An Unexpected Path from Financial Investing to CSR | Net Impact

An Unexpected Path from Financial Investing to CSR

Steve Brunn, Senior Manager of Marketing Strategy, Target

Steve makes his professional home at Target, where he helps determine marketing strategy for the company’s entry into Canada. Soon after this work is complete, he’ll be rotating to a new role focused on sustainability and CSR. This transition represents the culmination of a series of experiments and readjustment – all of which have steered him to a place that he only had an inkling of back in college.

Where do you start first?

Steve will be the first to admit that his choices as an undergrad were all about where he thought the jobs were. His aptitude for finance seemed to point him in a career direction that aligned with that priority. But things changed a bit when he went to study in Australia, working with a groundbreaking researcher on the triple bottom line.

Steve’s interest started to expand beyond just getting a good job in finance. “Either in college or directly after college,” Steve now reflects, “I wish I had focused much more on what I was passionate about and interested in. I know that might sound trite but my experience tells me that most people will be better off if they concentrate on that.”

Embrace your own knowledge gap

Steve was looking to apply his financial skills to sustainability issues. So after getting some entry-level financial experience, he took a role at RSF Social Finance, an organization that provides capital to social enterprises. A perfect fit, right? Not so fast. As Steve explains, sometimes things change.

“Gradually, I became less interested in finance,” he says, “partly because the field I worked in was more about quantitative analysis and risk mitigation and less about understanding the actual enterprises we were financing, which I realized I was much more interested in.”

Steve made sure to get the most from his experience regardless, taking advantage of a great professional community through his RSF colleagues and at The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco. The time spent with new and different people in these networks influenced his decision to attend business school, convincing him he could develop more of the skills he needed to reflect his evolving interests.

Learn the broader business first

While in business school at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Steve became fascinated with import-export models of sustainable economic development. In part, this brought him to Target after graduation. But in order to apply his new-found business skills to sustainability issues, a gradual approach showed itself to be prudent – as Steve learned at a regional Net Impact event.

“A woman who worked in CSR at Walmart was on a panel and someone asked ‘How do you get into a position like yours?’ She said ‘Prove yourself in the broader business first, and then make that shift to social/environmental impact once you have the trust of your colleagues.’”

Steve decided to join Target in an Enterprise Strategy position – perfect for learning the broader business. He also sought out the opportunity to co-chair the company’s Citizens’ Council, which engages employees on sustainability issues. All of this prepared him to take on his upcoming sustainability role.

“When you’re working on strategy,” Steve says, “you get exposure to different teams from across the company. Those experiences help you identify what you want to focus on next and also give you the personal connections you need to make that happen.”

Steve’s career path demonstrates that there’s rarely a straight line from point A to point B. His ability to adjust his focus and adapt has guided him to where he is today.

Steve's advice

  • Be yourself during the interview process: Don’t be afraid to be transparent about what your passions and interests are. That gives the company a better idea of who you are. It can also help you understand what they are about and whether the position will be a good fit.
  • Learn how to influence without authority: If you want support for CSR initiatives, your best bet is to first understand how and why things are done the way they are. This is true especially for larger companies with entrenched cultures and processes. Once you demonstrate that knowledge to your colleagues, your opinions about change will carry real weight.
  • Seek out third party perspectives: There’s no substitute for going directly to the source. If you’re making a decision about a position, either talk with someone who has that job or use your network to reach someone who used to have it. It’s a helpful way to see behind the curtain.