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SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Can You Be a Business-Minded Environmentalist?

How one VP turned his passion for environmentalism into new business opportunities.
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It's not uncommon to have interests that collide when doing business-personal and professional lives, your individual view on an issue versus a customer's needs, or the impact of commerce on the environment.

At Avondale, Brad Hoos, one of our vice presidents, is very active in environmental organizations as well as charitable pursuits within our Chicago community. He has always felt a fundamental conflict between being an environmentalist and succeeding in the business world.

The environmentalist in him is focused on reducing consumption, reusing materials and being conscious of everything that he touches or consumes. As a businessperson, however, he's focused on selling more, innovating new solutions and adding value to as many relationships as possible.

The key to professional success lies in how you manage these types of potential conflicts. In Brad's case, he has shown an ability to create real value for the business while remaining true to his objective of doing more for the environment.

Brad has become a better businessperson by being involved in environmental organizations and non-profits. He's also better connected professionally because of his community involvement. We asked Brad to share what he's learned while pursuing his personal and professional goals. Here are three of his lessons, in his own words:

1.       It's always about the people

I'm on the advisory board for a local Chicago environmental charity. Historically I'd been almost ashamed to admit that I was deeply involved in commerce and -gasp - tended to be fiscally conservative. Recently, however, I started a conversation with a board member in a different way - I shared that I worked for a small business focused on growing companies and creating value. This struck a cord and we started to talk about how I might be able to help her in adding value to renewable energy businesses.

Three weeks later, one of her friends reached out to me and wanted to learn more about how my team might be able to help fund their venture. The direct contact is powerful, but mentally segmenting your contacts into buckets is a huge mistake. By tearing down the walls I'd built in my head, I created a real business opportunity that worked to deliver clean energy.

2.       Get involved in organizations you believe in

Dale Carnegie once said, "Don't ask a man what's important to them, but instead watch where they spend their time." Get involved with organizations that align with your passion rather those organizations where you believe there might be contacts. Start with your true motivation; be honest with your professional goals and the contacts will take care of themselves.

3.       Be realistic with respect to the time and resources you can commit. 

The worst thing you can do is to over-commit and under deliver, so be sure that you'll be able to contribute to the organizations that you get involved with. Good organizations need good people who are passionate. Go for it - but  avoid creating negative impressions by not being able to follow through on your commitments.

Business skills, such as strategic leadership and organizational selling, can help you contribute to the needs of non-profit organizations. By networking in groups beyond your core business, you'll be able to make unique connections, benefit from a diverse perspective, and find many doors open that you didn't think even existed before.

Here is a great WSJ video on using philanthropy to win new business.

Share your experiences on mixing your business and personal passions with us at karlandbill@avondalestrategicpartners.com.

Last updated: Apr 16, 2012

KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale

Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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