Times have changed. A generation ago, companies were evaluated by their returns and market share. When it came to branding, companies focused on evoking moods and memories. Today, consumers are seeking more. Sure, they want everything easier, faster, cheaper, and better. At the same time, they expect companies to do good as much as make them feel good.
A product fosters more than an identity these days. A purchasing decision has become a social pact, with companies making an implicit commitment to invest back into communities and causes that inspire their consumers. It is no longer just about what companies produce, but how they produce, why they operate, and who ultimately benefits from their efforts.
BRINGING PRODUCT AND PURPOSE TOGETHER
That is certainly the case at Patagonia. On the surface, Patagonia markets outdoor gear like vests and backpacks. While the value of McDonald’s stems from real estate, Patagonia is more of an activist operation: a component of a larger social change movement towards conservation and sustainability. For example, the company allocates a portion of its sales revenue to environmental groups and runs a venture capital fund to support startups engaged in preservation. By the same token, Patagonia takes public stands on issues like drilling – even providing a platform for customers to connect to such causes. In other words, Patagonia enables consumers to turn identity into action and passion into results.
That was appealing to Olivia Johnson, a Finance major and UBS Financial Services hire who graduated from Tulane University’s Freeman School this spring. “When doing research about Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), I came to learn that Patagonia was adopting ESG methods long before it was the norm to do so,” she tells P&Q. “They create high-quality products, while also actively communicating to customers about their production process, the waste involved, and the impact it has on the environment. By modeling what it looks like for a consumer goods company to be socially responsible, Patagonia has set a standard for other businesses to not only have ESG-focused values, but to incorporate these values into the consumer-facing identity of their business.”
That’s not to say a triple bottom line is the only virtue that impresses business majors. Many still appreciate good old fashioned soul searching – the kind where companies adapt and innovate, balancing the need to refine norms, maintain profitability, and put people first. That’s exactly what Domino’s Pizza has done, says Liza Hochberg, a 2020 Michigan Ross grad who joined Bank of America as an analyst. For her, Domino’s show courage by accepting the market consensus: their products weren’t particularly appetizing. Rather than shifting opinion through advertising gimmicks, Hochberg adds, Domino’s conducted a top-to-bottom evaluation.
A TECHNOLOGY FIRM THAT SELLS PIZZA
“[Domino’s] then completely changed the company’s priorities and altered all recipes,” she explains. “I admire its ability to stay up to date with consumer preferences. I believe Domino’s has innovated to stay ahead of the curve and maintain a competitive advantage within a saturated industry. Domino’s has implemented technology that helps the consumer at each step of the ordering process. It is original in its solutions and has often set the bar for the industry (i.e. its capability to accept orders from multiple platforms). Domino’s is a technology company that sells pizza, and I admire that.”
That admiration doesn’t just apply to Fortune 500 juggernauts. Top business majors also recognized local treasures. That was the case for Liam Walsh, a 2020 Carnegie Mellon Tepper grad who touts Kramer’s Greenhouse. For Walsh, the business represents both versatility and an uncompromising commitment to the local community.
“[Kramer’s Greenhouse] is a small, family-owned business that is equal parts greenhouse, winery, and microbrewery,” he explains. “I admire this business’s multi-disciplinary nature, its ability to create unique and disparate business segments, and (most of all) its dedication to serving their community. The owners serve on the local school board, assist in theater and the arts in the community, and work directly with the local Boy Scouts troop. The future of business is dependent on corporate social responsibility, and Kramer’s Greenhouse epitomizes working hard and doing good.
What other companies struck home with business students. This spring, P&Q asked its Best & Brightest business majors to share the companies they admired most. From Silicon Valley stars to small town stalwarts, these companies have stirred the imaginations of the next generation of business leaders.
“I most admire an organization in Brazil called Sinal do Vale. Located in the rainforest of Rio de Janeiro, it works to implement regenerative environmental practices through piloting solutions, documenting insights and disseminating this information through educational experiences. Being at the forefront of such efforts, their practices will set an international precedent for sustainability, especially as it relates to agroforestry.”
Jaret Waters, Ohio State (Fisher)
“I admire any company that drives social impact through calculated diversity and inclusion business solutions. One example of this is Banana Republic’s recent launch of a new line of women’s undergarments specifically tailored to a variety of skin tones that we see and have seen in America’s growing melting pot. Rather than have just one color replicating skin tone, which is typically lighter and paler, Banana Republic is helping to change the narrative of what the color “neutral” and the word “skin tone” mean in our beautifully diverse society.”
Jordyn Elliott, UC Berkeley (Haas)
“I most admire Tesla because I love how the company took on a seemingly impossible task of upending the American car manufacturing industry and did it in a way that is sustainable both economically and environmentally. I also admire the huge personal gamble that Elon Musk took on it and how much he believed in himself.”
Dillon Baxter, Southern Methodist University (Cox)
“Costco – First, my childhood is filled with memories racing through Costco’s aisles, trying to time a pass-through just right as to be first in line for samples of chicken nugget dinosaurs or fried shrimp.
However, beyond these memories of family, churros, giant cookies, and rotisserie chickens – which could feed my sister and I for three days – Costco’s leadership consistently serves as a role-model for how to properly treat employees, regardless of status, with the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings. Whether through executive salary limits, increased employee wages, or an array of considerate employee benefits, Costco’s methods of motivating their employees to achieve greatness is something the business world needs more of these days.”
Bruce Leonard Morris, Notre Dame (Mendoza)
“I admire how Apple creates innovative products designed to streamline people’s lives, but I am especially in admiration of the far-reaching and impactful ecosystem that Apple has built. There is such a high level of fluidity between Apple’s various products, which creates a seamless user experience by enabling users to take advantage of their integrative capabilities. Apple’s ecosystem is such a distinct competitive advantage, and I look forward to seeing its continuous development.”
Kate Oh, Notre Dame (Mendoza)
“I admire Apple due to its unique attitude which is one of the key aspects in a groundbreaking company. People were reluctant to have a device where customers would need to tap nothing but a plain slab of glass. However, Apple challenged this thinking and encouraged innovation by changing the norms of human technology interaction. Apple is a company that embraces challenge and as a result has changed the world with its attitude.”
Waleria Duarte, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Foisie)
“I admire Package Free founded by Lauren Singer, a pioneer of the Zero Waste Movement, who popularized waste-free living through her blog, Trash is for Tossers. Her images of a mason jar in which she fit all of the trash she produced over the course of four years went viral, encouraging me to reduce my ecological footprint. Package Free increases the accessibility of zero-waste products and educates consumers on sustainable living. I am inspired by Lauren Singer’s efforts to shift the mindset of our consumer culture with Package Free.”
Amy Ferreira, Boston College (Carroll)
“I admire the Wolfgang Puck Group immensely. Growing up, Wolfgang Puck was the first celebrity chef I had heard of. As I learned more about the company, I realized how well the company has expanded and touched the lives of so many people. Wolfgang Puck’s expansion into retail, frozen goods, kitchenware, and restaurants underscore the size of opportunity in the hospitality market and show the value of a robust, well-liked brand.”
Samay Bansal, Cornell University (School of Hotel Administration)
“As a Marketing major, I’ve always deeply admired companies that use their messaging to make a difference in our society. As a little girl, I vividly remember Dove’s “Real Beauty” ad, sparking a conversation about women and beauty standards. However, I most admire an ad from the feminine product company Always, examining what it means to do things “Like a Girl”.
The ad begins on a set, where girls from all ages are asked to run “Like a Girl”, throw a ball “Like a Girl”, and so on. The older girls (and boys) flounce about the set, running lazily and throwing weakly as they toss and primp their hair. Yet when the director asks younger girls what it means to “Run like a Girl”, they break into a sprint, exerting all of their energy. The contrast is clear: before it becomes learned behavior, young girls believe doing things “Like a Girl” to be a thing of pride, not an insult. Watching this ad in high school, I had fully internalized the phrase “Like a Girl” to be a negative thing. In a 30 second ad, Always was able to shine a light on the power of language in society. By reframing a simple phrase, Always took a stand and showed its commitment to girls and young women everywhere.”
Carolyn Kirshe, Georgetown University (McDonough)
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