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Greg Steltenpohl

Founder, Former CEO and Chair Emeritus, Odwalla, Inc. Cofounder, Interra Project

Greg Steltenpohl

“NO MATTER HOW TRANSFORMATIONAL you as an individual try to be, or are, within a corporate structure, you're a ship on a sea—a very big sea. And that sea is the conditions that are built into the system. From my experience at Odwalla of the transition from company to corporation, I learned what this really means. No one who has been deeply involved with large corporations would ever think, even for a second, that they are just going to stand by and let themselves be evolved into something else. They have an agenda to consolidate and concentrate power and wealth. That's what their function is.”

“At Odwalla, we did practically everything we could—even having a huge number of people aligned with a positive vision—but we still weren't capable of controlling the capital structure of the company. The system itself forces certain outcomes, and I really underestimated that. There was an incompatibility between the founders' values and the values of the new investors that came in when we went public. No matter how carefully you craft your policies, in the end, if it's a corporation, it's part of the capital system. And unless you have safeguards built into the structure of your organization, your company can be taken over and diverted through a series of processes that are a combination of intentionality and the momentum of the system itself. Eighteen months after I left as chairman, Odwalla was sold to Coca-Cola. And if you look at other examples, like Ben and Jerry's or The Body Shop or Stonyfield Farms, you'll find that all of them are now either directly owned and controlled by a big corporation or well on their way.”

“I'm not trying to deny the importance of transforming corporations from within. But developing new forms of cooperation and organization could be an area of incredible creativity for young people who have a lot of energy to change things. I've been working with Dee Hock [founder of VISA International] who has realized that people can come together and form a constitution that becomes legally binding. These constitutions are creative documents. As long as you approach them very carefully and systematically, you can create entities that are not corporations and yet function with the rights of corporations but with their own values and principles at the core.”

“When we started the Interra Project—a new type of payment card based on a new economics—we asked: What could be a structure, a way of organizing, that would allow the values of sustainability and cooperative activity to be built into whatever we do? What if we formed a membership that included both businesses and consumers? And what if we created a movement that could shift the flow of dollars toward those places in society where they would do the most good—create the most jobs, cause the least amount of environmental degradation, and uplift those activities that people were doing on a citizen and volunteer social basis?”

“The Rudolf Steiner Foundation was the first supporter of Interra. Steiner talked about 'associative economics.' He said that unless you could link the consumer, the producer, and the distributor of the services into the same organization, you would always have false economics that would pit those different parties against each other in a win-lose situation. Whereas if you create marketplaces with structures designed to optimize the whole—all three parts—then you can do things that are miraculous, because you can move money around for the benefit of the whole as opposed to the benefit of only one part. And that's the Interra principle. It's a payment card that rewards the purchaser for supporting businesses that have holistic values and also takes a micro payment off each transaction to donate to a cause that the purchaser supports. If we got five million people to spend two hundred dollars a month inside this economy, then we're talking about tens of billions of dollars shifting toward sustainable and community-based economics. Interra can provide a communication and information infrastructure for the transformative business movement. It's a little card to change the world. Everybody has to realize that we have to do nothing less than that. So we're trying to create an accounting system for it—a motivator, a spark plug—to get people thinking.”


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This article is from
Our Business Issue