On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

The Leadership Playlist

Five standout companies of 2010

While many assume that American businesses are struggling based on the high unemployment rate, the 18-month long Great Recession officially ended in June. The third quarter of 2010 brought higher profits for American businesses than any other quarter in recorded history. In this perplexing year that was good for business but bad for the American worker, we wanted to highlight five business organizations that have not only had good years financially, but have also made efforts to either take care of their employees, the environment or their local communities.

1. Honest Tea
While HonestTea hit a marketing bonanza in 2009 when President Obama revealed that he was stocking the White House with the brew, it was also going through an internal identity struggle. Coca-Cola had purchased a 40 percent stake in HonestTea early in 2008, and many felt it was a mismatch. After all, HonestTea had positioned itself as the healthy alternative to Coke's high-fructosy offerings. But despite major pressure from the world's No. 1 beverage company, HonestTea has remained true to its roots and rebuffed many of Coke's suggestions. They continue to produce a healthy and tasty drink--but, more importantly, they continue to do it their way, focusing on quality, their people and minimizing their impact on the planet.

Their efforts have been rewarded, as they've recently been named a finalist in Inc.'s top small workplaces, and have raked in niche awards like Men's Health Best Bottled Tea. While they have an aversion to traditional marketing methods, Honest Tea continues to grow through unique efforts that represent who they are as an organization. (Co-founder Seth Goldman is a panelist for On Leadership, and wrote about rethinking corporate philanthropy here.)

2. General Motors
GM once made and heavily promoted the Pontiac Aztec, so it was no secret that major changes needed to be made. While there have been many false starts for a GM turnaround, this year's seems to be legit. There's still dissent over who started the turnaround--Obama's car czar Steven Rattner or former GM CEO Rick Wagoner--but to a certain extent it doesn't matter. The bottom line is that GM has shed its non-profitable brands, lowered labor costs, and is once again offering high quality products. Yes, the United Auto Workers union had to make some serious sacrifices, but it's not like they had an alternative.

In mid-November, GM reported profits of $2 billion, and shortly after raised more than $20 billion with the second largest IPO in history, reducing the government's stake in the company from 61 percent to 37 percent. With a strong 2010, and with the release of the 2011 Chevy Volt, which is already the 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year, GM seems to have finally turned the corner. Let's hope their momentum and a renewed focus on clean-energy cars carries them far into the future.

3. Good Business International
Founder and Executive Director, Monika Mitchell, is leading a project of magnanimity and hope, embracing the possible in spite of the mountain she's climbing. A work in progress, Good Business International is acting as a catchall for news, notes and concepts relating to sustainable business practices and socially forward movements. With a little engine that could attitude toward positively affecting socially and environmentally conscious business practices, Good Business International is a storehouse of powerful interviews, articles and information. While small in stature, Good Business International is mighty in scope, and with the goal to make the world a better place for all of us, we wish them all the best.

4. Executives without Borders
Bob Goodwin, CEO of Executives without Borders is a panelist here at On Leadership, but it's only been during the last year that we've gained insight into his organization's efforts. In the spirit of the Peace Corps, Americorps and Teach for America, Goodwin and his nonprofit are working to capitalize on the passion and commitment to service that seems tightly woven into the cultural fabric of America. Unlike the aforementioned organizations, Executives without Borders is working to attract a new demographic by enticing experienced professionals with the reward of giving back. Similar to Doctors without Borders, Executives without Borders is offering opportunities to leverage the professional skills of the United State's corporate elite in an effort to sustainably benefit at-need regions. While young, it would seem that Executives without Borders has found a blue ocean that will ultimately benefit many, by methodically partnering skilled executives with causes that are in need of aid.

5. Starbucks
At the onset of the year, Starbucks introduced a line of lower-calorie options in an effort to further its commitment to healthy lifestyles and nutritious choices. In ending the year, the company announced it had made significant strides in advancing cup recycling as it journeys further toward using 100-percent reusable or recyclable cups by 2015. In establishing what may be a bar for sustainable practices among big businesses, Starbucks continues its progressive evolution. Reporting on its advancements in 2009, earlier this year the company announced dramatic reductions in water use and electricity use. Continuing its progress throughout 2010, Starbuck seems to be creeping ever nearer to its ambitious goals. While its cup recycling concerns may present its most significant challenge, Starbucks' efforts to advance as a responsible corporation may push other Goliaths to consider conscientious business practices. Kudos to Starbucks, and all the best in achieving your goal "to do business responsibly and create a better future for our world."

So there you have it, a mix of blue chippers and start-ups, non-profits and Fortune 500s. United by a commitment to stay true to a few core beliefs, each organization's efforts will serve them well in the long term. And while those were the businesses that stood out to us, we're curious: what companies stood out for you over the course of the year?

Have an idea for what we should write about next? Be in touch by emailing info@menoconsulting.com, connecting with us on Facebook, or visiting us at Meno Consulting.

By Joe Frontiera and Dan Leidl  |  December 14, 2010; 1:54 PM ET  | Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Five surprising leaders of 2010 | Next: Five of the best profiles published in 2010


Please email us to report offensive comments.

So Starbucks is working on all this cup recycling while on the other hand, you can't get replacement lids for Starbucks stainless steel travel mugs.

If they are truly interested in getting people to use reusable cups, then this policy is hypocritical. In fact, I called customer service and they said the official recommendation for a stainless steel mug without a lid is to throw it away if there is no local place to recycle it.
C'mon Starbucks, selling replacement lids should be a no-brainer.

Posted by: capybara | December 17, 2010 6:06 PM

"123 Get Samples" gives members free samples, free products and free coupons in exchange for their opinion on new products.

Posted by: lucacole | December 15, 2010 4:23 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company