Interviewed September 2008
Growing up in a Wisconsin farming town, Brian Chossek didn't have any idea he'd end up back on a farm after business school. Now 31, Brian is the president of Seven Oaks Ranch, a twelve-acre ranch in California that grows and distributes organic produce, including the Garlic Gold® brand of products. The self-described "values-based business" has been recognized as one of the Top 20 Organic companies by Ode magazine.
In his senior year in college, Brian began to ask himself how he could make money and do something good for the world. Before coming to UNC Kenan-Flagler for his MBA, Brian started a venture that sold nutritional supplements with 100% of the proceeds going to charity. It was through this work that he met Rinaldo Brutoco, a highly successful serial entrepreneur and founder of the World Business Academy. Brian and Rinaldo formed a business relationship that lasted through Brian's years in business school and beyond, working together on several projects before creating Seven Oaks Ranch.
Seven Oaks Ranch is based fundamentally on values. Brian and Rinaldo wanted to build a business that would empower people and communities, and have built sustainability into the business. The ranch employs sustainable farming practices, operates a certified organic kitchen, and uses alternative energy technologies for power and transportation. The company also seeks out business partners that it believes share its values in benefiting society and/or the environment. Brian hopes that what Seven Oaks is doing, and how they doing it, will inspire other people. He wants to show the world that creating a business that is successful at both "doing well and doing good" is possible.
Brian believes sustainability is, underneath it all, about "the infinite potential of the human spirit and the need for business to play a role in unleashing in it. When we can tap in to the human potential, we'll begin to see paths to sustainability and new business models that truly create sustainability, rather than incremental improvements based on current economic models."
Of his UNC Kenan-Flagler experience, Brian credits the Kenan-Flagler network and reputation for opening doors for him. The people he met and built relationships with were "incredible." His advice to current MBA students? "Don't spend all your time in books. Business and life comes down to relationships. The relationships have more profound value than anything you can get out of a textbook."
Sustainability Book Recommendations:
Global Mind Change by Willis Harman
Its concluding statement is: "It is difficult for any of us to fully comprehend what is undoubtedly true: If the basic assumptions underlying modern society are indeed shifting the way we suggested, it follows that society will, only a few generations from now, be as different from modern industrial society as that is from the society of the Middle Ages. Furthermore, it will be different in ways that we only vaguely intuit, just as a Renaissance futurist would have had a hard time trying to describe modern society. We do have an advantage over any other time in history. When other profound change took place, those living through it tended to be unaware of the historical significance, and were aware mostly of the transition pains and difficulties. We are fortunate enough not only to be able to watch major change take place within a single lifetime, but also to possess enough knowledge to have a good picture of what is going on. Our part in it can be exhilarating and fun. Given the choice, why not pereceive it that way."
Brian adds: "For me, the book and that statement speak to the mind-shift necessary to transform business and create businesses that truly create sustainability. It speaks to the need to have the courage to see business as a noble profession and to embrace the challenges that are in front of us."