Corporate Responsibility: Doing Good While Doing Well

By Ron James, from The Business Ethics Exchange, news from the Center for Ethical Business Cultures

Can a company be profitable and a good corporate citizen? General Mills is writing a chapter in this story, having recently been recognized by Forbes Magazine as the “Most Reputable Company in America” for its work in corporate citizenship, products and services, governance and leadership. General Mills’ chairman and CEO, Ken Powell, described just how as he keynoted a recent CEBC public forum: The Evolution of Corporate Responsibility in American Business.

Corporate responsibility is fundamental to General Mills. Founded in the 1860s, Cadwallader Washburn’s vision included building his mill to make flour that would bake bread and someday feed the world. Powell shared that same spirit highlighting the central focus of the General Mill’s mission: nourishing lives.

In 1878, General Mills, following mill explosions that killed 18, responded by investing in new technology that made mills safer and shared it with his competitors. The company also created a fund for workers’ families and built an orphanage that still exists today in the Washburn Center for Children. That same spirit continues. General Mills contributed over $143 million in foundation grants, product donations, corporate contributions and brand partnerships. Over 83% of its employees utilize company supported time to volunteer in the community, and many of its food products are delivered in 100% recyclable paperboard.

Powell talked about the concept of “holistic value creation,” which he described thus: solving problems that create solutions that benefit not just the company, but consumers, customers, shareholders and the community. For example, when General Mills faced a subpar corn supply for its Bugles snack in China, it developed exclusive relationships with farmers and brought in an agronomist to teach them how to grow more and better corn. Today, the corn supply is higher-quality and more reliable and the business is more profitable. The annual income of the farmer has increased four-fold, paving the way for a higher standard of living and a strengthened community.