Skip to main content

Fortune Magazine Companies Changing the World

Print PagePrint Page


By Amy Yaskowski (MBA’17)

This year, Fortune Magazine added a new annual list to its iconic portfolio. While many of Fortune’s well-known lists, including the marquee Fortune 500, are based on traditional quantitative business metrics such as gross revenue, the inaugural “Change the World” List highlights 50 innovative companies who are doing well by doing good as part of their core business and profit-making strategy. These companies are embracing a new way of doing business, one that captures value by engendering and empowering societal solutions.

On October 13, The Global Social Enterprise Initiative hosted a luncheon event which explored the selection, reaction and other insights to the list. Ladan Manteghi, Director of the Georgetown Global Social Enterprise Initiative, moderated the discussion which featured Alan Murray, Editor of Fortune Magazine, and executives representing four companies highlighted on the list, including Gary Cohen, Executive Vice President and President of Global Health and Development at Becton Dickinson & Co; Paul A. Heller, a senior staff member overseeing special projects for Vanguard; Alex Laskey, CEO of Opower; and Stacy Gillen, Vice President of Enterprise Systems and Services Sales for Philips Lighting North America.

Alan Murray kicked off the panel by discussing Fortune’s goal in publishing the list as a means to honor companies who go beyond corporate social responsibility to explicitly partner purpose with profit. These companies, Murray noted, “have utilized the power of capitalism to address big social problems.” A team of Fortune journalists judged companies on a series of metrics including the degree of business innovation involved, measurable impact at scale, the role of shared value activities to a company’s bottom line and the significance of the shared value effort to the overall business.

The list, explained Murray, was not intended to signal the overall “goodness” of a company, or to be a yardstick that measures the “good” that a company has done. Instead, the list was designed to recognize companies where shared values play a significant and meaningful role in the overall profit-making strategy.

Each panelist touched on specific initiatives that have made a measurable impact on key social or environmental problems as part of their corporation’s core business strategy. Contributing to social value is baked into the culture at BD, according to Gary Cohen. Beckton Dickinson has made work safer in global healthcare through innovation in safety engineered products and medical devices and set ambitious goal like ending maternal mortality—“We became activists,” asserted Cohen, “If we don’t address it, who will?”

Stacy Gillen of Philips asserted that Philips is dedicated to improving access to LED technology, and touched on her company’s own ambitious goal to end light poverty by 2030. With over 1.2 billion people in the world who do not have access to electricity, Philips has been instrumental in meeting the basic electricity needs of emerging economies. “Our challenge at Philips is to come up with creative strategies and financial models that enable faster adoption [of LED technology]” added Gillen.

Paul Heller, on behalf of Vanguard, touched on how the company creates a “virtuous cycle” through fee reduction that returns profit to customers. “We are set up to operate with aligned interest—[we] treat people like well and do it at a low cost.” Vanguard also prides itself on creating transparency within an oft-clouded industry and encourages other companies to follow suit.

When asked about how corporations are partnering with regulators to achieve shared value, Alex Laskey of Opower offered his experience in aligning government policy with corporate goals in order to achieve broad-scale change. Opower’s innovative software uses energy consumption data and behavioral science to transform the way utilities interact with their customers to create meaningful impact through energy savings. He contributed, “Our software company of 600 people is having as big an impact as the Hoover Dam… and the role of regulators and policy makers and legislators is of extreme importance.”

When asked who specifically within a company is responsible for inciting social change, it was a shared sentiment that leadership can certainly inspire shared value but that it is often a collective effort; instigated by leadership and demanded by both employees and customers alike. It was further noted that recruiting and retaining young, likeminded people is a critical driver of change. One added benefit of leading a purposeful organization is that recruiting and retaining employees can be effortless. “People are proud of where they work and the work that they do,” Laskey remarked.

When asked how each corporation leverages skills from the public and non-profit sectors to achieve a greater impact, each panelist touched on the benefit of partnering with non-profits in making gains beyond business core competencies. Cohen noted, “Each time we take on [a global unmet need], we accomplish it through cross-sector collaboration. It’s very hard for any one sector to solve these problems on its own.”

Related Link(s):

50 Companies Changing the World Photo Gallery