Do You Need A B Corp to Take Care of Employees?

I listened to Gordon Segal speak for a few moments the other day.  He started Crate and Barrel with his wife.  I doubt he could execute in the same way and be successful today, but that doesn’t matter.  What matters is that if they started the business today, they would use the same principles that made them successful then.

I tweeted this out.


I cynically added the B Corp thing to it for real purpose.

I really don’t care if a startup is a B Corp or not. It doesn’t make a difference to the success or failure. To be honest, my experience has been when a startup is a B Corp, they tend to pay way too much in salary and they burn a lot of cash.

What’s absolutely mission critical is creating a great culture.  Segal mentioned he and his wife had to sacrifice in order to create that culture.  Maybe they took less pay.  Maybe they didn’t buy something, or go on a trip.  They made sure their employees were taken care of and were satisfied.  That’s good business and you don’t need a legal corporate structure to make sure you are a good businessperson.  You do it because it helps make the business successful.

My friend Howard Tullman wrote an article comparing the Chicago Cubs, 1871 and a startup.  Both Howard and I love the Cubs.  Maybe this year will be the year……The Cubs have built an amazing culture inside their organization.  Howard relayed the stories he heard in his article.  I am going to relay a different one that speaks to great culture.

I had an experience with Theo Epstein, the team President.  He had been communicating with a friend of mine via email.  Theo called him once, and my friend hung up on him thinking it was a prank.  Theo called him back and they chatted.  My friend had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and was fighting it.  He passed away in November of 2014.  In March or April of that year, Theo gave a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago about how they were building the team.  The first few years had been pretty rough.  But, Theo went through the economics and statistics.  It all made sense.  It looked sustainable and they seemed to be growing up and to the right.

After the presentation I walked up and said, “Mr. Epstein, thank you for communicating with my friend.  He has pancreatic cancer.”  Theo looked at me and said, “How is Mike?  We have to get him to a game.”  By the way, this is the only conversation I have ever had with Theo, and the only time I have ever been in the same room with him.  He instantly knew Mike by name.

Mike never made it to another Cubs game.  But, he continued his email dialogue with Theo Epstein.  Theo took a minute or two out of his week to email a guy that he never met-and would never meet.  He didn’t do it for money.  He did it because he knew it was the little things that mattered.  Mike was a huge Cubs fan, a customer you might say.

If the President of the team was willing to do that for someone he didn’t know, how do you think he and the rest of the organization treat their own employees?  Their customers?

That’s how you build culture.  It’s not the big manifestos that do it.  It’s not legally binding yourself to some glorified B Corp documentation.  It’s doing a lot of talking and planning at the beginning.  It’s installing some principles and living by them.  But, you have to commit to living by them every single day and in every little thing that you do.

The little things matter.  They add up to big things.  Acting on your principles over the little things create the culture you want.