2. Compliance Officers
The compliance function in a company sets the rules for what employees can and cannot do. Serving as the corporate police hardly sounds inspiring, but just as some supply-chain managers are attempting to move beyond just checking whether rules are followed, some compliance officers are also trying to be more proactive.
Cynthia Cetani, a chief compliance officer for the pharma giant Novartis, began developing a system to track company payments to physicians in 2005, well before the Physician Payments Sunshine Act was signed into law in 2010. Perhaps she saw a hint of the regulation that was to come—indeed, she told me that Novartis had “a competitive advantage when that law was ultimately passed because we already had a system in place.” Regardless, Cetani’s ability to increase transparency and accountability shows the potential of compliance to drive positive change.
3. Marketing Executives
If compliance has an eye on the outside world to see what legislators might demand, marketers are focused on a different external constituency: the consumer. Ryan Eckel, vice president for brand at the retailer Dick's Sporting Goods, told me that marketers “have always reported in on what the customer is thinking. But what’s changed is that customers want their companies to do good—it’s table stakes these days.”
His company kicked off a program to match donations to underfunded youth sports teams, largely driven by an internal desire to find a cause for employees to rally around. But the tearjerker ads they ran to promote the campaign were a surprise success, winning a prestigious Clio Award and other accolades in the ultra-competitive category of sports ads, and testing “higher than any spot that we’ve ever done before,” Eckel said. “That gives us more confidence to keep going.” This summer they’ll launch the next phase of the program, which Eckel said will be a “significant partnership with a significant financial commitment that we wouldn’t have been able to do beforehand.”
Is this truly transformative? Perhaps not: Dick’s Sporting Goods doesn’t appear to be run in a dramatically different way from its competitors. But $25 million to youth sports teams, and the company’s recent commitment to hiring Olympic athletes to give them employment with the flexibility that they need to train, is far from insignificant.
4. Strategists and Futurists
While marketers steer a company to where consumers want to go, strategists and so-called “futurists” are meant to steer a company toward, well, where the world might go. Sheryl Connelly is chief futurist for Ford Motor Company, studying trends ranging from aging populations to concerns about water scarcity. (Disclosure: I was recently paid by Ford to keynote a conference at the University of Michigan Ross Business School and speak at Ford headquarters.) Of course her job is to help Ford react to those trends, but she told me that she’s careful not to prescribe to her colleagues what that reaction should look like:
The trends team started in early 2000 and I joined in 2004. In the early years, we felt a compulsion to be relevant and helpful, with the best of intentions. But if I would go into a design team I’d say, “Here are the trends, here are the implications, here are the opportunities; let me tell you now how to design a better car.” They’d go, “Where did you go to design school?”
So somewhere along the way a very deliberate decision was made never to talk about cars. Now if I want to talk to you about aging I’ll say, “Let me show you what cellphones are doing. Let me show you what the government of Japan has done. Let’s talk about how the travel industry is responding.” Now you’re much more likely to collaborate with me. I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes and it just becomes a springboard for ideation.
With regard to aging population, Connelly cited examples of features that benefit older drivers as well as car buyers and safety more broadly, such as cameras that show the driver what’s behind the vehicle and adaptive cruise control (which reacts to a car in front slowing down even before the driver registers the change).