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Former CEOs Speak Candidly About Corporate Citizenship

By Melissa Trumpower, Good360

May 27, 2014– If CEOs of companies were asked if their companies should do good, all of them would say yes.

“The issue is not whether or not they want to do good. It’s an issue of priority,” said Carly Fiorina, speaking at the CECP’s 2014 Summit held in New York City last week. Most CEOs will want to know that a corporate citizenship program provides a competitive tool and that it’s aligned with the overall corporate strategy, she explained.

Fiorina, former chair and CEO of Hewlett Packard and the current chair of Good360, was joined by National Basketball Association Commissioner Emeritus David Stern on a panel about corporate social responsibility. Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd, the two provided a CEO perspective on corporate citizenship programs. The session was moderated by Debra Benton, president of Benton Management Resources, Inc.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) professionals play a critical role in fostering collaboration among many corporate stakeholders and business lines and leveraging the business’s resources to benefit society and the corporate bottom line, the two said. But in order to succeed, Stern emphasized, CSR professionals must be able to pitch their corporate citizenship programs in very relevant business terms.

Fiorina suggested that they focus on two things to succeed.

  • Number 1: Collaborate. CSR professionals are not meant to be competitive. They are about leveraging every dime they get to help society and the business.
  • Number 2: Understand the business. CSR professionals must understand and effectively communicate the importance of this work to the overall business.

Attendees asked several questions about how to present programs to the CEOs at their own companies.

“The natural inclination when you are pitching a program is to go as high up as possible,” responded Fiorina. “Before you go to the CEO, talk to the heads of the business lines. Ask them what keeps them up at night. You must know enough about your business that you can effectively articulate how your programs can help them achieve their goals.”

Fiorina and Stern encouraged session attendees to celebrate what they do.

Fiorina said she viewed [CSR] as an integral part of the business when she was HP’s CEO. Leadership must continually support the company’s CSR efforts, or they will not succeed, she said.

Both former CEOs said at the end of the day corporate citizenship programs should be good business decisions. They challenged attendees to collaborate with the other business leaders and get them involved while they are developing programs, not after they are fully planned.