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Judith Samuelson
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Judith Samuelson is the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute's Business and Society Program

In 1998, Judy created the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program, which employs research and dialogue among business leaders to build a sustainable global society. Aspen BSP targets innovators and works with business managers at all levels, from MBA students to Fortune 500 CEOs. Judy recently helped spearhead the creation of the Aspen Principles, a set of guidelines for long-term value creation for companies and institutional investors.

From 1989 to 1996, Judy led the Ford Foundation’s office of Program Related-Investments. From 1982-1989, Judy managed a sales and lending team at Bankers Trust Company. From 1974-1980, she worked in Sacramento as a lobbyist and legislative aid on California state health and education issues and in the Governor’s office of Planning and Research.

Judy holds a B.A. from UCLA and Masters Degree from the Yale School of Management. She was a member of the Advisory Board to ACCION-New York and is Chair Emeritus of Net Impact, a network of business students.

Entries by Judith Samuelson

Is the SEC Against Income Inequality -- or for It?

(0) Comments | Posted August 11, 2015 | 2:18 PM

Amid the growing chorus to address income inequality, a new Securities and Exchange Commission rule is being viewed with some hope. The new rule requires public companies to list their chief executive's total pay as a ratio to their workers' median compensation. The somewhat wishful thinking goes that CEOs and...

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Five Great Moments from Aspen Ideas Festival 2015

(0) Comments | Posted July 7, 2015 | 5:46 PM

2015-07-07-1436306568-380735-19259036630_4909091959_z.jpg Pictured above (L-R): Walter Isaacson, Jon Batiste and Wynton Marsalis at the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival during "The Genius of Jazz" session. (Photo Credit: Riccardo Savi)

One of the great privileges working for the Aspen Institute is to attend the Ideas Festival...

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Is It Time to Extend the Say on Pay to the Employees?

(0) Comments | Posted June 15, 2015 | 1:50 AM

It's been another bellwether year for highly compensated CEOs. The New York Times' annual survey on executive pay reports that the ten highest paid corporate executives each made more than $50 million last year. For our largest companies, the top-200 received, on average, $22.6 million, a fat increase over the...

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Can Etsy Keep its Edge Post-IPO? 3 Ways to Defy Capital Market Norms

(0) Comments | Posted April 29, 2015 | 5:11 PM

The buzz about Etsy's IPO runs something like this... the company that connects artisans and home-based craft makers to a new kind of consumer hungry for unique products -- has met its nemesis: the public equity markets. If you think about corporations that have been successful public companies, words like "artisanal" give way to another set of modifiers and images: mass market, industrial scale, efficient, and command and control protocols and decision rules.

Is there room for Etsy to control its future as a publicly traded company? Or will the company values and mission give way to the demands of pesky shareholders willing to subordinate culture to short-term profit maximization?

My bet is with Etsy. The decision back in 2012 to certify as a B Corp signals the CEO Chad Dickerson's intention, "to use the power of business to create a social good." But much more important than good intentions is the following: the company's business model and culture are intertwined.

Last year, Etsy was reported to connect 1.4 million seller-members to almost 20 million buyers. $200 million changed hands, adding greater economic stability and lifestyle choices to home-based producers of all kinds. And the demand for "maker" goods is growing -- from craft beer and self-publishing to companies that let you customize your own look -- take Vans shoes for example. Etsy is less vulnerable to mission drift because of the close alignment between their vision and their revenue model.

But whether "B Corp" or C Corp, the devil's in the details. The purpose of the enterprise is a choice -- but it needs to be backed up by practices that reinforce the ideals and hoped-for social utility of the business.

What else can Etsy's management team do to assure the vision conforms to reality? Here are three ideas:

  1. Declare your purpose repeatedly (and tell the same story to your employees, business partners and investors). Staying vigilant to the long-term strategy in company communications is one signal that you live your vision. Southwest Airlines CEO, Gary Kelly, makes a habit of thanking the employees of Southwest at the start of his investor calls and reiterates the company's commitment to serving customers better than their competitors. Mark Zuckerberg states Facebook's purpose and big picture aspirations early in investor calls and frames his major points in long-term language. Mark Bertolini started Aetna's last investor call with "The Aetna Way" -- rather than just jumping into the financials.
  2. Align the metrics with the strategy -- not the stock price. What are the best indicators of Etsy's success over the long haul? The stock market is affected by many things outside the control of management. And as we all learned in business school, short-term share prices are largely random. Financial targets like Return on Equity that put the stock price at the center of the bull's-eye lead to an excess of what we see in the market now -- using cash to buy back shares and bump the stock price rather than invest in the company's future -- the focus of Larry Fink of BlackRock's recent letter to Fortune 500 CEOs.
  3. Pay your executives accordingly. "Pay for performance" is still the rage, but to align management with the values and vision requires a different approach. Delaying payouts under stock-centric pay schemes to emphasize long-term value creation seems like a good idea -- but it doesn't really work. Rather than correct for short-termism, to load up executives with stock assures that the market dominates the internal conversation -- and in ways that negatively affect culture and values. Jillian Popadak, researcher at Duke University, found that "results-orientation" leads to less customer-focus, integrity, and collaboration. We need fresh thinking to restore common sense to executive pay, and Etsy will need to innovate to align its management team with its core purpose and long-term strategy.

"...shareholders initially realize financial gains: increases in sales, profitability, and payout occur. However, over time, I find intangible assets associated with customer satisfaction and employee integrity deteriorate, which partly reverses the gains from greater results-orientation." - Popadak

Think old line firms like 3M and P&G, as well as newer entrants like Tesla. These companies keep the focus on creating high-quality goods and services that deliver real value for customers while respecting mission-critical inputs and constituents -- employees, natural resources, host communities.

For Etsy, listening to their customers cannot be just a slogan. The sellers who pay to use the Etsy platform have their own livelihoods at risk. Etsy members think this is THEIR company -- just ask them. Keeping the focus on their customer's welfare will be Etsy's North...

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McDonald's and Walmart Raise the Floor on Wages: Six More Moves for Business on Inequality

(2) Comments | Posted April 2, 2015 | 4:41 PM

Inside of a few weeks, business has shifted the national dialogue about what constitutes a fair wage. Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini made headlines in January when he announced the company's decision to establish an internal minimum wage of $16 an hour. A few weeks later, General Motors surprised factory workers...

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Making Purpose Work

(0) Comments | Posted March 6, 2015 | 2:05 PM

"The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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The Inspiration of John C. Whitehead

(0) Comments | Posted February 13, 2015 | 1:36 PM

The country lost a remarkable leader last week. The tributes for John C. Whitehead -- business man and civic leader -- are ringing in from all quarters. Whitehead served at Omaha Beach as well as in the State Department, and he made his mark on New York City on occasions...

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To the CEO of Aetna: Three More Ideas to Reduce Inequality

(0) Comments | Posted January 17, 2015 | 1:36 PM

Last week, the CEO of Aetna, Mark Bertolini, announced the company's plan to boost wages of their lowest paid workers to a minimum of $16/hour, jumping way above the federal minimum wage. The company falls in line with other market leaders-especially retailers-like The Gap, Whole Foods, The Container Store and...

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2015: 'Let's Ask the Right Questions About Corporate Compensation'

(1) Comments | Posted January 6, 2015 | 12:22 PM

This post originally appeared in the Guardian.


Fresh winds are blowing through both boardrooms and MBA programs these days, stirring up debate about the fundamentals of doing business. Some of the key questions on the minds of executives weren't even on the syllabus when I attended...

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What Sony and the NFL Have in Common

(0) Comments | Posted December 30, 2014 | 10:40 AM

One of the things I am looking forward to in the new year is the movie version of "Sony Gets Hacked." It has all the elements of a blockbuster: intrigue and international espionage; dark techie powers and rogue states; plenty of human drama and celebrities; and, of course, tension in...

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A Rough Week for Capitalism and a Time for New Leaders

(0) Comments | Posted September 23, 2014 | 12:02 PM

Hundreds of business executives and heads of state, including President Obama, have accepted UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's invitation to the UN Climate Summit, which starts today. Heads of state are critical actors, but his focus on the business sector is a smart strategy. Real business executives are...

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Yale University Ducks on Fossil Fuel Divest Decision--and Fails Leadership 101

(0) Comments | Posted September 8, 2014 | 5:00 PM

As Yale students returned to classes before Labor Day, they were informed by President Peter Salovey that the University had rejected student demands to divest the endowment of stocks that are among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.

Many of us working behind the scenes had hoped Yale would...

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Why B-Schools Should be Teaching Market Basket

(5) Comments | Posted August 15, 2014 | 1:10 PM

New England is home to scores of world class business schools, and Boston is teeming with management theorists who make their living teaching the next generation of business leaders while seeking in their own research to unlock the secrets to what makes businesses and other enterprises successful.

Let's hope that...

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3 Points of Hope on Climate Change: Back to the Future 2014 to 2024

(0) Comments | Posted July 2, 2014 | 5:35 PM

Let's start with the most profound change needed now: By 2024 we will have a price on carbon.

The tense and complex negotiations to get there will require no less than the UN Secretary General, the US president and the Premier of China, bolstered by mounting pressure from the generation...

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Google, Capitalist Dilemmas and Corporate Purpose: What We Want From Business?

(0) Comments | Posted June 2, 2014 | 6:43 PM

The first quarter of 2011 at Google was, in the words of CEO Larry Page, "tremendous." Revenues rose 27 percent and income was up 17 percent. Google earned $7.04 per share for the quarter, up from $6.06 a year earlier. However, in after-hours trading following the announcement, Google's...

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Three Reasons Stanford's Decision to Dump Coal Is a Game Changer

(0) Comments | Posted May 15, 2014 | 12:31 PM

Stanford University's recent decision to unload coal from its endowment and Harvard's decision to take more tepid steps a few weeks earlier means that the student campaigns that forced the hands of both institutions are coming soon to a campus near you.

These campaigns go by many...

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Do American Firms Need an Asian Sense of Honor, With Resignations at the Top?

(0) Comments | Posted April 29, 2014 | 2:02 PM

Last week I participated in a small conference of executives and scholars at NYU on the interplay of law and voluntary initiative in setting the tone in business.

The panelists all hailed from large professional services firms, and there wasn't much disagreement in the group about the...

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Reinventing Residential Business Education -- Before It's Too Late

(0) Comments | Posted April 18, 2014 | 12:35 PM

This year's cohort of aspiring MBA students are receiving acceptance letters, soon to be followed by hefty tuition bills. The overall class will be smaller than last year's, continuing an enrollment decline that began in 2008 and prompting the usual worries whether such declines are cyclical...

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Business Leadership, Governance, and a Victory for Adam Smith

(0) Comments | Posted March 11, 2014 | 2:28 PM

It's been a big travel month, speaking in Phoenix at GreenBiz--where oxymoronic ideas like "Sustainable Beef" took the stage; in Evanston, IL to drill down on who's really in charge here? --a provocative exchange of views at the Kellogg School of Management, and in Minneapolis for Law and...

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SOTU: Obama and the Business of Climate Change

(0) Comments | Posted January 29, 2014 | 3:57 PM

I have become a single-issue voter. It may not be best for democracy, but I have come to measure all actions through the lens of whether we are doing everything possible to address climate change. For the record, I used to be a two-issue voter -- but that was before...

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