'Courageous conversation' with Jeffrey Hollender
SVN: Firstly, what is your title now?
Hollender: Well, I haven’t entirely decided on what my title is going to be. I do love my old title, 'The Inspired Protagonist.' I even love a title that I had for a day that I had to give up, called 'Chief of Un-fucking Up the World.' But, I’m still thinking about what my title is for the new business, Sustain, will be. CEO and president just don’t do much for me.
SVN: As an entrepreneur, what have been the most courageous moments for you in your career?
Hollender: Certainly in 1995 when Seventh Generation was a $7-8 million dollar company, we made the decision to sell the mail order part of our business. It was 75 percent of our sales, but we chose to focus exclusively on building our brand at retail and that was certainly a very untraditional and very unorthodox thing to do because we were a public company. We were a tiny public company of about $8 million in sales and we were selling off 75 percent of those sales. It turned out to be a wise decision, but not a decision that many people would have agreed with.
That’s on the business front, but I remember also about 15 years ago, when I was a board member of Greenpeace and a demonstration in Washington on climate change was scheduled for the same time as the Expo East, natural foods trade show.
We had a heated conversation with about 30 of our staff on the eve of that demonstration trying to decide if we should shut the booth down and all go to Washington to demonstrate against climate change, or not. It was a heated debate that lasted hours and I think that just having that conversation was important. Having that conversation to discern when business as usual needs to be abandoned to pursue things of greater importance. What we decided was that it would be unfair to our customers who had traveled across the country in come cases to meet with us, to totally shut down our exhibit. But our values clearly indicated that we needed to do something dramatic about climate change. So, half the people decided not to participate in the trade show and the other half went to Washington. That demonstration led to my being arrested, not something that was well received by my own board at Seventh Generation. They did not think that being arrested was an appropriate thing for a CEO to be doing.
I disagreed. I thought that the cause was deeply aligned with our mission and values as a company and we needed to show the seriousness of the challenge. I was quite proud to be arrested.