For a long time, running a corporation and doing good have been at odds with each other. But times have changed. Listen in as we chat with Cameron Madill, CEO of Pixelspoke, leader in the B Corp movement and chair of the B Corp Board in Portland, Oregon. We’ll be talking about how businesses can be used as a force for good, the benefits of B Corp certification on recruiting, retention and revenue, and what you can expect when making the transition from standard organization to certified B Corp.
Hey. Brandon here. Welcome to today’s episode. Thank you for the download and thanks for the ongoing support. In today’s episode, I invited Cameron Madill on the podcast. He is the CEO of PixelSpoke. They’re located in Portland, Oregon and he is a leader in the certified B Corp movement and is also the chair of the B Corp board in Portland, Oregon. But this certification is international.
In this episode, we discuss how businesses can be used as a force of good and why the B Corp certification has a positive impact on recruiting, retention and revenue.
Please give us a five-star review on iTunes and be sure to connect with me and Xenium on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Enjoy the episode today.
Brandon: Hey, Cameron. Welcome to the podcast.
Cameron: Hey, Brandon. Thanks for having me on.
Brandon: Cameron, you had a great talk. You sent me a video clip of one of your EO talks, Entrepreneurs’ Organization over in Portland and you posed a really great question, which is, “What is the purpose of business? Is it to get profit? Is it something else?” What’s your answer to that?
Cameron: I actually go back to a line I got from a business coach many years ago when I was pretty bad at running a business, frankly. So, I was wrestling with that myself and we had this comment which just stuck with me ever since, which is “The profit is no more the purpose of business than air is the purpose of life.” They’re both a necessary precondition for survival and that search for a greater purpose. So I view profit as – that’s like a necessary piece but it’s not the end purpose of business.
Brandon: Does that mean you’re not going to do everything in business for profit, but you can actually use business to be a force of good? It’s kind of what you’re saying, right?
Cameron: Yeah, absolutely. I think the analogy to air though is – if you ever start losing access to air as a human being, you got an urgent problem that needs to be solved right away or you’re a goner. That’s what I think of profit. It’s the fuel that lets us do everything else and if you don’t know how to run a business well and you don’t have profit, then you don’t get to sit around and talk about higher levels of purpose and impact in your business.
Brandon: So the reason I wanted to have you on is you’re a leader in the certified B Corp movement especially in Portland, Oregon. You’re heavily involved and you educated me recently. We had a call offline. You educated me on what the B Corporation is. I wanted you to come on and talk about that.
So what is a B Corporation? Is it something that is an entity type for tax purposes? Is it a certification? What’s the distinction between a B Corporation and all the other S Corp, C Corp, all the things that you hear out there?
Cameron: Yeah, it’s a great question and anyone who has ever worked in branding knows that naming is really hard. So, they’re two separate things. A company might be both. But there is a legal status and there is a certification, and they’re completely separate. You might do both. But the certification is a company that has said, We’re going to measure and publicly share our impact in – I call them the 4Cs: your culture, your customers, your community and the climate. So we’re going to measure that. We want to measure our impact with this rigorous assessment. We’re going to publicly share that for the entire world to see. If we reach a certain score, then we’re going to be able to certify as a so-called certified B Corporation.
Separately, there’s a legal status in Oregon. It’s an amendment to your articles of incorporation to become a so-called benefit corporation. It’s actually different in different states, what it’s called and how it’s done, which sort of adds to the confusion. But I think of those as really separate and I think of the certification as all about having data, having analytics to truly measure your company’s positive impact in the world. And the other one is about a legal status to get around this issue that especially for publicly-traded companies, they’re often actually legally required to act only in their short term interest which may not be the right thing long term for the company and in many cases, it’s not the right thing for their community or the environment. But they’re actually going to become legally liable if they don’t do these short-term, profit-driven activities. For a small privately-held company like mine, that’s not as important of a thing.
Brandon: From the legal standpoint – I do want to go back to the impact as it seems like the most important piece. But from the legal side of becoming a B Corporation, are there any financial or tax benefits that go along with it, or is it truly just a certification that you have and it’s a legal standing with the state or at the federal level?
Cameron: Yeah. So again, they’re separate, right?
Cameron: You can choose to become a benefit corporation to change your legal articles of incorporation as well as choosing to pursue the certification as assessment. The legal change is they change the way that you’re required to run the company, which is most important for companies that are publicly-traded, or thinking about becoming publicly-traded, as far as the liabilities of the Board of Directors and the officers.
There’s not any tax benefit that I know of, although it has been discussed. In certain areas, there are different people in a procurement level who are trying to say that either the legal status as well as some sort of certification would get you benefits equivalent to being like a better known business or something like that.
So there are people playing at the tax game. But right now, there’s really no tax benefit to either approach.
Brandon: It seems like there would be businesses out there that may be considering jumping into the B Corp certification. But maybe they’re the ones that are pushing the tax benefits. Otherwise, maybe they don’t see any other benefits beyond that.
Cameron: Yeah. I think that’s right. I mean I think that – the thing I will say if we sort of begin talking about these two separate things of changing your legal status and then pursuing an assessment to measure your impact in the world, I’m more focused on that assessment side, this community of certified B Corporations.
Certainly one of the questions I will get from people is, What’s in it for me? I think we all have a lot to do in our businesses and I’ve been an entrepreneur starting and running things for many years now and the list of to-dos is long indeed.
I always talk about it as like the three Rs that you get in return. This is all stuff that we’ve seen personally in my company and I have seen in numerous other sister-certified B Corporations. The three Rs are recruitment, retention and revenue. So we almost immediately saw a substantial uptake in the number of quality candidates we get applying for jobs.
I think – while, certainly not everyone, you see this huge trend that increasingly employees are saying, I want to work somewhere with a sense of purpose. I want to work somewhere that’s a good actor. How do I know, right? How do I know that this company I’m going to – because you’re all going to say that you have a good culture and you want to do good in the world. But how do I know what you really do?
There are some things out there like Glassdoor. But it’s still pretty hard to tell what a company is like on the inside. So we saw a big benefit there. I think from a retention standpoint, I think we’ve seen that it has really, really helped us to get a lot better with the culture piece and really thinking intelligently about everything from how we design, growth opportunities for our employees, to how we engage them and engaging the world outside of the company and all those things seem to have really helped from a retention standpoint.
Then lastly, it takes a lot of different forms as far as what kind of sales and marketing benefits you will see from becoming a certified B Corporation. But the core point is whatever industry, whatever business model you have, increasingly, people are wanting to – they’re becoming aware that they vote with their dollars and so they want to align themselves with companies that have similar values and we’ve just seen that to be a really powerful piece.
At the end of the day, if your product or service is crap, then like you’re going to have a hard time, right? That’s table stakes. But if you get to that point where people are looking at you and one or two other options and they look at you and say, I feel like we have the same values, you’re going to win that sale almost every time in my experience.
Brandon: You bring up some really great points and I’m curious if you’ve used the certification and your impact score during the recruiting, selling, all those touch points with clients or prospective employees, and even your employees. If you’re using that or if those positive upticks in each of those areas is a byproduct of acting a certain way because of being a B Corporation. Do you think it’s either/or, or is it both?
Cameron: I would say it’s both. It definitely depends on the context. So I think from a recruiting standpoint, when employees are looking at giving you – you know, the single biggest chunk of time that they will have awake in their lives for a stretch of years, they’re pretty serious about researching you, from what I’ve seen.
So we saw almost immediately that – and we still see this. Almost every serious prospect who comes in looking at a job, maybe they don’t know a lot about certified B Corporations before they show up. Some of them do, but some of them don’t. But they’ve dug into it and they’re often like, That’s really interesting. Why did you choose to do that? What does that look like? and they tend to be really excited about it.
I think with existing employees, it’s different. It has definitely been kind of like change management education experience because they’ve been at your company for a long time. So they’re like, I don’t know. What is this? What has really changed? Why should I care?
So we’ve done a lot of work to engage them in the local community as certified B Corporations and saying like, Hey, it’s really cool that we’re part of a community that includes locally like New Seasons and Hopworks and Patagonia and all these other amazing companies.
So that has taken a little while, but it has definitely, I think, really become part of how they view their experience at our company. Then on the sales and marketing front, my experience is that whether you’re doing ‘B-to-B major account’ sales or ‘consumer’ sales, people just don’t have a lot of time and patience. So really just distilling it down to a really concise message.
So the way we do it is we actually talk about how we do microfinance loans around the world. So I just show a big picture of a woman we made a loan to in Thailand. It’s this big, vibrant, colorful photo. And I say, This is one of over 3,500 loans we’ve made around the world. And we’re part of this community of certified B Corporations – companies like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation – that are committed to using business as a force for good. And then I move on. That’s it.
So that’s very just like – people kind of hear it and they’re like, Oh, OK, OK. That’s cool. I like that. I respect that. But my experience at least was, if you kind of get into trying to educate them too much, that they’re kind of like, Show me what you’ve got from a work quality standpoint. It’s good to know about that and I’ll kind of believe it more as I see it.
So anyway, that has been my experience, that the context, I think, always matters in how you communicate the information.
Brandon: You probably get this question quite a bit, but in this day and age with the business, you’ve got to be purpose-driven because I think if you’re trying to capture talent, you’re trying to get new clients, they want to work with somebody who has a clear mission that they do good. So the question I have for you is: why would you need to become a certified B Corporation? Couldn’t you just do good on your own? Isn’t that good enough?
Cameron: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, first of all, I don’t think everyone does believe that. That’s certainly not my experience.
Cameron: Well, I think it’s hard. I don’t think we in the business community are used to thinking and talking about purpose and values and culture. I mean there’s a reason we’ve got Office Space and Dilbert and all of these things that make fun of business, trying to maybe go somewhere it doesn’t naturally go. Because I know my friends in the non-profit space talk about how they’re often a little puzzled at some of the business stuff we do because they’re like, Yeah, everyone here does that. Everyone here talks about purpose in the non-profit world.
Cameron: So I don’t think it’s a given. But I am with you that I think it’s really important because I think there’s just particularly – among our teams, there’s just a gigantic demand for that and I think it’s a huge competitive advantage and I don’t know any business that isn’t people-driven. So I do think it’s critical. I think to your question of, Why would you become a certified B Corporation? I don’t think you have to do it. I think there are two elements here.
One of the things I shared in the talk that I gave for the Business Journal on this topic was that it’s meant to be like a tantalizing question. So if you are to choose to measure and improve your impact the same way you do your finances, will it actually amplify your success as a company? You know, instead of that traditional mindset of Oh, if you’re doing good, then that’s charity and it’s actually siphoning off profits, I actually think you get this kind of flywheel amplification effect if it strengthens your culture and it strengthens your recruiting and it better aligns the clients that you bring in the door around your purpose and your values and actually everything gets easier. It’s something that Stephen Covey’s son, also called Stephen Covey, confusingly – but, you know, he talked about that as the trust tax and I think you actually really kind of – you really get to lower the trust tax tremendously by getting everyone aligned. So I think this question of ‘how do you find your purpose’ or ‘how do you pursue your impact’ is a really hard one. What I found is just that having the data, having analytics on your impact, opens your eyes to all of these things that you could be doing that you’re not.
So my answer to that would be like, Well, can an organization make money without financial statements? Of course, right? But I’m not going to run a company without them.
Brandon: It’s a lot harder to. Yeah.
Cameron: It’s a lot harder to. But it’s absolutely doable, right? So that’s how I look at it as just one of our core organizing principles as a certified B Corporation is this notion to measure what matters. So by expanding our concept of data from just a financial realm to include impact, I think you open your eyes to all of these possibilities that you’re not currently pursuing and that will actually help you to become more effective and more crisp on what your purpose is as an organization.
Brandon: I’m glad you brought up the measurement piece because you’re talking about the certification process and it sounds like there’s an assessment perhaps before you actually get certified that will measure your actual impact and whether or not you can become a B Corp based on that score. Do you get a score every year? Is this something you can sort of look at with your team on a regular basis to say, How can we make a greater impact? Here’s our score as we sit today. What do we need to do to raise that score? How does that whole process work and how do you use that impact score?
Cameron: Yeah, great question. So there is an assessment. It’s a fair bit of work, as it should be, for any group that takes itself seriously. So it’s actually a couple of hours just to get through the assessment and then usually the first time through, people will spend dozens and dozens of hours organizing their company and really rethinking how they do their company to reach the necessary score to certify.
So it does take quite a bit of work. And I often see that it’s so much work that they’re a little bit exhausted when they finally qualify. Like anything in life, right? You put a lot of work towards reaching a goal and then you kind of want to just take a breather.
But what we’ve found, and what I’ve generally seen with other companies that are also certified B Corporations, is once you kind of take a breather for a few months, you start to realize, OK, we got this score and we passed this threshold to get the certification. But what about all those areas that we didn’t get points in? Then your brain just starts working and you start saying, well, some of those things you probably disagree with. You say, I don’t want to do those things. Some of those things you look at and you say, That’s impossible. It costs way too much money or time.
But some of them, you’re like, Boy, that’s really interesting. I believe in that, and yet we don’t do it. Why don’t we do that? That actually doesn’t seem like it would be too much work or very expensive. We think it would increase our positive impact in the world and deepen our connection with our employees or our clients or whatever it would be.
So I think that to me is the real value of the assessment as a tool is that in essence, it kind of becomes like a roadmap towards becoming a more effective business or social enterprise.
Brandon: Once you become a B Corporation, is there any way to reassess where you’re at? Because I imagine you want to keep making a greater impact. It’s probably just the right thing to do in your mind. How do you continue to measure that?
Cameron: Can I just say that was a very graceful way to ask me to answer the question you asked? OK, good point. I forgot to answer that one piece. So yeah, so the way it’s structured is every two years, you have to recertify.
Brandon: OK, that makes sense.
Cameron: If you’re really lucky like we were – just a slight sarcasm – you get the full audit and you have to pull documentation on every single question. They do that to 10 percent of the companies every year. So one of the things I really like about it is – you know, we’ve gotten a ton of value and benefit out of it and it’s an extremely rigorous certification. So I think if it’s something that aligns with your belief system, it will really reward you. But I also think it’s too hard for someone to do if it’s just a PR stunt.
I’ve definitely seen companies that I would say are very opportunistic but I don’t think they do business very well. They’ve got unhappy clients all over the place and they’ve got unhappy employees all over the place. I see them dig into this and they get all excited and then you talk to them a few months later and they’re like, Ah, I didn’t believe in that. It was too hard.
We all know about the prevalence of green washing or similar washings that are happening in different areas related to impact. And I think that’s what I like about it so much is that it really is the people who reach this standard really are the innovators. We talk about our strategy being ‘shining a spotlight on these exceptional companies and raising them up because they really have reached a truly high bar as far as the role they play in the world.’ And that’s good because it means that you’re part of a group which really means something.
I think we’ve all been parts of groups where membership doesn’t mean anything. So then it kind of loses its overall cohesion or purpose.
Brandon: I’m so glad you brought up the fact that it’s a rigorous process. In your experience, who’s typically leading the charge in filling out these assessments and just rallying the company to get certified? Is it the business owner? Is it the President? It depends on the size, I’m sure. But is it an HR person? In your experience, who’s handling all of this?
Cameron: Yeah. I would say yes.
Brandon: To all of it?
Cameron: Yeah. If it’s a huge company, they will often have a Director of Sustainability or Director of Impact, or there’s a bunch of different titles. Oddly enough, it seems to fall under marketing for kind of mid-sized companies. For smaller companies, it often will be the CEO or the President. So it’s really all over the place. I think what’s neat is that it really can be a top-down or a bottom-up approach.
There are a number of B Corps where actually individual divisions or groups inside the organization kind of covertly started experimenting with the assessment and putting information in and then basically went to their higher-ups and said, Look, we think we can do this. It just kind of presented it to them. But then it often – you know, it definitely happens as a top-down effort as well, a strategic decision that management makes.
Brandon: Is the certification the same in all states or is it state-driven? How does that work state-to-state?
Cameron: Yeah. So the certification is actually international.
Brandon: It is international. OK.
Cameron: Yeah. It’s really an astonishingly difficult thing they’ve done. There’s this whole team of – I forget what they call them – something like the Standards Team – and they are able to certify any company, any size, any type.
Cameron: They have more or less a standard scoring system. It’s just incredibly difficult. So I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that. But the nice thing is that, for us as entrepreneurs or end users, whatever the term would be, we all just take the same test no matter where we are in the world.
Brandon: But isn’t that fascinating? So you say it’s international. Most of the certifications that we have nowadays, it seems like they’re state-driven. It’s like you’re making an impact in your local community and everything is state-driven. Whereas the B Corp, they’re really trying to make an impact globally and that’s powerful. I mean you don’t see that too often.
Cameron: Yeah. It’s a really incredible movement and I think the more you get connected to all of these different businesses around the world, I just find it to be an incredible source of creativity and inspiration when you see that these truly are like the change-makers and the innovators and I really believe it’s just the future of business. The chance to kind of get in at the ground floor early on is just incredibly exciting.
Brandon: Give me some scale. It’s international. But how truly big of a movement is this? How many companies are involved? How long has it been around? Where is it at this point?
Cameron: Yeah. So it has been around for I think a little less than a decade. There are something like 2,200 certified B Corporations around the world. Let’s say about half of them are in the US. There’s something like – I’m going to get this wrong, but I think it’s in the hundreds of thousands of businesses that have taken either the full assessment or they’ve taken a shorter quick-impact assessment. And then your question of how big it is, I think this is a key thing for people to be aware of. It’s hard to get that certification. Again, it’s really meant to be shining a spotlight on the truly exceptional companies or the ones who want to be exceptional.
Then as far as driving change, we engage all these other companies through the assessment who may not reach the required score to become a certified B Corporation but they can still use the tool to measure their impact. Then, this is sort of behind-the-scenes strategy but, the non-profit behind this is actually leading the efforts to drive legislative change in the actual legal structure of corporations because we think it’s actually a really unhealthy structure, which is behind a lot of the problems that the world faces.
So it’s one of those things where in numbers, it’s relatively small. But in impact, it’s really big because the certified B Corporations are just kind of the tip of the iceberg of this whole movement of change.
Brandon: I find it super fascinating and shocking that only 2,200 companies worldwide are certified. If this thing really catches on and it becomes this giant movement, this is a huge opportunity for employers and for businesses who want to find clients that are like-minded, who care about being purpose-driven, and for employees who want to work for an employer who does good in the world. I mean that is a huge opportunity in those two areas alone.
Cameron: I totally agree. One of the things I’ve talked to people about that they often don’t quite realize or think about, is just how new this is. So if you’re looking at 2,200 B Corporations, this is a group that has been growing anywhere from 70 to 100 percent per year since it started. You know, 10 years, you start with 10 in the first year or whatever, right? So the growth rate is really, really high. But it’s just so new that it’s not that big yet and I think the – I think like you said that there’s a point where this really is the future of business. This is the way that business will be done. But you have a chance right now to engage and get ahead of the curve and have it really be a meaningful differentiator because I think you won’t be able to say that in the future because this will be stuff that everyone is doing.
Brandon: When you become a certified B Corp, is there a way that you gain access maybe to the other certified B-corps where you can all get together, share like-minded ideas and figure out how to change the world?
Cameron: So, I’m the chair of the local B Corporation board. So we have a website at www.BLocalPDX.com. It’s a little hard to capture those things. So it’s like B like the letter B and then “local” and PDX dot com. That has all our upcoming events and they’re actually open to people who are just exploring the experience as well. Yeah. So folks like Xenium who haven’t yet certified would be welcome to come. We would love to see you there and yeah, these local communities are really just fantastic. We had a 250-person conference a month ago for the community, which was just really inspiring and eye-opening and people made all sorts of great connections and committed to all sorts of meaningful changes in how they were doing business.
Then of course there is a national and international community and there’s an annual retreat, a variety of other events that happen as well. So yeah, it’s a pretty robust set of communities albeit one that’s rapidly evolving, as I said, because the growth rate is so high. Anyone who has run a company that’s growing at 80, 100 percent can kind of imagine the scope of what we’re taking on.
Brandon: Do you recommend that organizations who are thinking about jumping into the certification go to one of those events and check out the website to learn more and see what they’re getting into and see what kind of changes they need to make before going through that rigorous process?
Cameron: I think so. I mean we would love to have anyone who’s interested either just drop us an email through the site or show up to an event. We have B Corp 101s I think almost every month now before our luncheons, where for 30 minutes, people can come and just ask questions, learn about the movement. There are programs running with Portland State where there’s actually a six-week workshop series to help people get through the assessment. There are a variety of consultants.
Cameron: Pour yourself a shot of whiskey and do not get up until – no, actually, seriously I would say – I mean whatever your drink of choice is and do not get up until you finish the assessment.
Cameron: Like I said, it’s a difficult assessment because it’s going to ask you to look at your company in a way that you really haven’t and you won’t have all the answers and that’s totally fine. So that’s actually where I see people get hung up is you start getting asked all these questions that maybe you don’t know the answers. So then you just sort of say, Oh, shoot. Then you stop partway through and you lose momentum. But actually you just take two hours, get through everything. If you don’t know the answer, you can just check the box and say, Come back later.
Then you’ve actually established your baseline, right? Because now you’ve gotten through the assessment and maybe you actually already have a score that qualifies, or you can see how far away you are from qualifying, and now you can just get to work on closing the gaps. Because it could be policy changes. It could be change in the way you do business. It could be – sometimes it’s just – I’m sure you guys as an HR company know this – it could just be having better documentation in your employee handbook of stuff that you’re already doing.
I know people who have, for example, paid volunteer time-off policies, but they’ve never formally documented them. But yeah, just that first – I always tell people – I don’t know whether it’s coffee or whiskey or whatever your thing is.
Cameron: Yeah, or both. Yeah. Get yourself an Irish coffee. But just make yourself comfortable and just commit to getting all the way through the assessment because sometimes it seems like it’s further away than it actually is. That’s one of the nice things for me about being in this community is when you get to hang out with companies that you might idolize like New Seasons or Patagonia, you realize that while they are exceptional companies, they’re also just like the rest of us. They wake up every morning and they put their clothes on the same way the rest of us do, and they got to where they are by starting the journey. That’s really what the assessment lets you do, I think.
Brandon: Well said. Well, Cameron this has been a lot of fun to talk about this. You’ve dropped a lot of knowledge on me. You educated me on this whole movement, which is fantastic. Anything else you want to say before we part ways here? Just about the assessment, about the purpose of it? Anything else that you want to say in closing?
Cameron: I’m just so excited to have Xenium join the community in the future. I think you guys will be perfect for it.
Brandon: I think we’re doing a lot of this stuff already. So it seems like a natural fit. I’m the marketing guy here at Xenium. You said that for a lot of small to medium-sized companies, it does fall on marketing. I’m glad that you brought this to my attention because I really have heard about it minimally, and I didn’t really know what it was. So this has been enlightening for me. It really has.
Cameron: Fantastic. Well, thanks for having me and I guess I would say to everyone else that it really has been the most amazing community I’ve joined in my career and I think it’s a journey that’s well worth embarking on. Because I think we all ultimately want a greater sense of purpose in our lives and greater alignment between ourselves and our employees and our customers, and this is a tool for doing that. It’s a little bit more work up front but I actually think it makes business a lot easier because things are now pointed in the same direction.
Brandon: Wonderful. Thanks for joining the podcast, Cameron. I appreciate it.
Cameron: My pleasure.