Building a Consensus for Change: One Man's Path to Corporate Responsibility | Net Impact

Building a Consensus for Change: One Man's Path to Corporate Responsibility

Marcus Chung, Vice President, Global CSR & Sustainability, Fleishman-Hillard

If you ask Marcus where his focus on CSR work came from, he’ll tell you that it wasn’t a fully conscious decision. He simply didn’t want to show up to work as one person and then go home to be a different person with his family and friends. In other words, he instinctively wanted his values and his employer’s to align. But that didn’t necessarily mean he scoured the globe to work only with organizations that met his values test.

If you see something that needs changing, change it

Early on, Marcus discovered that it might be possible to bring an organization he respected a little closer to the values he held dear. He was working at a consulting firm that didn’t have the diversity in its workforce that he and fellow research analysts were looking for.

“We had what were initially lunchroom conversations about the disconnect we saw between the world and how we were operating.” So he and his colleagues attempted to do something about it – and they were ultimately successful because they did it in a way that respected the organization.

“We started working together on a diversity strategy for the company and, by seeking out sponsorship through an HR executive, we succeeded in getting diversity included as one of the company’s stated pillars of value.”

Read the signposts – and follow them

This experience left Marcus determined to make sustainability and positive impact not just an occupational side project, but a core part of his job. That’s one of the reasons he decided to go to the Haas School of Business - because of its reputation for welcoming students with non-traditional business ideas. Marcus’s choice turned out to be forward-looking. Near his graduation date, he snagged a Haas-exclusive internship at Gap Inc. to develop the company’s corporate social responsibility strategy. This internship became Marcus’s entry point into a full CSR role.

“The CSR strategy project was supposed to last three months,” Marcus explains, “but it ended up lasting much longer. In order to keep me working on it, they found me a permanent position – a manager-level role within corporate communications.”

While this turn of events spoke to the opportunities that can come of an internship, it also showed Marcus two things that would drive his future success in CSR. One, his ability to communicate persuasively would allow him to gain buy-in from key constituencies within the company. Two, having an MBA would give him credibility with colleagues and provide the vantage point from which to approach them:

“One thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that it’s very easy for a CSR person to be stereotyped as not having strong financial acumen. That’s why I always lead with why an initiative to help workers or communities is good for business.”

Marcus' advice

Now that Marcus has built up his experience at companies like McKesson and now Talbots, a major apparel retailer where he focuses on factory working conditions, he has even more perspective to share.

  • Focus on building relationships: So much of CSR work is about building consensus with internal stakeholders whose support you’ll need. Know what they do every day and what their needs are if you want them on board. Marcus has been able to get Talbots designers excited about CSR initiatives simply by going out of his way to be involved in their work.
  • Seize every opportunity: Marcus’s best chance to get executive buy-in to fund women’s education in factory worker communities came at 2 am in an airport lounge in Jordan. If you want to be in CSR, be ready to use your moment when it arrives. You may have to present to twenty stakeholders before you find your one supporter.
  • Seek out communities of like-minded people: One of the reasons Marcus is a Net Impact member (and Board member) is because of the inspiration he’s gained from being an active part of a community that’s constantly looking to share ways to keep CSR growing and innovative. This is hard work and you’ll need a great network to sustain your energy.

If you want to make sustainability a part of your career, consider how Marcus first showed initiative to take on extra responsibilities in his job, narrowed his direction, and then got the tools he needed for the role he wanted.