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Posted: June 19, 2009

Setting North Star goals

Saatchi & Saatchi S CEO Adam Werbach tells LOHAS attendees how to aim high

Mary Butler

There are BHAGs, aka Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals, and then there are North Star goals. Saatchi & Saatchi S CEO Adam Werbach made a compelling case for setting the latter – the more idealistic, the better – at the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability conference in Boulder on Friday.

The advertising executive held up two books as examples, “Built to Last,” and “Good to Great,” both by Jim Collins, both very popular among business executives and both filled with BHAG-driven companies that were very successful pre-recession.

 “Built to Last” chronicles companies demonstrating exemplary longevity such as Ford and Citigroup; “Good to Great” examines companies that transformed themselves, including Fannie Mae and Circuit City.

None of the companies has weathered the recession very well. His point was that BHAGs put profit margins and market share first, while North Star goals take the big picture and “human challenges” into account.

Werbach asked: Which is a more sustainable business approach?

Toyota’s North Star goals, for example, are to create cars that “clean the air as they drive and never crash.” Werbach showed a new TV advertisement for the 2010 Prius, which comes with automatic air conditioning and a solar roof to provide better fuel economy. The ad begins, “What if we could use the sun to keep us cool?” Toyota, he said, is making strides toward its North Star goals, making it not only a competitive company, but an exciting and satisfying place to work.

“I bet when you started your business, you probably started with a North Star goal,” he said to the audience.

He told a story about McDonald’s, which faced a public relations nightmare in 2006 when Greenpeace learned it was using soy from an illegal plant that was contributing to the deforestation of the Amazon; McDonald’s listened and not only joined a fight against illegally harvested soy – it helped organize it. The fact that McDonald’s was willing to change “means McDonald’s is a company to bet on,” Werbach said.

Werback, who at age 23 was the youngest president of the Sierra Club, said Saatchi & Saatchi is walking the talk with its True Blue employee initiative, which asks its 5,000-person worldwide workforce to “do one thing” or DOT every day. The idea is to take everyday practices, such as teeth brushing or coffee drinking, and marry them, in a green way, with “what makes you happy.” People who love to shop might “do one thing” by shopping at thrift stores, for instance.

The world is becoming increasingly transparent, Werbach said.

“Everything is public,” he said. Thanks to the Internet, YouTube, Twitter and other media, “ you can’t lock a secret away in a bowels of a company anymore.” Companies today and in the future must learn to “live out loud,” and publicly work to change bad into good, he said.

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Mary Butler is ColoradoBiz's online editor.

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