Conscious capitalism

Container Store CEO doesn’t see business as a zero-sum game

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Container Store workers celebrate creation of an
employee assistance fund. Businesswire

When Kip Tindell and his college roommate, John Mackey, attended the University of Texas they never discussed business philosophies. Now, Tindell, the chairman and CEO of The Container Store Group Inc., and Mackey, the co-CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc., both are leading proponents of “conscious capitalism,” a concept they had no idea they shared in their college days. “We didn’t talk about it in college,” Tindell says. “We talked about girls.”

Tindell will discuss conscious capitalism in his keynote speech at the Tom Tom Founders Festival, which will be held in Charlottesville April 13-19. “Conscious capitalism is something I am passionate about. It’s synonymous with our principles at The Container Store. It’s our business philosophy,” he says.

Conscious capitalism centers on treating all of a company’s stakeholders — including employees, vendors, customers, shareholders — with respect.

“People are brought up to believe business is a zero-sum game, but someone else doesn’t have to lose in order for you to win,” says Tindell, whose book “Uncontainable” outlines the concept of building a business where everyone thrives. “People make the most money creating win-win-win situations with other stakeholders. We believe [that if] you take care of employees better than anyone else … they will take care of customers better than anyone else.”

Publicly traded companies such as Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines and Costco that practice conscious capitalism outperformed the S&P 14-to-1 during a 15-year period, according to the book “Firms of Endearment.” The Container Store, for example, generates about $800 million in annual revenue and pays its full-time sales associates an average salary of $50,000, much higher than the in­­dustry stan­­dard. The company sells stor­­age and or­­ganization products.

“We have single-digit turnover in an industry that has triple-digit turnover,” Tindell says. “Herb Kelleher, [co-founder and former CEO] of Southwest Airlines, told me ‘Kip, you can build a much better business based on love rather than on fear.’”

A fan of the classic holiday film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Tindell believes everyone creates a wake in life similar to a boat’s wake. “Everything you do and don’t do impacts the world around you,” he says. “If you are mindful of this wake, you will behave differently and move from going mindlessly through life not paying attention to the people around you.”

Tindell believes leaders have a “huge moral responsibility” to make sure employees look forward to coming to work every morning. He touts a leadership style that highlights transparency and communication. “Treating employees that way and managing that way connects with the human spirit,” he says.

Belief in this concept has to come from the top. “You need a leader that leads with intellectual IQ as well as emotional and social intelligence who can be a servant leader,” says Audrey Robertson, The Container Store’s vice president of cultural programs and community relations.

When people work for companies that treat them well, they feel fulfilled. “A lot of self-worth has to do with what we do for a living. If we are nurtured and developed and allowed to succeed, our esteem goes up and we are most productive,” Tindell says.

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