions are. The major research findings are, for example, that people are more likely to associate women to family and men to career. People more quickly and easily make those associations.  What happens is that if boss has to send a subordinate on the road and both subordinates – a man and a woman — had a baby recently, the boss is more likely to walk over to male to assign him to being on the road of for two weeks. Unconsciously the boss has concluded that the man would be more likely to be open to this assignment. Fast forward two years, and these gateway assignments add up, the she’s lost out and he got the experience. She wasn’t even given the choice.

SF: You’re saying the manager didn’t intend to discriminate but his actions had a discriminatory effect. So what are we doing to deal with gender and race stereotypes in corporations and elsewhere?

DT: First, we know that because the expression of these biases is not intentional, if people can slow down they can become aware of the bias. For instance, the manager could walk in, describe the opportunity to both subordinates, and assess their willingness to take the opportunity.  Then it’s more conscious choice. The boss is more likely to make the choice based on task factors versus based on an unconscious set of assumptions.

SF: So, this is a more mindful approach to inclusion and diversity.

DT: Yes, you have to work with leaders and managers to help them become more mindful. It starts with acknowledging and then taking responsibility for the fact that they’re not immune to bias. Companies that are unwilling to accept that they may be susceptible to some kinds of bias are a problem.

SF: So how do you address this?  People believe and say “I’m not racist, I’m not sexist, so why blame me?”  How do you break into this?

DT: There’s a great tool, a self-administered test to assess whether you possess unconscious bias.. The Harvard Implicit bias test examines issues such as race, gender, skin color, age, gay straight, religion.  You can see where your own susceptibilities lie.  We all have biases that have been socialized into us. There’s been real success with students and with companies. The self-administered test opens people up to the fact that they’re not immune.  But also we are not destined to perpetuate biases.  Once they’re aware they have choices about how they act.

SF: We’re all products of our culture and local familial heritage.  To evolve we have to address these unconscious biases. What’s the most import step for schools and companies to be more inclusive and fairer?

DT:  Wittingly or unwittingly we exhibit bias.  Leaders need to take responsibility to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. I’m the chief diversity officer because I’m the CEO, I’m the Dean. You have to be willing to change processes that create unearned privilege or hindrances for groups of people. For example, a finance company used credit scores to help select employees. Because of differences in wealth, people of color have less wealth, so using a credit score perpetuates inequality. The company did away with using that criteria and used others related to the work. And, they did an experiment and found no relationship between credit scores and employ performance. Also credit scores go up with stable employment.

SF: Using the credit score as an entry requirement perpetuated the structural inequality. So, what does the future hold?

DT: I’m hopeful. I see many companies that are reinvigorating and reinvesting in diversity and inclusion. I am most concerned about unconscious bias in small and medium size companies, especially in tech companies. And tech is where the future lies. In silicon valley African Americans and Latinos are woefully lacking. Women, too.

David Thomas, Dean of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, is a recognized leader in the field of diversity in the workplace and author of Breaking Through: the Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America. To learn more about his ideas follow him on Twitter @ProfThomas.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

Walking Away from Wall Street — Sam Polk

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Sam Polk, a former trader for CSFB, the head distressed trader for one of the largest hedge funds in the world who left Wall Street because he wanted to live a more meaningful life, founding Groceryships, a non-profit that helps low-income families struggling with obesity, about what it takes to break addictive habits that keep you from leading the life you want and bringing your heart and soul to your work and career.

Listen to the complete podcast.

Stew Friedman: Sam, I learned about you when you wrote a much-talked about opinion piece in the New York Times For the Love of Money.  You described your evolution for Wall Street hedge fund trader earning $3.6M in bonus money at age 30 (and being disappointed with the small size of the bonus), your confrontation with your addiction, as you called it, to money, and your scary decision to leave this lucrative, but for you, empty and deadening life.  You ultimately founded GroceryShips, a company that feeds the hungry.  The reason I wanted to talk with you is that your story is such a compelling (and extreme) example of someone who was able, through a crucible, to find a way to truly live an integrated life.   Can you share with our listeners your story?

Sam Polk: Sam PolkI went to Wall Street when I was 22 years old, just out of Columbia. I remember going onto the trading floor and everything I wanted in life was right there.  I grew up sort of middle class. My dad read about successful businessmen in the paper every day and being successful was ingrained in me.  When I walked onto the trading floor, I could tell just by looking at the clothes people wore – their haircuts, their suntans (you could tell they played golf) – that I’d never seen people as wealthy as this.  And it was everything I wanted.

After the article I got hundreds of letters from college kids more or less asking me to help them get a job on Wall Street.

SF: But wait, the article was about you leaving Wall Street because you found that it wasn’t meeting your inner needs, though it was more than meeting your financial needs.  And they were asking you to help them get jobs on Wall Street?!

SP: I understand why. They hear that success is all about being rich, powerful or famous and these kids are insecure, they don’t have any of these things.  I was like that at 22 and just graduating. They’re getting strong cultural messages.  I think 3% of our cultural dialogue says “don’t be a money lender” and “money doesn’t bring happiness,” but 97% says “get as much money as you can, as quickly as you can” and Wall Street is the place for that. I feel compassion for these college kids, the culture says you’re important if you start a tech company and make a $1M.

I had a black car waiting for me when I landed, I went to countless World Series games, sat in the 2nd row at the Knicks games whenever I wanted.  It’s a tremendous feeling of power. I was living the life.   Making money feels good.  You come home and show your girlfriend, “look at this, I’m proud of this.”

The college kids want to be Lloyd Blankfein (CEO and Chairman, Goldman Sachs). I was like that.  They feel envy and I did too.  No matter how many millions I made. Trading was the coolest thing in the world. So I understand why these college kids are writing to me wanting to be on Wall Street and hoping I’ll be able to help them get a job there.

SF: So what happened? What changed for you? Why did you give it all up? Was there a moment? An epiphany?

SP: I began to realize that the stuff I was doing every day didn’t matter, even though I was being so well compensated.  There were so many moments including one during the hedge fund crisis.  Other brokers were against any new regulations on the industry, and I said, in a meeting in front of my boss, “but isn’t this better for the system as a whole.” And my boss said, “I can only think about what’s good for our company.”  My dream was to a billionaire; a billionaire was a hero.  The fact that my boss (who was a billionaire) was self-seeking made me realize that there was no end point. I have enough, let me go do what I was meant to do.

Kids wrote saying, “I just want to travel, take care of my family, I just want $6M.” I don’t have that.  And most people don’t.  If you get to $6M, you want $12M.  Money, power and prestige fill that hole.

SF: So, what about that void that you wrote about? You weren’t able to truly bring your whole self to work as a hedge fund trader, but now your personal passions fuel your work.

SP: I was trying to fill this hole inside me, this sense of worthless. The only way I thought I was valuable was Columbia, millions of dollars, a big loft apartment on Bond Street; those things you get when you are on Wall Street. Then I realized the hole is still there. We have this brief life and if you play out the Wall Street story all the way, you get $100M and the world thinks he’s successful.  But he’s spent his whole life getting money and accolades for himself.

SF: So how did you get out?

SP: I had a spiritual teacher, a Native American women, for whom I more grateful than anything I can imagine.  Three weeks into first internship I was dating this girl so out of my league; I was punching outside of my weight class.  She dumped me three weeks in. First love. I didn’t see it coming.  It was a devastating heartbreak. I could barely eat or get out of bed. But I had this internship, and besides this girlfriend, that was the most important thing to me at the time. I needed help. This girlfriend had brought me in to couples counseling with this Native American spiritual teacher who was the only counselor I knew.  I went every week. No Ph.D.  No Ivy League.  No thank you, was what I thought then. She had a completely different perspective from the one on Wall Street which was all about hierarchy, bigger, and more being valuable and important. Wall Street was all about the chase to get the top. And she said, “No, there is no hierarchy.  We are all equally valuable and that the value of the life is in the inner character, not in outside achievements.  It’s about treating people with compassion.”  I thought she was wacko. I wanted to know how can I get over the breakup so I can make money. At the beginning I believe her 10% of the time and I believed in the Wall Street philosophy 90% of the time.  But over 8 years it shifted, little by little until the balance went in the other direction; I believed her philosophy 90% and I believed in Wall Street’s 10%.   It was like in The Matrix, taking a red pill and seeing how the world really is.  On Wall Street people refer to other people by the size of their bank account; he’s a $100Millionaire. Money is the signifier.

SF: So, what happened when you left?

SP: I left when I was 30 and it was the hardest thing I’d ever done until then. (I know other people have it harder in life, but for me, that was the hardest thing I’d done.)

SF: What was the reaction?

SP: I heard, “I’m sorry you’re leaving.  I think y could have made a lot of money”

SF:  A bonus of over $3.5M was not already a lot of money?

SP: I had to give back half that year’s the bonus because I left. I gave up almost $2M to walk away. And I was in contention to be head of trading.  I’d been so focused on making money my whole life.  A lot of people didn’t agree. My Dad didn’t agree.  But I didn’t seek his counsel. There were different cultural values. My Dad was this guy focused on money and on himself and his extra-curriculars and not on me. As a kid I was desperate to impress him. Wall Street and my bosses were my dad. I was trying to impress my boss.

SF: So how’d you go from there to founding GroceryShips? And what is GroceryShips?

SP:GroceryShips is a health program for low income folks struggling with obesity. We go into a community, get applications from families, select 10 families who will receive food scholarships. We provide healthy cooking classes, emotional support groups, education about food, how to read labels, how to manage stress, deal with mental health, talk about childhood trauma if it’s affecting emotional eating. And we provide incentives. For example, if you and your family eat 5 fruits or vegetable a day or lose weight, we provide money for healthy food.  The support for these folks comes not just from GroceryShips but from each other.

SF: How did you come up with this idea?

SP: My family struggled with obesity. Two people in my family had bariatric surgery (stomach stapling). I went in the other direction with wrestling. But food was always in issue in my life. When I walked away from Wall Street one of the things that I was able to see is that in this hierarchy we on Wall Street we step over people as we strive to get to the top.  There’s waste in their backyards, highways in their neighborhoods; these folks are seen as not as valuable to those of us on Wall Street.  I spent my whole life climbing the rungs. And, of course, obesity exists in wealthy communities, but it mostly affects the poor. Groceryships focuses on equality, not hierarchy, and on reciprocity. We focus in people who need help, but we treat them as equals, with total respect. Reciprocity is the structure of the organization.  We’re a non-profit with an extensive nutrition and health curriculum.  We’re expanding into corporate wellness, and using those earnings to pay for low income in surrounding areas.

SF: Why would an organization hire Groceryships for their wellness programing?  What do they get out of it?

SP: if they’re looking for a wellness program, we’ll bring one plus their money will go to low income communities in their surrounding areas.  I believe that people are good and if you are faced with two choices and one has a social good component and it’s good public relations, then it’s an easy choice.  Companies use Groceryships both for corporate wellness and for civic engagement and for P.R.

SF: The changes you’ve made in your work and your life are quite dramatic.  What advice do you have for others?

SP:  First,Wall Street is not evil; it’s just that something was missing in my life. I now haveintegrity in the way of everything works together.  I work just as hard, but all with one thing in mind.   I’m living a life in line with my principles.  My life not perfect.  But there is no dissonance inside me.

When I left most people congratulated me, and said that they wished that they could do the same, but that they couldn’t do it yet. The idea is that they’ll do it as long as they can, to get the most money out of it before they can move on to what they really want to do.

So, I say to others: Respect where you are.  It’s hard to make a change like this.  If graduate from Wharton, for example, you can expect to make more than $400K/year in the next few years and then maybe about $3M or more per year if you go to Wall Street. That’s the straight and narrow, “right” path.  The left side is path you can’t see.  Inside every one of us is the unique compilation, the one path that no one has taken before.  It’s your gift to the world.  You can’t go right way, but you have to go left.  I made one huge trade that combined all my years of training, education and experience and expertise and in one trade I made $5M and I thought that with all these gifts, and talents, and opportunities, I could be doing something else. Take your Goldman Sachs or take a different path.

SF: What is your gift to bring to the world? How can you ask for help?  How can you explore and learn about other paths that will help you lead the life you want?

Sam Polk is the Founder and Executive Director of Groceryships, a former trader for Bank of America and the head distressed trader for one of the largest hedge funds in the world. After eight years on Wall Street, he left because he wanted to live a more meaningful life. He founded Groceryships, a non-profit that helps low-income families struggling with obesity. In January 2014, he published an OpEd about money addiction on the front page of The Sunday Review section of The New York Times. To learn more, go to www.Groceryships.org and follow on Twitter @GroceryShips, and Sam on @SamPolk

Join Work and Life  at 7:00 PM ET on Sirius XM Channel 111. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests and a roster of past guests.

Culture And Purpose Are Their Own Reward: Tom Gardner, The Motley Fool

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

Work and Life is a two-hour radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Tom Gardner about the qualities that make great corporate culture and the rewards top performers really care about. Gardner is the co-founder and CEO of The Motley Fool, a financial services company designed to “educate, amuse, and enrich,” which was recently named by Glassdoor the #1 best place to work among United States companies with 250-1,000 employees.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Starting from the beginning – the founding idea – what’s the secret sauce to Motley Fool that makes it the best place to work?

Tom Gardner: Tom GardnerMy older brother and I founded The Motley Fool in 1993. It was the result of our father’s teaching us how to invest in stocks as kids and teenagers – we were really taught that investing is a game. We weren’t taught Greek alphanumerics or obscure terminology.  We weren’t even taught that much about risk. We were taught how to follow companies we loved, how to learn a little more about them, how to recognize that corporations aren’t a monolithic structure on the edge of town that you could never really know about.  They’re run by every-day people around you in society who are making good or poor choices, which lead to results for shareholders and employees. We saw a human face to business at an early age, and that has had an impact on all that we’ve worked on since.

SF: You’ve said that the two main success factors for any company are the commitment of its founder and CEO and its culture. What do you think a great work culture is?

TG: I think a great work culture requires that the organization genuinely cares about every individual working there. That gets harder as the company scales, but there are certainly unbelievably great companies that have succeeded in maintaining culture as they scaled, and I’ve learned so much from studying those companies. I would cite as an example the Brazilian company Semco, which has 3,000 employees and less than 1% turnover. Ricardo Semler, the founder of Semco, wrote Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace almost 20 years ago, and a few years ago, he wrote a follow-up called The Seven Day Weekend: Changing the Way Work Works. Among the principles in that book, that seemed preposterous but that we are experimenting with, with some very serious early success, is the idea that every day is Saturday.  We say to employees, “Today is Saturday. What do you want to do today?” If you tried to do that in a single day with an entire organization, it would be a revolution that would lead to chaos, so we are gradually introducing that concept over time, starting with the highest performers, and starting with more specific questions like, “How much flexibility do you want to have? Is it important to you to be in the office from nine to five every day, or would you like to alter your hours? Redefine your role – what is your ideal job description?” When the highest performers get that kind of freedom, everyone else starts to see it and think, “That looks great. I’d like to get that too.  I want to be a high performer as well.” Through performance, teams gain more freedom and flexibility, more opportunities and challenges, and more financial rewards. Financial rewards in most companies are the first reward offered with the assumption that the highest performers would like to be paid a lot more money. The reality is that the highest performers would like more challenges, more purposeful work, a freer work schedule, and more opportunities to define their own jobs.

SF: How did you implement that idea?

TG: We started with our highest performer for the longest time – Max, who had worked at the Motley Fool for 15 years and has done great work. We said, “Max, how do you want to work? You tell us. Take the week off and outline your job description – everything from the work hours you’d like, to where you’d like to be working, to the challenges you’d like to take on.” Some people can readily do that, and others need to be coached through how to think about it. I think the longer term your high performer is, the easier it is for them to define their role.  They’ve been with the company for a long time and they understand the business’ purpose and strategy. In many cases, the modifications they offer are just tweaks. They’ll say things like, “Could I have one three-day weekend every month, just to have some family time?” We often respond, “Why don’t you take two?” Because if you’re already performing at an elite level, we don’t have to baby-sit you in the workplace. As we move down and across the entire organization with that approach, we’ve found significantly enhanced results across all of our metrics and all of our stakeholders.

SF: What are the metrics that tell you this is an idea that works? And what happens when you get to the people who are at the lower end of both tenure and relative performance?

TG: In terms of tracking, some of that data comes from 360-degree feedback, some comes from measurable goals outlined in job descriptions, and some comes from an intangible connection to the overall results of the business. And as we move to lower performance zones, we’re coaching individuals about what it means to be a high performer, with increasing amounts of evidence from other high performers at the company.  

SF: How do you share what excellence looks like in a Motley Fool-ish way, speaking the truth without making anyone feel uncomfortable?

TG: In general, we find – and the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ Advisory Council reached the same conclusion, which affirmed this view – that a leading quality of great performers and great leaders is self-awareness. Our highest performers are pretty consistently able to say something that might sound like, “I have a lot of ideas, and I love working with people, but I’m not very organized and I don’t plan well.” Or, “I have a lot of ideas and I’m great at testing, but I don’t scale things very well, and I like to work on my own – I’m not great in teams.” They know what they’re good at and they know what they’re not good at. By establishing that, anchoring them on their strengths and pairing them with people in teams who complement those strengths you create a safe environment for someone who may not be performing at a high enough level. In cases where we’ve had performance issues, it has often come because someone feels very strongly that they have a talent which they have in fact mis-assessed, and their work doesn’t express what they think it does. Working with those people to see where their core competency really is and how to apply it on their team, we often end up switching their roles. It is true that there are some limited circumstances where someone we hire just doesn’t work out, but we’ve found that moving people into different roles can unlock interests and capabilities that didn’t show up in their first job as a Motley Fool-er.

SF: How does the social mission of Motley Fool – “helping the world invest better” – affect the motivation of employees and, more importantly, their lives beyond work?

TG:  Here is a ranked order of the rewards The Motley Fool promises to every employee: 1. A salary that allows you to live in the area of our offices with reasonable comfort. 2. Purposeful work, and a company purpose you can believe in. 3. Challenges every day, week, and month that are exciting, interesting, and that you look forward to. 4. The people you work with, you love. 5. The flexibility to do your best work on your own terms. 6. Financial upside. Wall Street moves financial upside to the top of the list – we believe, as Steve Kerr and Dan Pink have written about, that financial upside is important enough to be in the top six rewards, but it’s near the bottom of those six. You asked about purpose:  Everyone who works at The Motley Fool is connected to our purpose and accepts it as a reward for working here. A primary criticism I have in reviewing a company is a purpose that’s not fundamentally true to what they produce or do. If I’m looking at a fast food company, I want to know that the CEO is eating there most days. The simple check on whether we’re helping the world invest better is that we know our friends and families are subscribing and investing on the basis of our ideas, and we as employees invest based on our own ideas. We definitely have an eat-your-own-cooking, skin-in-the-game mentality.

Tom Gardner is the co-author of several books on investing, including The Motley Fool Million Dollar Portfolio: How to Build and Grow a Panic-Proof Investment Portfolio. Hear more from him on Twitter @TomGardnerFool.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Liz Stiverson Liz Stiversonreceived her MBA from The Wharton School in 2014.


Successful Companies Support Working Families — Dave Lissy, Bright Horizons Family Solutions

Contributor:  Meaghan Casey

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Dave Lissy, CEO of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a leading provider of employer-sponsored family care services including child care; back-up care for dependents of all ages; educational advisory services; tuition assistance program management; and work/life consulting.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: Your Company, Bright Horizons, just released a study, the Bright Horizon Modern Family Index, which revealed very important – and rather disturbing findings – about the state of working families in America. Would you share with us the headlines?

Dave Lissy: Dave LissyOver the years we’ve been committed to shining a light on issues facing working families, and from time to time we do studies like this. The goal with the Modern Family Index was to test where’s people’s attitudes are – in 2014 – about how employees think about these work and life issues. The survey produced some really interesting information.

Some results were startling, for example even in 2014 working parents still fear many things related to trying to balance work and life. They fear, in the worse case, that their family responsibilities could get in the way of them getting promoted, achieving their career goals, or even continuing their employment. Even in 2014, we found that some of these attitudes of fear still exist.

On the other side, the study showed us the difference it can make for employees who are fortunate to work in supportive workplaces with employers that really get this. And most importantly, the study showed us the difference it can make for employees who work for supportive bosses. What our data shows us is that company policies are extremely important and that the tone from the top is really important but it’s really the attitude of one’s direct supervisor that makes a difference. The age-old adage that people tend to quit their boss and not their company relates a lot to this issues facing   working families and how supportive one’s direct supervisor is or is not.

SF: Let me just briefly recount some of the data. 48% of working parents fear loosing their jobs because of family obligations. 39% fear that they might be denied a raise because of family obligations. 26% fear being demoted and 19% fear being excluded from important meetings because of their family responsibilities. Those are scary numbers.

DL: Yes, those are scary numbers. It shows that even in today’s world – with all the progress we’ve made – that this fear still exists and there’s still a lot of work to do on the dialogue between employers and employees.

SF: And that’s part of the work you are doing. I believe that 80% of 100 best companies to work for, at least according to Working Mother’s annual study, are clients of yours. Is that accurate?

DL: Yes, 80% of the Working Mother 100 Best Companies to Work For are clients of Bright Horizons as are many others that are recognized on lists such as Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for in America are our clients as well. The most interesting piece to me is that when you look at some of these lists, there has been work done to research the financial successes of these organizations that have been recognized for supportive workplaces. And they tend to outperform the S&P and other benchmarks over time.

We’re proud to have relationships with many leading employers, almost 1,000 leading employers in every industry.  But I am also very proud that the work that we do has translated into financial benefits for many of our clients.

Dave Lissy is the Chief Executive Officer of Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a company which works with nearly 1,000 of today’s leading employers, including more than 130 of the FORTUNE 500, to provide benefits that yield improved productivity, job satisfaction and engagement, and overall well-being for their employees. To learn more about his work, go to their website: http://solutionsatwork.brighthorizons.com/ and follow them on twitter: @BrightHorizons.

If you would like to access the findings from the interesting and important Modern Family Index Study we discussed on the show, please visit:http://www.multivu.com/mnr/7227551-bright-horizons-modern-family-employees-struggling-responsibilities.

Join Work and Life next on August 5th at 7:00 PM ET on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Monique Valcour.  Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Meaghan CaseyMeaghan Casey is an MBA candidate WG’15.


Connecting Best and Brightest Women — Janet Hanson 85 Broads

Contributor: Alice Liu

Work and Life is a weekly radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday at 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Janet Hanson, former CEO of Milestone Capital and founder of 85 Broads, a global network of women whose founding members worked at 85 Broad Street in Goldman Sach’s New York office, about her rise to success at Goldman Sachs and the exciting network that she created to empower women, connect them to each other across all stages of life, and connect them to companies who are looking to recruit the best and brightest.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman:Janet, you started as a 24-year-old associate at Goldman Sachs in fixed income sales and trading. Then in 1986, you became the first woman in the firm’s history to be promoted to sales management.  What did you find to be the pros and cons of being one of the lone women succeeding at Wall Street back then?

Janet Hanson: I thinkJanet Hanson they were really all pros – the business and the people who were coming to the firm at that time were so exciting. It was like a giant lab.

SF: What was it like being one of the few women there at the time?

JH: The key to my success was really understanding what the partners cared about. They cared deeply about their firm and how they were viewed by their clients. I learned everything I possibly could about the firm’s history and the firm’s clients, and so when I would have the opportunity to speak with a partner it was about the business. I always tell people, if you want to be taken seriously you have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the company that you work for.

SF: So you’re successful in your role, despite being in the minority as a woman. Fast forward to twenty years later, you found 85 Broads. What lead you to that?

JH: I left Goldman in 1987. After 11 years in a pressure cooker atmosphere, I was pretty burnt out. My thought was just to take a leave of absence. I was 34, and I had focused 100% on my career. I really wanted to reevaluate what my life plan was, because up to that point I didn’t have one.

I was lucky. I got married in 1988. My daughter, Meredith, was born shortly thereafter. My son, Chris, was born in 1990. I found myself knocking on Goldman’s door one more time and was invited back to the asset management division for about two and a half years, and then I bailed because my career really wasn’t going to go anywhere. I had pretty much taken myself out of the partner track when I left in ‘87. I was totally okay with that, but I knew I wanted to do more things with my life and build more things, so I launched Milestone Capital, an asset management company, from scratch in 1995 and built that into a very successful business, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how hard it had been to be at home with two small children full time and how I wanted to reconnect with my colleagues and peers at Goldman and that was quite frankly impossible. I spent a great deal of time thinking about how sad it was that great firms like Goldman Sachs didn’t have alumni networks, because I thought to myself, clearly there’s a role that I could still play in benefiting the firm.

SF: You were feeling personally disconnected, but you also saw that it was a lost opportunity for the firm.

JH: Yes, but I could tell that so many other rock star women that I had worked with and known during my tenure at the firm felt the same way. One day I was out walking my dog in 1997 and I came up with the name 85 Broads, which I thought was hilarious. So I approached Goldman, and I said, “What do you think about creating an alumni network?” They didn’t get it. They didn’t see the need to have a formal connection with people who had made a decision to leave the firm so we were really ahead of our time, because this was just when the internet was starting to be something.

SF: What happened next?

JH: Well the most exciting thing happened. I’d been invited to Harvard Business School to come and speak about being the CEO of Milestone Capital in February of 2000. As I was speaking to 75 to 100 women about what it was like to build an asset management business, I stopped and said, “I don’t want to talk about Milestone anymore, I want to tell you about 85 Broads. This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done, and these are the coolest women I’ve ever met and gotten to know.” Then, a girl raised her hand and said, “I don’t mean to be rude but if you look around this room, most of us are not going into banking and even fewer of us are going to Goldman Sachs so you’re talking about a network that the vast majority of the women in this room can’t join.” So I stopped for a second, and I said, “Well I guess that’s over.” Literally like that we opened the network to the women at the leading graduate business schools.

These women were so excited about joining this network. Back in the early 2000s, the markets were exploding so there was a lot of excitement around hiring the best and the brightest. That was when I got recruited by Joe Gregory, who was the President and COO of Lehman Brothers, to use the 85 Broads platform to bring more fabulous women to Lehman. Joe told me that my job was to make sure that we never lost another great woman to Goldman Sachs, who he considered to be their number one competitor. So I got to meet extraordinary women all across the United States.

In 2012, Hanson was named to Fast Company’s “League of Extraordinary Women” and Forbes’ list of “Women Changing The World.” She is the author of More Than 85 Broads and is featured in the just published book, Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 73 Women on Life’s Transitions. 

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, June 24 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Cary Cooper, Distinguished Professor and Tom Gardner, CEO The Motley Fool. Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Alice Liu Alice Liustudied Management at The Wharton School and English (Creative Writing) at the College of Arts & Sciences. She graduated in 2014.

Mission Driven! Neil Blumenthal, Warby Parker

Contributor: Liz Stiverson

Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday from 7:00 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community and the private self (mind, body and spirit).

On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, an industry-disrupting lifestyle brand that offers designer eyewear at low prices and ties every purchase to the donation of a pair of glasses to someone in need. Blumenthal, a Wharton alumnus, discussed the genesis of Warby Parker and why a mission employees can believe in is critical to a company’s success.

The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.

Stew Friedman: What was the motivating idea for Warby Parker, and how did you bring it to life?

Neil Blumenthal: Neil BlumenthalThe idea behind Warby Parker was that glasses are too expensive.  Jeff, Andy, Dave and I had just started our MBAs and were sitting in a computer lab at Wharton, complaining about how expensive glasses are after Dave lost his $700 glasses in the seat pocket of an airplane right before school started. We thought, “Could we do something about this?” Andy had a great idea to sell glasses online; we had seen category after category move online, from Blue Nile selling engagement rings to Zappos selling shoes. And before business school, I had trained low-income women to start their own businesses selling glasses in the developing world with Vision Spring, so I knew a little about the industry. I knew we could design our own frames and manufacture them ourselves. Selling online gave us the ability to go direct to consumer, so we could sell glasses for $95, below wholesale prices, instead of $500, because we could bypass the middleman.

SF: You also had the idea to tie each purchase to a donation, which became a very important aspect of your model.

NB: What ultimately excited us about this idea was the do-good factor – the fact that we were going to sell $500 glasses for $95 and therefore transfer billions of dollars from large, multinational corporations to normal people. This was going to be a job where we woke up in the morning and instead of turning over and hitting the snooze button, we would be excited to come to work. We built the company with that mindset, and it was with that mindset that we realized that there are seven million people on the planet who don’t have access to glasses. Even at a $95 price point, we could afford to give away a pair for every pair we sell.

Like many people, we were motivated to have a positive impact on the world, and the question was just what the best way to do that would be. We could volunteer for a couple hours a week on weekends, or we could spend 40, 60, maybe 80 hours a week – everything we do, all our time – having a positive impact. I believe the most effective use of my time is to use my specific tools and skills – general management, user experience, customer service, financial acumen – to have the biggest positive impact I can.

SF: Your idea is one that is certainly held by most people of your generation and the generation following you.  You must get tons of people wanting to work for you. So why aren’t more companies taking your approach?

NB: I think they’re starting to. Certainly the vast majority of new start-ups have baked values- and mission-thinking into their DNA, and I think a lot of Fortune 1000 companies are waking up to the fact that they need to be doing the same. That’s not to say that Fortune 1000 companies weren’t founded to do great in the world – I think most businesses inherently do good in the world. But I think as a company gets bigger, scales, and goes public, it’s easy to start focusing more on optimization rather than on growth or solving problems. And when you’re optimizing and trying to maximize profit at all costs, thinking more for the short term than the long term, you can lose sight of having a positive impact.

SF: What do you and your colleagues at Warby Parker do to be sure you don’t lose sight of what’s important?

NB: We try to incorporate our stakeholders in every decision we make. When I say stakeholders, I’m referring to our customers, our employees, the environment, and the community at large. For example, from day one, we offered free shipping and free returns to our customers. We thought that’s what customers wanted, it’s what the four of us as consumers wanted, and we thought it was fair and appropriate, so we decided to we would find a way to make it work financially. For our employees, research has shown that people leave their jobs because they’ve stopped learning or they don’t like their boss. So we do quarterly 360-degree reviews, monthly informal feedback sessions, workshops, and outside speaker sessions, to build great managers and provide plenty of learning opportunities.

SF: How can the idea of incorporating stakeholders to shape corporate culture in ways that influence the world be replicated in other settings, especially those where the traditional model has held sway for so long?

NB: The first step for individuals could be doing their own jobs with a stakeholder mindset. In situations where you do have decision-making authority, how do you think about the impact of your decisions on the environment and the broader community? Another step is to become an advocate within your organization, and explain things in mission-driven terms. We believe that every company and organization is dependent on talent, and in order to win the talent war, we believe we have to be mission-driven. To be customer-first, you have to be employee-first, and to be employee-first, you have to be mission-first.

SF: Can you explain that connection?

NB: A recent World Economic Forum Study showed that 80% of Millennials put mission ahead of compensation when deciding where to apply for jobs, and it was a global phenomenon, not unique to the U.S. We’ve hired over 350 people in the last three and a half years; my co-founder and I have interviewed every one of them, and our social mission always comes up. When we ask, “Why do you want to work here?” they say, “I love the brand, I love the buy-a-pair, give-a-pair program, I love the idea of a disruptive company trying to do good in the world – I want to be part of that.” Our mission – to demonstrate to the world that you can build a scalable, profitable business that does good in the world without charging a premium for it – helps us recruit and retain the best people, and we think that’s only going to accelerate in the future.

Blumenthal is one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders. Hear more from him on Twitter @NeilBlumenthal.

Join Work and Life next Tuesday, June 24 at 7 pm on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Cary Cooper and Steven Klasko (WG’ 96). Visit Work and Life for a full schedule of future guests.

About the Author

Liz StiversonLiz Stiverson received her MBA from The Wharton School in 2014.