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Recruit Execs with the Sustainability Mindset

Bill DiBenedetto | Friday January 21st, 2011 | 1 Comment

It’s one thing for companies to talk the talk and for some to at least start to walk the walk about sustainability, but when executive search firms take the sustainability message to heart in a big way, maybe the times are truly changing.

Sustainability experts at Egon Zehnder International, a New York executive search firm, say that corporations “must swiftly incorporate sustainability methods throughout their entire organization or risk obsolescence.”

It’s time to go beyond green, according the firm, and adopt sustainability as a core operating principle, while hiring people that share that principle. “Those companies that recognize sustainability as a business imperative and implement strategic sustainability initiatives will drive superior business performance,” the firm says.

“Although many companies are now advancing aggressively on sustainability, some continue to view the topic as a troublesome compliance requirement or philanthropic excess,” says Christoph Lueneburger, leader of the global Sustainability Practice at Egon Zehnder. “Those who fail to recognize that sustainability initiatives can raise a company’s productivity, efficiency, business reputation and shareholder value will lose ground to their competitors,” he added in an interview provided by the company.

Companies that have managed to make the dialogue about sustainability vibrant at every level of the organization discovered that having the right talent is key to their success, he says.

Based on research and a series of in-depth interviews conducted with leading sustainability executives in the Americas and Europe, Egon Zehnder says it has developed a sustainability model the includes three district phases to implementing sustainability initiatives. Each requires a different set of leadership competencies.

In the early phase, executives “need to make the case for change, so collaboration and influencing skills are essential, along with the ability to lead change.

“Successful leaders in the intermediate phase must be results-oriented and motivated by how to turn sustainability into a competitive advantage.

“The focus is on strategic orientation in the advanced phase. Leaders in this phase must pursue long term investments and partnerships.”

“Going green is important but sustainability also includes human capital and what types of leaders are needed to be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow because that is ultimately what it means to be sustainable,” Lueneburger says. “In addition, companies that have built sustainability into their DNA and brand find it far easier to attract and retain the best young talent entering the work force. This is a value that resonates deeply with the next generation of leaders.”

Pushing the sustainability mindset to the front-end of the executive hiring process will make it even more real, not an afterthought.


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  • Bradley Short

    I really enjoyed some of the quotes that came from the Egon Zehnder experts. The link to the interview appears to be dead, though.

    Do you know of any examples of executives who match the three models that are talked about above? Does EZI share who they interviewed to determine those leadership qualities, or is that kept confidential?