The Economic Collapse Was Your Fault

What if you were told that the economic collapse was your fault? And that if you had used sounder judgment and a longer-term view when making strategic decisions? Perhaps your company would have been much more sustainable today?


According to Ann M. Charles, the last two years were fundamentally a failure of leadership. And she wants senior management to realize that the economic collapse has changed the culture of leadership forever. Charles would know: she comes from almost 20 years in corporate marketing with brands like Sony Electronics, and witnessed firsthand a pervading sense of short-termism across corporate America.

So in the thick of a recession in 2009, Charles quit her career and started BRANDfog, a social media and corporate responsibility advisory firm.

Her aim: To convince chief executives that for companies to be successful, they must embrace social media while recognizing that corporate responsibility is no longer a vague, idealistic concept. Part of her endeavor is an exclusive for senior management, by-invitation-only event called the Great Leaders Conference: Corporate Social Responsibility and Leadership for a Responsible World. She wants the forum to be an exclusive opportunity for those in the C-suite to discuss their struggles in embracing CSR, debate what corporate responsibility means for their companies contextually, and ask CEOs like Zappos' Tony Hsieh and Timberland's Jeff Swartz for helpful pointers and insights into their company cultures.

We sat down for a chat about the conference scheduled for October in New York City, her mission for BRANDfog, and what her interactions with management reveal about their attitude toward CSR and responsible business practices.

An excerpt:

"On a broader level, this is not a CSR conference. It is the Great Leaders conference because it aims to highlight a cultural change among leadership. Leadership is changing on a number of fronts and very quickly, in a way that CEOs are really struggling with. For example, social media has blown the doors off the closed corporate culture, where customers want to know what the company stands for, what the CEO believes in, what the core values of the organization are, etc. In a way, companies can no longer control their messaging. There is a two-way exchange that can't be ignored today.

Another important factor is the economic collapse. It has made society, as a whole, start to think. A lot of people are talking about the failure of the markets and foresight. Fundamentally though, it's a failure of leadership, it's about thinking about short term profits. That is a difficult thing that CEOs have to address.

They're also under a lot of pressure because very often they get shut down for introducing things that are long term in nature. Investors are not ready to hear that message yet, but I feel we're at a tipping point now where that is starting to be more acceptable. Companies are starting to talk about the work that they are doing outside the realm of profitability and taxes."

For more from Charles, read my complete interview with her here: View from the Top: Social Media and Leadership in a Responsible World.


Aman Singh is the Corporate Responsibility Editor at and the author of Vault's CSR blog: In Good Company. She is a New York University alum and previously wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Her area of work includes corporate diversity practices and sustainability, and how they translate into recruitment and strategic development at companies. Connect with her on Twitter @VaultCSR.

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