Corporate social responsiblity with sprinkles on top
What would you do if everything you worked to build over four decades was destroyed in less than four hours? On September 4, 2009, David and Penny Chapman watched nearly half a century's worth of effort burn to the ground.
Since purchasing a creamery in Markdale, Ontario in 1973, David and Penny Chapman have guided Chapman's Ice Cream to rank as Canada's largest independent ice cream manufacturer.
While they started with four employees and two trucks, the Chapman's commitment to community and product integrity has resulted in steady growth. The company grew to more than 350 employees and a fleet of 60 trucks, which made the devastation on September 4 all the more painful. "I couldn't bear to look at the damage," Penny told me in a phone conversation. Her husband, David, the company's CEO, surveyed the ashes alone.
We have grown accustomed to stories about WorldCom, Exxon, and ponzi schemes, about leaders either forgetting or ignoring the responsibility they have to their followers, employees, and those who place trust in them. Bitterness over these scandals are part of what has propelled the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) into the mainstream. While definitions vary, one concise definition is this: "Beyond making profits, companies are responsible for the totality of their impact on people and the planet."
Of course, many have grown cynical about such efforts, seeing CSR as spin to take focus away from an organization's nastier habits while maximizing shareholder returns. While Philip Morris USA fund youth smoking prevention, for example, cynics would argue that such tactics are nothing more than smoke screens, clouding the larger issue of marketing a cancerous product to human beings of any age.
Against this background of cynicism about business -- sometimes deserved -- David and Penny Chapman stand out. After the fire, they could have called it a career, taking their insurance money and retiring to a warmer climate. Instead they did something all too rare in today's corporate culture -- they thought of others. For David and Penny that meant thinking about their customers, their employees and the town of Markdale -- and coming up with a plan to recover.
Shortly after the fire David called all of Chapman's employees in for a meeting, and told them that the company would continue to pay salaried employees for one year and hourly employees for four months. More importantly, he told them that Chapman's was going to be rebuilt. Just as they had worked from the ground up back in 1973, they were committed to starting once again. As Penny said, "In a blink, you lose everything. And in the same blink, you decide to rebuild."
David and Penny Chapman give us an inspiring glimpse of what Corporate Social Responsibility can be. When you're as dedicated to simple values and see things as clearly as Penny Chapman does, "It's the only right thing to do. You have a choice."
Five months since the fire, Penny Chapman reports that rebuilding efforts are going remarkably well. David has been able to replace much of the machinery that was lost. The company has received regulatory permission to begin making ice cream at their much smaller cold storage facility, affectionately called their "mini plant." All 350 employees are back working, and the new manufacturing plant will most likely be finished in August this year, even though the enduring optimist, Penny, is "hoping for July."
Joe Frontiera and Dan Leidl
February 4, 2010; 6:44 AM ET |
Corporate social responsibility
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