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Rob Chesnut talks his new book 'Intentional Integrity'

Rob Chesnut, former Airbnb Chief Ethics Officer and author of ‘Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution – and Why That's Good for All of Us’ joined The Final Round to discuss his new book and why it's time for an ethical revolution in business.

Video Transcript

- Let's switch gears here just a little bit and talk about how the coronavirus pandemic is putting corporate social responsibility to the test. A number of executives have been faced with very tough decisions about how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and then also operate during this very difficult time.

So for more on this, I want to bring in Rob Chestnut. He's the author of "Intentional Integrity-- How Smart Companies Can Lead to an Ethical Revolution." He's also the former chief ethics officer at Airbnb.

And Rob, I want to start with what we've seen over the last several months so far this year, so many of these companies handling the pandemic differently. And you say-- it's in the title of your new book-- that intentional integrity is key. How do you lead with integrity through a crisis like this?

ROB CHESTNUT: Well, crisis reveals the character of a company. This is a time where fear is throughout a workforce. It's throughout business relationships. So it's an opportunity, I think, for a company to show, you know, what they're really like, what they're like as a character.

Employees are really looking to leaders at this point. There is a lot of uncertainty in the workplace. So it's a time where trust is-- bonds are formed, but also a time where trust can be broken.

- Yeah, Rob. And how important is it also not only for the employees, but for the consumers? If you're a consumer-facing brand, I would just think that people are changing their spending behaviors almost faster than ever before. It's so easy for someone to shift their spending behavior just based on what a company does and how they respond to certain crises. So is it more important than ever for companies to do this also from a consumer perspective as well?

ROB CHESTNUT: Seana, we're in an age of conscious consumerism. Consumers want to do business with companies who have values that align with their own values. And if they see something that a company's doing-- they're not acting fast enough on climate change or they're not treating their employees well-- the data shows that customers are moving their money quickly.

So a company that wants to really stay ahead in this 21st-century company movement, in this integrity movement, has really got to be articulating its North Star and its purpose. That not only inspires employees, but it inspires customer loyalty.

- Yeah, Rob. You've worked with executives and worked at Airbnb and Uber, two very different companies with very different cultures. And I want to ask you about culture. I mean, where do those cultures come from? I mean, is it just Travis, you know, versus Brian Chesky or the-- is that the whole ball of wax right there, just those two guys are so different?

ROB CHESTNUT: Well, it's a lot of it. You know, I say that a CEO is the thermostat for a company's integrity. And when I say thermostat-- now, a thermometer takes the temperature in a room. But a thermostat actually sets the temperature. And a CEO really sets the tone for how everyone in a company is going to operate. And it works on down from there.

People look very closely at all the communications, all the words that they hear from the CEO and top leadership. They also look at their actions. And that sets the tone for everyone.

So I wouldn't say that it's that simple. But I would say that it really does all start with the CEO. And if your CEO does not act with integrity, it's contagious. It'll [INAUDIBLE] throughout a company.

- And then, Rob, building off of Andy's question and thinking more broadly about, I guess, Valley culture-- we could maybe describe it broadly-- in the last, you know, decade or so, things have changed a lot when you look at how Silicon Valley orients itself to the rest of the business world, the rest of the world in general. What are the changes that you've seen there? And what does the Valley still-- like, what does the tech sector still need to do to maybe reorient how they think about their own kind of defining principles as an industry that, I think, bleed through a lot of the companies in a similar fashion?

ROB CHESTNUT: Well, I think for a long time, it was all about how big, how fast. How can we get bigger, faster? And I think that what we're seeing in the Valley and we're seeing in a lot of other companies-- first of all, that doesn't resonate with employees anymore. Employees want more than a paycheck. They want to work at a place that they're proud of. They want to feel like they are really making a difference in the world.

And if they see that their company's values don't align with their own values, I think in the past, they'd stay quiet. But today, they're talking to each other on Slack. They're posting on Blind. They're posting on Glassdoor. You know, Susan Fowler's blog post completely changed the course of the business at Uber. They're tweeting. And they're even walking out.

So as a leader, I think you've got to recognize that your employees want something. They want to be inspired by a greater purpose. Consumers are looking to be inspired by a greater purpose. You've even seen the business roundtable, obviously, make a shift and say, you know what? Being a company is not just about satisfying investors anymore.

You've got a complex web of stakeholders that you need to be paying attention to. And I think companies that recognize who their stakeholders are and can manage the business to try to benefit all stakeholders are the ones that are really going to get ahead.

- Rob, [INAUDIBLE] here. I'm just taking a look at some recent examples. I mean, during the pandemic, we saw that some workers were speaking out against Amazon, for example. Also, during the Facebook boycott, some workers at Facebook were also talking out against Facebook, saying that Facebook wasn't doing enough for disinformation. How would you advise CEOs like Jeff Bezos, like Mark Zuckerberg in these kinds of situations?

ROB CHESTNUT: Well, one thing I would do with Facebook-- I don't think Facebook has acted quickly enough to deal with misinformation and hate speech on its platform. I think a couple of other companies have stepped up faster. And that's really helped their brand.

I think Facebook has been fighting it sort of in the name of free speech. But it's really not a free speech issue. It's an issue, really, of whether you want your platform to be used to amplify those sorts of messages.

You know, another message I think that I would have to-- Amazon-- would be the need to really listen and think about your employees. The pandemic has put people in those warehouses in a difficult situation. We've heard a lot of concern coming from Amazon employees about their health. Amazon's been very, very successful during the pandemic. I think it's a great time for them to double down and say that-- show that they care about their employees.

- Rob, I'm just curious. From the companies that you have looked at, and it doesn't have to be only within Silicon Valley-- we can look across all industries. But what companies do you think the leadership there have taken this into account, have made the necessary changes, and are doing this right?

ROB CHESTNUT: I'd look at what Satya Nadella is doing at Microsoft. I admire the way-- the direction that he's taken the company. They were a real leader in the pandemic in closing their offices early and giving employees-- you know, listening to employees about what their employees' needs were. They were the first to step out on things like extra leave for parents who really were having a difficult time coping with their children no longer being in school.

They were early stepping out on becoming carbon-neutral, you know, with their pledge not just to be carbon-negative by 2030, but to go back and to be carbon-neutral for the entire history of their business. That's something I think that resonates with employees and with consumers.

On a smaller company front, take a look at Etsy. You know, Etsy partnered with a B Corp, 3Degrees, so that their platform could be carbon-neutral to make up for the carbon emitted by all the shipping from all the sellers on Etsy. And they were able to do it because they did it intelligently at a cost of only about $0.01 per transaction.

And when they told their customers about it by putting a note in checkout, their business actually went up by significantly more than the cost of that $0.01 carbon-neutral sort of tax, so to speak. So I think it shows that, you know, companies that have a bigger purpose that are looking to broader stakeholders in the world are actually going to benefit financially if they act intelligently.

- Yes. And I agree with that. All right. Well, Rob Chestnut, author of "Intentional Integrity-- How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution," great to have you on the show. Thanks so much for joining us today.

ROB CHESTNUT: Thank you.