A Different Journey: The Entrepreneurial Spirit and Socially Conscious Capitalism

By: Monty Hamilton, Andersen Alumnus (Atlanta Office) and CEO of Rural Sourcing

Times have changed.

I can remember a simpler time in business school. Everyone wanted to be a braces-wearing investment banker or high-end management consultant. Let’s just say Gordon Gekko was our hero and the popular phrase “Greed is Good” was widely accepted as the gospel. The only guiding principle of running a business in the ’80s and ’90s was to maximize shareholder value.

Roll the clock forward 30 years and I now am CEO of a mission-oriented, purpose-driven company backed by a social impact P/E fund. My how times have changed. But it’s not just me.

The business environment has changed drastically over the past few years. Now companies are focusing more on mission and community benefit than just shareholder profit. Last year’s Business Roundtable was a major step toward solidifying this position. According to the Business Roundtable statement:

“Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to delivering value to all of them for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”

The statement explicitly says that companies shall work to deliver value to customers, invest in employees, deal fairly with suppliers, and support communities, as well as, generate long-term shareholder value.

This leads me to a great story. It’s one I often tell when I’m speaking at conferences around the country.

It’s a story about a friend of mine, Randy Lewis who recently retired. Randy was an SVP for Walgreens. One of the final projects was to establish a new warehouse distribution center in Anderson, S.C. This was a state-of-art facility and they needed to hire 600 people to run the center. The great and unique part of the story is who Randy decided to hire. He made a deliberate decision to hire people with disabilities. In all, the distribution center now employees 200 people with disabilities—a third of its staff.

Randy did this because he knew firsthand how difficult it is for people with disabilities to find gainful employment. He is the father of a special needs child.

While it’s a great story about doing good, it’s also a great story about doing well. That distribution center is now one of the top performing distribution centers in the country, proving that you can :do well by doing good.”

So why does this matter?

Today’s companies must stand for a higher purpose and can no longer hide behind the argument that their only obligation is to the shareholders. The mission-oriented business has gone beyond just a “nice to have.” Gen Xers and Millennials make up 68 percent of the workforce, according to Pew Research. As we’ve already seen, these audiences make purchasing decisions based on value and mission.

Look at the success of companies like Tom’s and Warby Parker. These companies have gone from startups to established socially conscious powerhouses. Their business model is rooted in “doing well by doing good.”

Companies like these have responded to change and led the way, but there has been a constant—the Entrepreneurial Spirit. There is a need for the Entrepreneurial spirit today because it leads to innovation and disruption. It leads to growth and success.

Just take my story for example. My company, Rural Sourcing, was founded a decade ago in a “tin roof shack” in Arkansas. Since then, we’ve grown the company to approximately 600 software developers in six development centers across the U.S.

How did we do it?

It’s about disruption, drive and delivering results. Our model puts a twist on the traditional outsourcing software development model. Years ago, there was a large push to outsource IT functions and software development. In the search for profits and an improved bottom line, CIOs pushed that work offshore, but it’s a move that comes with significant risk and diminished returns.

It took some time for things to shift, but over the past decade, there has been steady growth in onshoring. Companies are bringing much of that business back to the U.S. where they find less risk along with increases speed, communication and quality. As a result, our business model has been put front and center.

In short, it’s a new way to address an old problem. There is a long standing “war for tech talent,” where companies are fighting over hiring talent which has made it untenable to hire internal resources for many companies. We are turning the conversation on its head by finding a solution outside of the traditional tech hubs. It’s more than just a business strategy. It’s our mission. We are creating IT careers in Middle America.

Yes, we have built a successful business, but I’m even more proud of the successes we’ve had building communities. We have given people tech careers when there were few employment opportunities and provided tech education for countless kids. We’re making a positive impact on the communities we call home.

That’s the Entrepreneurial Spirit.

I got my first taste of this inspiration while working at Andersen.

The partners that were inspiring to me were those that were both really good at business development and at creating a “following.” These leaders were the ones that always seemed to have people who wanted to work on their projects and who wanted to be a part of whatever they had going on be it an internal initiative or a community fundraiser. These individuals created things that were bigger than themselves. Reflecting back, it’s obvious how they did this. They genuinely cared for the people that worked for them. They were able to see skills just underneath the surface of their people that they could bring out, help polish and subsequently help them launch into their own trajectories. It’s this skill of helping others through coaching, mentoring, instilling confidence and providing opportunities that created the “followings” that led to a virtuous cycle of both personal and company growth.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit is critical for today’s business landscape. We need innovators to deliver products and services that push the boundaries and make us better. It’s a different journey. One that not everyone is suited for, but for those who thrive on the creativity and leading from the front, the Entrepreneurial Spirit can define communities and lift up populations while still making a profit.