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The new spearheads - An interview with David Katz

Patrick Bungard
Prof. René Schmidpeter

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Over the past decades there has been much talk about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and corporate accountability. However, people have often waited in vain for an actual rethink and action. A central question therefore remains difficult to answer: Will companies manage to break away from long-established management models based purely on profit and efficiency maximisation and adapt to the challenges of the 21st century? In the recent past, at least, there has been increasing evidence that companies that proclaim the social impact, the impact and their purpose as a polar star and strategic model in concrete terms and act accordingly are attracting attention. This is because they develop a concrete impact by using innovative approaches to address urgent problems of our time and at the same time, or rather because of this, are successful in business management.

The spearheads of these new impact-oriented companies are often start-ups and sustainable entrepreneurs. However, with their innovative models geared towards social impact, they are also increasingly inspiring large international corporations. With their concrete business models, they show how the combination and synergies of sustainability and profitability can be achieved in an effective way - they let concrete results speak for themselves: in the market, in balance sheets and, of course, in social impact. There are now examples such as “Plastic in the Sea”. Extremely many, but below the broad public attention.

Representative of this new corporate understanding is the Plastic Bank, founded seven years ago, which is taking an innovative approach to the plastic pollution of the oceans, marching hand in hand with strategic partners such as Henkel AG. David Katz, founder and managing director of the Plastic Bank, explains in the following six-eye conversation why you have to be there with thoughts, words and deeds to be successful.

*Patrick Bungard:**For many people, an impact-oriented business model like yours is something completely new. What makes the Plastic Bank different from a classic company? *

David Katz: The business model, I don’t think needs to be any different and isn’t any different than any other business. The beauty of it is, this is how businesses are supposed to be. What business is, it is building abundance and the more abundance a business can build, the more we can benefit, the more we all benefit. And when the business is solely focused on creating abundance and creating wealth and prosperity, a gift for everybody and everything, then there is more to share for everyone and you know the conversation that ‘rising tide raises all boats’ and that’s the truth of it all.

*René Schmidpeter: Are there special challenges for a company like Plastic Bank that generates social impact and is economically selfsustaining at the same time? *

Katz: Our challenges as a business is to grow exponentially, to grow around the world quickly, to have as much impact as quickly as possible. It’s the knowing that the ocean can’t wait, the world can’t wait. Every day that goes by that we’re not actually having a profound impact on setting the floor from plastic entering the ocean is lost. Everyday plastic is flowing into it and that is the challenge for us. And I don’t compare myself against other businesses, we unfold as we unfold. We grow and gain customers. We grow and gain life and beauty and impact.

*Schmidpeter:**You cooperate with large multinational companies. What are the essential elements of your partnerships with, for example, Henkel and IBM? *

Katz: Our relationship with multinationals includes them supporting the organization helping us build the ecosystem that they then buy the material from. We communicate the vertically supply chain. Ultimately we work with multinationals to build out the supply chain that they get to buy the material from. It gives them an insurance for volumes of material that they are making a commitment to the world for. The essential elements are our partnership, the commitment to make change in the world. Our partners are heartfelt, love filled family organizations and others that want to actually make an impact.

Bungard:**What can large companies who want to change and initiate a sustainable transformation learn from you?

Katz: You know, I don’t think you can, you know I always say “a man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still”. It’s probably my most common expression. I can’t make a company, I can’t transform an existing company to be an impact. I can’t convince you, I can’t take a multinational organization that’s been around for decades of not maybe a century or more and say ‘hey, you need to do this’. What I can do, is take those organizations who want to make change, that don’t know how and then show them a way that they can choose. If they want to transform, we can transform together. We can be a partner in that journey. I think that if there is anything for any company to learn, it’s to be a values led organization, a heart led organization. Thoughts and words and actions, when they are aligned, that’s where success is, that’s were joy lies. When I think about profitability and I communicate change in the world, that is not going to happen, there is an incongruence. So begin with the end in mind, begin with the knowing you want to change. You become profitable, you become authentic – it’s leadership management. It’s leadership marketing. It exhibits to the world through your actions who you are. I love the saying ‘I can’t hear what you say because what you do speaks so loudly’.

Schmidpeter:**Where does the journey of Plastic Bank go?

Katz: We continue to grow. We need to be around the world and this year, you know, we’re just going to unfold in Egypt, we have to have more impact in Brazil, we continue our expansions in Indonesia and in Haiti, in the Philippines. We’re looking at Vietnam, maybe Ethiopia, Cameroon. That’s what we are working on, the systematic growth of the organization – how do we truly be exponential, how do we increase our impact quickly. That’s the phase now. We’ve customers, we have more and more customers who want the material. That has to continue growing as well. I’m in the knowing that we need to be a sales organization – finding customers who want to participate with us to want to make a change in the world. We have to grow and facilitate that.

*Bungard:**One can currently observe a trend: More and more companies are stepping away from the shareholder value approach as the leading concept to run a business. Instead of old management concepts new keywords such as “purpose”, “impact”, “sustainability” can be found on top of business agendas. How do you think the world of business might look like in ten years compared to today? *

Katz: I’m confident that what is occurring and the change that is unfolding, is that we’re entering a regeneration economy. The companies that don’t show up to say “I’m going to fix the damage that’s been done” are not going to be in business. The conversations around sustainability and ‘I won’t do as much damage this year as I did last year’, all of that is conducive. The generation sees through it. To say “Oh okay, I’ll only hurt as much as little as possible, but I’ll still maximize my profitability” – done. Those companies who are showing up now, this regenerative economy, this generation, focuses on the way of being, on what the world needs, how do we make the world better, how do we build abundance of it. You know that’s back to the generation, creating abundance, that’s regeneration. That’s about making it even better, making it better and better. Because the more I grow, the more I contribute, the more can be benefitted from. The world is changing now. We are going to see the regeneration economy and regenerative societies where brands will own that space, where they exhibit the gift on the planet of the existence. And that will be heartfelt and authentic. And it will be exhibited, it will be shown. It will capture the heart of society and the market. And those are the ones that will win.