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From Chips to Soup: Dave Stangis on building CSR programs

October 26, 2009

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At first blush, one might think that Intel and the Campbell Soup Company have little in common. One company was founded in the 1960s and the other in the 1860s. One company manufactures semiconductors that are present in nearly every personal computer in the nation. The other company creates food that is present in nearly every refrigerator and cupboard in the kitchens across the country.

The brand that made Warhol famous.

The brand that made Warhol famous.

Yet the companies do actually share a number of things in common: they are both considered two of the most powerful brands in the marketplace and they have a strong track record of achievements in corporate citizenship. More specifically, each company either has benefited from or is benefiting from the sage advice and guidance one of the most prominent leaders in the CSR field: Dave Stangis who is the Vice President of CSR for the Campbell Soup Company after serving as Intel’s head of CSR.

We sat down with Dave for a two-part article to learn about his approach to building CSR within a company and his take on the current state of affairs in the CSR field.

Q: You’ve gone from Intel where you built the company’s CSR program to Campbell’s where you’re being asked to do much the same but with a different culture, sector and set of challenges.  What’s your vision for the CSR program at Campbell’s?

From a personal perspective, I believe there are key characteristics that need to be in place in any world-class CSR program.  The goal I have for myself at Campbell is to define and execute a CSR/Sustainability program that is differentiating for Campbell and integrally connected to the Company’s Mission and Vision; that leverages our strengths, honors our heritage, and builds the pride of our employees; and that enhances our reputation for distinguished corporate citizenship and CSR thought leadership.

You might jokingly ask if “that’s it?”  And, to be honest it’s not.  I’m determined to demonstrate that CSR and Sustainability, designed the right way, are approaches to business operation and innovation that build employee engagement, improve environmental performance, create positive social impacts, enable operational efficiency, reduce cost, foster innovation, strengthen relationships with customers and consumers and ultimately… create business advantage.

Q: What are the challenges of building the program at Campbell versus shaping it at an earlier stage like you did at Intel?

While there are a lot of similarities in the areas of building enlistment, defining goals and targets, and building internal and external communication strategies, the differences are also vast.  Not only has the maturity of the discipline changed over the last decade, but the point in the organization at which the two strategies were and are being created are different.

The Intel curve really grew out of the strong sense of accountability, operational metrics, and a globally strong environmental health and safety system.  These strengths evolved over time to comprehend emerging issues in the marketplace and eventually evolved into a CSR and sustainability program that received internal and external recognition.  And one that continues to grow today.

Campbell, on the other hand came to realize that CSR and sustainability were key business drivers at the corporate level.  This is a company that has a 140 year history of being recognized as a company with strong corporate governance, commitment to local community and environmental stewardship, and a brand that has been synonymous with goodness.  Campbell embraced the notion of CSR and sustainability at the very top of the Corporation and installed a specific business strategy to advance that commitment.

Those characteristics provide an advantage that is critical to integrating CSR and sustainability into our core business operations.  That advantage is one of the biggest tools I have at my disposal to advance our performance and results.  There are always clear challenges, especially when moving from one sector to another, in building personal and organizational competencies.  It will also take time to build organization-wide enlistment and a strong baseline of performance metrics across the core CSR disciplines.

Q: What are some of the best arguments, research, or evidence you use to promote CSR as a business strategy inside a company – especially if you’re trying to persuade someone who doesn’t see it as a business driver?

This comes down to the crux of the issue doesn’t?  I also think getting the answer to this question right is one of the ways to accelerate CSR and sustainability.  My advice in this area is stop trying to persuade someone about the value of CSR and sustainability on their own merits.

My approach is to understand the business drivers of the person you’re talking to.  Every function in an organization has business drivers.  They might be cost; they might be efficiency, perhaps employee recruitment and retention, or perhaps reputation.  Our job as CSR and sustainability professionals is to lend our expertise to our business partners to improve their performance in relation to their business drivers, not ours.

This isn’t easy, and it takes some effort to learn your business but is critical in the success of the profession.



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