In the face of existential threats and changes, how should leaders move forward?

Listen to Episode 51 on Apple Podcasts

Guests: Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez, Board Member at Recology, and Kathryn Cartini, co-founder and partner at Chloe Capital

Hosts: Dottie Schindlinger, Executive Director of the Diligent Institute, and Meghan Day, Senior Director of Board Member Experience for Diligent Corporation

In this episode:

  1. Ethical decision-making and existential threats: Alvarez-Rodriguez discusses ethics when dealing with looming existential concerns, and how to wrap your arms around these issues in the boardroom.
  2. Addressing risk by looking internally: Using Recology as an example, Alvarez-Rodriguez details internal processes to protect against existential risk.
  3. The importance of diversity for adaptability: In the face of a rapidly changing business landscape, Kartini works to support women-led ventures.

Summary:

The world is evolving at an alarming rate, and corporate leaders need the right insights and tools at their disposal to ensure their companies can survive and thrive. Hear from Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez, board member at Recology, and Kathryn Cartini, co-founder and partner at Chloe Capital, on the importance of flexibility and ethical decision-making when dealing with such existential changes.

Ethical Decision-Making and Existential Threats

Alvarez-Rodriguez is a strong proponent of ethics in boardroom discussion. Her educational background, a master’s degree in Divinity with a focus on Environmental Ethics and Theology, informs this view: “I’ve always had a deep spiritual base that I bring to my work, and I needed that base to learn how to ask about moral, ethical, existential threats.”

To her, ethical decision-making is firstly about asking the right questions. She explains her approach: “The way I think about my board service revolves around what the trends of the future will be, and how we can use these trends to our advantage. What are the issues, trends, and dynamics that could either derail our company or propel it to the next cutting edge of innovation?”

From there, Alvarez-Rodriguez suggests deep-dive discussions around the issues that crop up after asking these big-picture questions: “We explored what the answers to these questions meant practically. Out of these deep-dive discussions, we understood a fundamental aspect of our business tied to these existential questions.” For Recology, the crux of their sustainability contribution revolves around single-use plastics. As a waste management company with an environmental commitment, Alvarez and her board looked at how they could recycle and repurpose.

“Climate change is an existential threat, and we have to address what it means from a company, community, social, and personal perspective. We are on a path towards unsustainability.”

Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez, Board Member at Recology

Addressing Risk by Looking Internally

Once Alvarez-Rodriguez and her board had taken the appropriate time to identify existential threats to society and how their business fit into the larger story, it was time for action. She details this shift: “We knew then that we had a moral and ethical obligation as a board to address the issues of single-use plastic. Out of this realization came the strategic business decision to sponsor legislation in California to eliminate single-use plastic.”

This might sound out of the ordinary: a waste management company sponsoring a bill to eliminate single-use plastics, a source of revenue for them. Alvarez-Rodriguez puts it in simple terms: “For us, the revenue from disposing of single-use plastics was not worth the environmental cost.” Being able to tackle existential questions of sustainability, discuss them in the boardroom alongside financial metrics, and attaching tangible costs to them allowed her board to come to an informed action plan.

Along with sponsoring this bill, they looked internally to align their business with environmental sustainability-focused strategic imperatives. Alvarez-Rodriguez breaks this process down: “We had to ensure our own house was in order. We were asking the right questions: Is our fleet fuel-efficient? What is our carbon transportation footprint?” Then, they looked to metrics: “We examined ESG datasets and metrics. From these, we decided to bring in electric garbage trucks, and we tracked our fuel usage and efficiency.”

 “We have just published our first sustainability report, and we’ve been actively refining our metrics to see how we can best contribute to the ESG conversation.”

Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez, Board Member at Recology

The Importance of Diversity for Adaptability

Tackling the most important questions companies will face in the coming years can be made infinitely more valuable by the inclusion of diverse perspectives, particularly at the leadership and board levels. Kathryn Cartini, founder and partner of Chloe Capital, a firm that invests in women-led technology companies around the world, understands this better than many corporate leaders.

She details her reasoning: “Our experience has been that it was not only the right thing morally to invest in women-led technology companies to even the playing field, but it was also just smart business.” She goes on, “Women and people of color have unique backgrounds they bring to crisis management because they are not traditionally in positions of control. They are able to roll with the punches, think outside the box and do what it takes to get the job done.”

Our hosts asked Cartini if she had any advice for women leaders. Her response: “You have to have the ability to say ‘no,’ particularly as a woman. My life was all about give first and give forward. As we grow, there isn’t enough time in the day to take every meeting and accept every request. There are ways that we can assist other founders by carving out a few hours a week to speak, mentor, have those 1:1 sessions.”

“As a leader, you have to get out of glass houses and truly connect with the people you serve.”

Kathryn Cartini,co-founder and partner at Chloe Capital

Also in this episode…

Cartini gives her prediction for the future of venture capitalism: “At the ground level, we’ll see a dissipation of angel funds and firms, which were set up to invest based on geography. With the pandemic and remote work, geography isn’t so important anymore.”

Resources from this episode: