Everyone needs heroes. Ray Anderson is one of mine.

"The Corporation" (DVD)
Image by jetalone via Flickr

I first came across Ray Anderson in the 2003 documentary “The Corporation”. After having spent 25 years in business and just recently “hung out my shingle” as a free agent, sitting through “The Corporation” in early 2004 delivered my epiphany. In a couple of brief hours, more than a quarter-century of business fascination, experiences, and concerns were focused and crystallized in a clear, obvious, and undeniable truth: business as we know it is fundamentally “toxic” (my term); it must be — and can be — re-engineered to be “less toxic”. Quite possibly nothing less than our continued prosperity as a civilization depends on it.

In that moment (and even more today), this made perfect sense to me, and aligned completely with my work experiences, unspoken concerns, values,  and personal beliefs.

While there are many credible spokespeople featured in “The Corporation”, for me the embodiment of this truth is Ray Anderson, the CEO of an industrial carpet maker (Interface) who — driven by his own epiphany in 1994 from reading Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce” — started the long process of re-engineering Interface into a truly sustainable global corporation: one with zero ecological footprint. Famously profiled in Fortune magazine as accusing all business CEO’s (including himself) of being “plunderers of the world”, through his journey he has been recast and celebrated as “the Greenest CEO in the World”. His guiding hand in remaking Interface is a fascinating story; he did a TED talk a couple of years ago where he shares his own views on the subject and some details of the journey he and Interface are on. It is well worth taking the 16 minutes to watch it:

“The Corporation” was my epiphany. (Watch it, if you haven’t already seen it). Ray Anderson, as the embodiment of an open-minded CEO willing to speak truth to power and to take tough, uncompromising action in line with their own values — is my hero and an inspiration.

The Business Detox Project is my own personal project and passion that is slowly (much too slowly, I fear) growing out of my epiphany. I can only hope to be anything close to the model of positive change that Ray Anderson has become the world over, but it seems to me to be an endeavor well worth pursuing with as much vigor and passion as I can muster. I am a Business Engineer, after all…


2 thoughts on “Everyone needs heroes. Ray Anderson is one of mine.

  1. Ray Anderson — a great man indeed. Passed away just a few days after this post.

    As for re-engineering business: I would instead state that business must be re-engineered to be healing (to both human and non-human systems), rather than simply less toxic. Echoing Bill McDonough/Michael Braungart here…

  2. Chris — I was quite saddened when I heard that Ray Anderson had passed away, and I found it a bit ironic reading about it only a few days after writing my blog post. Ray Anderson (and The Corporation) was definitely the “kick in the head” (or is that “moment of clarity”?) that got me re-directed on my path….for which I am forever grateful…

    In terms of re-engineering to be “healing”, I don’t (yet?) know what that would look like, so I’m going to focus on what I do get, which is the “detoxing” part. Having said that, I’m not sure there is anything in “Cradle to Cradle” that I would fundamentally disagree with in terms of my “toxic” language, however I’ll have to do a more in-depth read before I can state that definitively… thanks for the poke in that direction…!

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