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Judy Wicks Threatens to Give Business a Good Name

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I was recently invited into the cozy Philadelphia row home of one of the great entrepreneurial minds and hearts of my generation. By almost any measure, Judy Wicks could be perceived as a progressive, aging (sorry Judy) hippie, clinging to her 60s values, bent on saving the world from the ravages of modern capitalist/corporate culture. Having spent a couple of relaxing hours sipping tea and listening to Judy, I can tell you... it's all true.

The twist, (there's always a twist) is that Judy Wicks, an unrepentant, self-described tree-hugger and champion of the voiceless, and uses good old fashioned American street corner business savvy as her tool of choice to achieve her goals... and boy has she achieved some!

This, from her website:

Under Judy's leadership, White Dog became a leader in the local food movement, purchasing sustainably grown produce from local family farmers, and only humanely and naturally raised meat, poultry and eggs, sustainably harvested fish and fair trade coffee, tea, chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon. Other business practices she implemented at White Dog include paying a living wage, mentoring inner-city high school students, recycling and composting, solar heated hot water, eco-friendly soaps and office supplies and purchasing 100 percent of electricity from renewable sources.

As if that weren't enough, Judy has also founded two nonprofits, as well as cofounded the national Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), which now includes about 30,000 independent businesses in North America. Her expectation is to inspire and help entrepreneurs everywhere to be as successful and socially and environmentally impactful as her businesses have.

Judy recently accomplished yet another of her lifelong goals by publishing her first book. In Good Morning, Beautiful Business, Judy tucks us under her arm for a personal tour of her life and times. It's a wonderful and inspiring read that describes the evolution of a woman who, coming of age in the 1960s, resolutely tackles, one by one, some of the thorniest and most seemingly intractable issues facing our world.

While many of the hippie generation viewed "profit" as a dirty word, Judy saw the force for good available via profits. Before all you Ayn Rand fans work yourselves into a froth, let me clearly state that although Judy is deeply committed to the concept of self-reliance, her version is one of community self reliance (emphasis on community), where we care for our neighbors and look out for the well-being of the least among us. Hers is a business view that insists on good outcomes for everyone involved -- the "Triple Bottom Line" -- Profits, People, Planet. She has been quite successful at it.

Judy founded the famous White Dog Cafe in the college district of western Philadelphia, but unlike her west coast counterpart (and friend) Alice Waters, Judy has never considered herself a "foodie". In fact, she says: "From an early age I rejected anything girly." Later in the interview she asserted that: "One of the problems with business today is that there is a lack of feminine energy."

Those two sentiments might seem incongruous, but as we talk, Judy makes them simple and obvious. I suppose that's what happens when you have got your priorities straight.

While Alice Water's world-renowned eatery, Chez Pannise, and subsequent social activism, was birthed from a passion for great, fresh food, Judy Wicks' White Dog Cafe was, in the most literal way, the result of an accident. She chuckled: "I used good food to lure innocent customers into social activism."

Judy realized early-on that without profits her efforts to create a better community, a better America and a better world, would be blunted, so she made business her art form, her mode of personal expression, and her lever to budge the world, little by little towards the creation of, in her words: "... an economic system that will respect and protect the earth. One which would replace corporate globalization with a global network of local living economies".

Life has taught Judy that without action, it's all just blah, blah, blah. Her giddy-up has helped her amass an impressive list of accomplishments that are causing waves behind the scenes all across the globe. In fact, her activist work has become such a large part of her life that a few years ago she sold her beloved White Dog Cafe, realizing that she had outgrown it and could no longer provide the attention it deserves.

Judy's dual track records as both entrepreneur and activist are more than admirable. She, along with several other forward-thinking hippie capitalists (Ben & Jerry, Stewart Brand, Yves Chouinard, etc.) serves as a role model for future generations of business people. It's capitalism -- done right.

When asked how we might get the next generation of business people to embrace her philosophies, she excitedly replied: "Oh... Well I'm working on a textbook for business students... Several schools are interested. In fact, Temple University is already using my book, (Good Morning, Beautiful Business), in a couple of its business classes."

As usual -- one step ahead, and eager to share.

A perfect example of her ability to see around corners is the following response to a question I had asked about cooperation versus competition.

That was a turning point for the better in my own life... When I made the decision to share my proprietary sourcing with competing restaurants. Normally the source of your ingredients is proprietary information -- secret. At first, I thought, gee, this is our competitive advantage, our marketing niche.

Then it occurred to her that her neighborhood, her city, in fact, the world, would be better off if all of her competitors used her practices. So she shared:

That was a transformational moment for me. I went from competing to cooperating. Up until that point, I thought that the best I could do was to have good practices in my company. It had never occurred to me that the best thing I could do was to help my competitors do the same things, so we could build a whole local food system with those values.

Yes, Judy Wicks is indeed giving business a good name. She is one of a growing handful of sorely-needed, anti-Gordon Gekkos, and has done quite well while doing a lot of good.

Her big-picture goal is to advance a paradigm shift in the business world; changing our measure of success from the single purpose of profits-at-any- cost, to the Triple Bottom Line.

Things as they are now are unsustainable, and that's ultimately economically unsustainable. If you ruin your human capital and your environmental capital, then nobody is there to buy your stuff!

It doesn't get much simpler or clearer than that!

You can, and should, learn more about Judy Wicks at http://judywicks.com/