The forest and the trees at timberland20

Timberland is an outdoor shoe and apparel company known primarily for durable boots, although it is als _ o known for its commendable environmental and societal footprint. Under the leadership of President and CEO Jeffrey Swartz, Timberland has become a pioneer in sustainability initiatives while following the mantra of “Doing Well by Doing Good.” As far back as the 1 990s, Timberland believed in empowering its employees and providing them with opportunities to volunteer in the community. In one noteworthy example that combines employee empowerment and concern for the environment, Timberland and its employees partnered in working toward the goal of planting a million trees in China. The idea originated from Japanese employees who expressed concerns about deforestation in China and issues with air quality. A plan emerged to plant a few trees in the Horqin Desert of Northeast China. It began as a small employee community service project in 2000, six years before Timberland sold any shoes in China. The project grew, and the goal of a million trees being planted was reached in April 20 1 0. Swartz is the third generation from the Swartz family to serve at the helm of Timberland. H is father, Sydney, was the CEO before him, and his grandfather started the company in 1 952. Before taking on the role of CEO, Jeffrey was educated in the best schools and received training to prepare him to lead the large international retailer. Unexpectedly, one of the most significant training experiences occurred when he and a handful of employees volunteered to help troubled teens. One of the young men asked Swartz what he did for a living. He told the teenager he was the Chief Operating Officer of Timberland. “He says, 'What do you really do?' I say, ' I'm responsible for the global execution of strategy. ‘Then I say, 'So what do you do?' He said, 'I work at getting well.' That was an answer that sort of trumped mine.” Swartz notes that the exchange made him feel like a trained seal that gave simple and shallow answers to important questions. The short, unassuming conversation was a critical influence on Swartz, inspiring him to reflect deeply on his fundamental beliefs and reasons for being in business. He became convinced that a meaningful and fulfilling life requires thinking beyond himself to the needs and concerns of others: “It wasn't frightening,” he remembers. “It was, in fact, exalting and exhilarating.” Swartz carried this Life lesson and the awakened sense of responsibility and purpose into his role as CEO. Even with his passion and sustainable perspective, he still has to balance these interests with the interests of shareholders in all of his decisions, including his decision to sell Timberland to VF Corporation. He believes Timberland's reputation of sustainability is part of the value that attracted VF Corporation to purchase the company, and he expects that Timberland will continue to do well, and do good, in the future.

1. If you were an employee at Tim berland, how would you respond to the idea of planting trees in China? How would you respond as a shareholder?

2. What is your reaction to the conversation between Swartz and the troubled teen?

3. Have there been conversations in your l ife that have triggered deep introspection?

4. Do you think it was reasonable for Swartz to expect that Timberland would ldretain its priority on sustainability after being bought by another company?

5. Where might you place Timberland along a conventional sustainable continuum? Explain your answer.


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