Brainstorm HealthBrainstorm DesignBrainstorm TechMost Powerful WomenCEO Initiative

Want a loyal customer base? Focus on corporate responsibility

June 25, 2021, 6:00 PM UTC
MPW Next Gen 2021-BREAKOUT SESSION-LET THERE BE CHANGE BUILDING RESPONSIBLE BUSINESSES
McDonald’s EVP and chief global impact officer Katie Fallon, Google.org president Jacquelline Fuller, IBM Research senior manager quantum applications, algorithms, and theory Dr. Jeannette Garcia, and TriNet EVP and CFO Kelly Tuminelli.
Courtesy of McDonald's, Google.org, IBM and TriNet

Over the past decade, a company’s growth strategy has shifted from following trends and stakeholder capitalism to seeing sustainability, equity, and corporate responsibility.

“The notion of stakeholder capitalism was still so green 10 years ago, and it felt like an obligatory add-on to corporate strategy. But I think over the last 10 years, what you see is a purpose driving strategy,” said Katie Fallon, executive vice president and chief global impact officer at McDonald’s, during a breakout session at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen virtual summit on Thursday.

Moderated by Fortune’s Devin Hance, panelists also included Jacquelline Fuller, president of Google.org; Dr. Jeannette Garcia, senior manager of quantum applications, algorithms, and theory at IBM Research; and Kelly Tuminelli, executive vice president and chief financial officer at TriNet.

In today’s world, corporate strategy is an outgrowth of a company’s purpose, and sustainability is learning to sustain a business in a shifting ecosystem and environment. With many companies, that means defining values for stakeholders and shareholders, and considering the greater good of the world and future employees.

“Our younger generations of workers want to feel like the work they’re doing is connected to something bigger, and they want to feel like they’re having an impact,” said Fallon.

When asked what building responsibility and purpose entails, all agreed that creating and revisiting a North Star keeps companies on track regardless of the challenge.

“It’s important that our companies follow our North Star and how we do the core and essence of our business to serve humanity,” said Fuller, who explained that at Google, they consider the products and how they can be built for everyone. Google also provides $10,000 matching grants to employees to give to a nonprofit of their choice. “It’s not always clear or straightforward in terms of how we can be most helpful. But we did some creative things this last year that I think are going to change the course of what we do in the future, too.”

The pandemic, which shook companies to their core, revealed a need to focus on employee wellness and support. Tuminelli, who joined the human resources consulting firm TriNet in mid-2020, sees balancing purpose-driven initiatives (both internally and externally) with stakeholders as a significant priority. “There’s always multiple people on each side of every issue, and every issue is not cut-and-dry. It takes a lot of good listening as we think about how to position things and how to approach the world.” For example, TriNet established “BUILD Week” last year, organizing “belonging, unity, inclusion, learning, and diversity” activities for the company. Through that, employees were more engaged with each other and hence, forthright with their customers.

Companies that are growing responsibly in these ways and anchored in purpose tend to perform better financially and be more resilient when there are shocks to the system. By building stronger bonds with their consumers through corporate responsibility, they’re fostering a more substantial loyalty base for the business overall.

At IBM, that’s tackling some of the world’s biggest problems, which in turn sparks innovation and growth. “When we do this, that’s where we find the most opportunities for innovation, applying to technologies, and things that are going to make a true impact on the world and individuals,” explained Garcia. “And so, by setting your sights on the horizon and looking at the North Star, you’re seeking a way to develop technologies out.”

Throughout the past year’s hardships, and with sustainability and equity becoming increasingly important moving forward, all shared that values need to be addressed and understood throughout the entire company’s infrastructure. And for the panel, that includes setting a North Star for women and girls to know that they, too, can transcend in business.

Subscribe to Fortune Daily to get essential business stories straight to your inbox each morning.