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You've Got to Hang in There

by Mats Lederhausen

MY DAD BECAME a McDonald's operator in 1973—he opened the first McDonald's in Sweden. I worked there at a very young age. By the age of thirty-five, I was running McDonald's Sweden and we were working closely with the Natural Step, an organization that trains companies to understand the environmental challenge and what to do about it. We started waste separation for recycling, started buying organic, began phasing out plastics, and used 'green' electricity from '95 onwards. We also were working actively to promote nonviolence, to integrate different ethnic groups, and to employ associates with mental and physical disabilities.

“But I realized that if tomorrow were the last day of my life, I wouldn't want to live it the way I was living. I began to ask, 'What am I supposed to do?' And most of the people who I respect told me, 'It's great that you have all these ideas, but don't leave business. Most people who have these ideas drop out, write books, and give meaningless lectures in empty hallways. That's not the way to change the world. You've got to hang in there.'

One friend asked me what I would do if I were the CEO of McDonald's, and I said that I'd do what we did in Sweden. He suggested that I go over to the U.S. and tell the CEO that's what they ought to be doing. He said that if they fire you or don't want you, then you'd be free to go. So I mustered up some energy and went to Chicago and told the number two guys what I wanted to do, what my vision of the world was, and what business should become. I told them that if McDonald's wanted my services, I was happy to help them, and if they didn't, I'd move on. To my great surprise, they offered me the job of global VP for strategy. For the last five years, I've had various jobs at McDonald's Corporate but basically played the role of chief strategist, helping McDonald's to change.

“As always with either politics or big companies, change doesn't happen as fast as we would want, but I am very proud of what we have accomplished. Our social responsibility efforts are amplified and enhanced. The goals, objectives, and the actions we are taking are both more effective and more transparent than before—from trans-fatty acids reduction and eventual elimination to elimination of hormones and antibiotics in beef to waste reduction and water purification issues around the world to work conditions in toy manufacturers in China.

“But I never intended to be a senior executive in a large, large, large company. About a year ago, I felt the time was right to move into a more entrepreneurial role again. The CEO offered me the chance to run McDonald's Ventures, a collection of brands outside our core business (Chipotle, Boston Market, Pret A Manger, and RedBox DVD). I am excited to again have the opportunity to work more entrepreneurially and am particularly proud of how these businesses are incorporating triple-bottom-line approaches—profit, community, and environment—to their respective businesses.

“My ultimate dream is to manage a set of businesses that all are born out of a purpose bigger than their product. I believe that is what my particular journey is about. I am somewhat tired of going to meetings where spiritual people talk about how the world can be a better place but with very little evidence of any tangible outcome. Maybe I'm impatient, maybe I'm intolerant, but I like to see things change in front of me. I want to see physical manifestations of spiritual intent. My greatest sense of spirituality or connectedness is when I'm with people who come together for a cause much larger than themselves and do great work. In fact, I probably prefer action with only partially good intentions over intentions only partially acted upon. And the best way I know how to do that is to keep identifying, managing, supporting, and helping businesses that have a purpose bigger than their product. I believe wholeheartedly that a new form of capitalism is emerging. More stakeholders (customers, employees, shareholders, and the larger community) want their businesses to think, to act, to feel, and to be connected with a larger context. That is spirituality in action. And that is what I am about.”


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Our Business Issue