Interviewed June 2006
Jim Hutton Johnson is a rising second-year MBA student and current Net Impact chair of Kenan-Flagler's newly founded SVCIC (Sustainable Venture Capital Investment Competition). During his first year at Kenan-Flagler, Jim has proven to be a highly driven and committed champion of sustainability. He has been an active supporter of the CSE and the Net Impact Club, in addition to co-founding the SVCIC, volunteering as a Durham Scholars Mentor through the Kenan Institute's Center for Urban Investment Strategies, and winning sustainability competitions at Wake Forest and Thunderbird.
Originally from Maryland, Jim graduated from Brown University in 2001 with a BA in economics and a record-breaking four-year career in college baseball. He is also a Certified Financial Planner and worked for four years as a wealth manager for high-net-worth private clients in the Boston, MA area prior to business school. While working in this capacity, some of his clients requested that their investing be done in a socially-responsible manner. Since no one at his firm knew what that entailed at the time, Jim got to research the area and design his firm's SRI approach. Through this project, he discovered that socially responsible business and sustainability fit naturally with who he was and what he felt the role of business should be. In his words, "I quickly became committed to finding a way to align my beliefs with my actions through a focus on sustainability." No one who has met Jim would question his passion for SRI, sustainability, and community development finance.
When asked why he felt it is important to incorporate a triple-bottom line approach into business practice, Jim remarked on the great power that business has to impact society. He continued, "I believe the vast majority of people want to live in a cleaner and more-just world, yet we all know how perspectives can sometimes change when people act from behind the walls of a corporation. For me, incorporating social and environmental impacts into business practices is simply allowing our businesses to act in the same way a collective group of individuals would." This requires, among other things, new managers with a new way to approach business decisions.
Jim returned to school for his MBA in 2005 to further investigate how sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and finance intersect. He chose to attend Kenan-Flagler for its "close-knit, collaborative community and the opportunity to develop a much deeper understanding of sustainable business issues." Jim notes that, in his experience thus far, he has found the breadth and depth he was seeking in his coursework, practicum project, extracurricular activities, and a group of dedicated classmates that share his interests in sustainability.
While investigating MBA programs, Jim saw the CSE Consulting Program as a major differentiator among peer MBA institutions and a strong selling point that set Kenan-Flagler apart. Given that opinion, it is not surprising that Jim is currently working as a consulting associate for CSE Consulting — returning to the CSE for a second year after helping with the CSE Consulting projects last summer as a research associate. When asked why he chose his summer internship with CSE Consulting, he remarked that "when I looked at how I wanted to spend my summer, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to lead and work on multiple projects that were extremely interesting, challenging, and revolved so intensely around sustainable business practices."
Moving forward, Jim plans to use the skills he has gained at Kenan-Flagler to be able to make solid business cases for sustainability for the companies with which he works. He wants to change the misconception that business goals are mutually exclusive from social and environmental goals. Considering the increasing attention from the media and society given to social and environmental issues, Jim sees companies as being more ready to incorporate advanced sustainability business practices than in any time before. His long-term goal is "to be able to look back on my career and point to exactly how I helped make my community a better place." Looking at his track record thus far, I think he's well on his way.
Sustainability Reading Recommendation:
The Soul of Capitalism By: William Greider
This was one of the first books I read that got me to look critically at how my actions could positively impact society. It adeptly pieces together a cohesive argument that essentially declares this country's economic, political, and social norms and expectations unsustainable. After identifying the problem, Greider then provides many case study examples of actions that forward-looking individuals and entities are currently taking to turn capitalism into a positive force for good. It was enough to inspire me to try to do the same.
Nominee for Sustainability Superstar:
Whole Foods — I think Whole Foods has done a lot for sustainability, and not just for pushing a natural and organic lifestyle into the mainstream. The company just oozes the values of its founders. Long before they made headlines by making the largest purchase of wind credits in North America, they made it known to potential investors that Whole Foods would be run in partnership with their employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities in which they operate. This frankness and resolve to do what they believed in from the outset was unique for a public company. The investors who passed because Whole Foods wasn’t willing to squeeze every penny of profit are probably kicking themselves now when they see how well-received the company has been by the market. I’ve heard SRI Managers talk about finding the "next Whole Foods" in the way traditional investors seek the "next Microsoft." Whole Foods has shown how much can be accomplished with passionate and principled leadership.