CEO Summit: CorPorate culture

Community Involvement
Gene Austin

Gene Austin is a believer in the importance of community involvement to create and maintain a strong corporate culture. And in his experience serving as CEO of two separate companies during major periods of transition, Gene came to recognize that a solid culture will serve as the foundational strength to help an organization survive even the most difficult times.

During his nine years as CEO at Convio, an online fundraising and marketing solution for nonprofits acquired by Blackbaud, Gene came in and re-energized the company after momentum had plateaued. Now CEO at Bazaarvoice, he is bringing the company back to brighter days after the organization experienced “the lowest of lows” when it faced litigation from the U.S. Department of Justice on antitrust claims.

In this session, Gene shared his belief that while it’s not difficult for a company to build culture by taking advantage of community involvement, you must think of it as a strategy - not just a program.

Community involvement should be driven from within the organization; it can be inspired and encouraged by the CEO, but it should never be led by the CEO. The best practice for building community involvement is to identify one or multiple employees who are deeply passionate about giving back and select them to develop and nurture your strategy.

There are an unlimited number of ways a company can give back, including financial giving, volunteerism, environmental sustainability, donating products or services or even taking the big step of creating a nonprofit foundation. While the upfront expense of whatever form of community involvement a company chooses may seem high, the benefits far outweigh the costs -- and the returns will continue if you do things right.

Weaving community involvement into your corporate culture achieves several overarching benefits, including:

1. It feels good
2. It accomplishes good
3. It’s good for business
4. It’s a pillar of good culture

In addition to the benefits listed above, if you don’t have community involvement ingrained in your company culture, you’re missing out. In this day and age, employees — especially those under the age of 35 — expect it. They want to be part of an organization that gives back.

Gene emphasized that building a strong community involvement strategy into the core of your business model not only helps recruit and retain employees, it can help sustain your business when issues arise.

The discussion in response to Gene’s talk centered on how C-level executives best engage in their company’s community involvement. Gene made the argument that the worst thing executives can do is not show up for company initiatives; the CEO may not run the program, but should set an example of participation. Millennials demand authenticity. If you don’t have a leader who truly believes in community involvement, young employees won’t stick around.

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EF CEO Summit

Presented by Rackspace

The CEO Summit is an ongoing series designed to support Austin-area CEOs in strategic, high-impact areas of their business. These invite-only events bring together CEOs from ventures of all stages to share tips and unusually candid advice based on real experiences.

For the first CEO Summit, held this spring at Austin's Capital Factory, we asked six executives to share their insights on CORPORATE CULTURE. Successful corporate cultures are key in attracting and retaining the best talent, promoting innovation and driving performance. As the stewards of corporate culture, CEOs must understand better than anyone else what promotes great culture, and what doesn’t.

The CEO Summit is organized by the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas, and is made possible through the generosity of companies like Rackspace and the Capital Factory.