What Do Shared Value Leaders Have in Common?

Since publishing “Creating Shared Value” in 2011, our work has largely focused on the mechanical issues of shared value – how to create, measure, and implement. Though this understanding is necessary to adopt and sustain a shared value approach, this work can’t happen without individual leaders within organizations, shared value champions, who are crucial to successfully creating shared value.

Who are these shared value champions and what exactly does it take to be one? We’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from many of them across industries and sectors, from Janet Voûte at Nestle to Talya Bosch at Western Union, and while they each bring their own unique skills and perspectives to the table, we have noticed 3 qualities that they have in common:

  1. Purpose. Shared value is a relatively new concept. When these champions advocate for a shared value approach, they’re leading their organization into mostly unchartered territory and have to overcome substantial internal barriers to create change. To do this, they must have a strong understanding of their company’s implicit purpose and what social need the company can fulfill, and be able to clearly explain this vision to others. The ability to effectively advocate for their ideas, the energy to tackle new and complex challenges, and a willingness to take risks are key characteristic of a shared value leader. Since Abbott re-established itself as a separate entity focused on diversified products 2 years ago, Vice President of Global Citizenship and Policy Kathy Pickus has led the company’s vision on shared value, opening new opportunities for improved dairy supply in just one example.  
  2. Eagle Eyes. Shared value champions have the ability to see around corners, at the trends and changes that are coming in their industry and the world, interpret them, and push for action. For example, Tracy Sims of Eli Lilly & Company began his career in sales in the U.S., but cast in a new role within the company’s global citizenship group, he saw the growing important of diabetes prevention and treatment globally and shifted his focus. Sims was instrumental in seeing the relevance of millions of low-income and often hard-to-access diabetics in places like India, South Africa, and Mexico to the company’s future. That vision gave life to the Lilly NCD Partnership.
  3. Networker. Having a large and constantly expanding network is critical for shared value champions. The ability to glean insights and diverse perspectives from people working in a various sectors across the globe is what enables these champions to stay ahead of the curve in their thinking, make informed strategic decisions for their organization, and partner with others for greater impact than they could hope to achieve alone. What shared value champions learn is that those networks lead to new insights and opportunities. For example, at BD, Gary Cohen and Renuka Gadde’s strong relationship with the World Health Organization opened up an opportunity to commercialize a product to address obstructed labor, a product category the business would never have pursued without such stakeholder prodding.

One thing shared value champions do not have in common is their role within an organization. A common misconception is that only high-level executives can drive shared value creation, but we have seen shared value champions in a variety of positions. Some are managers adopting a shared value approach for a specific initiative, like Mark Thain at Barclays. Many work at the intersection of business and society, whether in their company’s corporate citizenship department like Kathy Pickus at Abbott, or at an NGO with strong corporate partnerships like Carolyn Miles at Save the Children and Karl Hoffman at PSI. CEOs and executives also have the potential to make a huge impact, as we’ve seen with Adrian Gore at Discovery. 

To learn more about what it takes to be a shared value leader, be on the lookout for our upcoming blog series featuring advice from shared value practitioners. 

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