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Aug 31, 2011 Bahar Gidwani

Heartening Progress on Sustainability from the Heartland

By Bahar Gidwani

KeyCorp just announced that it has asked one of its real estate advisors, Jones Lang LaSalle, to help it develop and implement a new sustainability strategy.  We see a lot of announcements like this—major companies across the country are taking action to become more sustainable and socially responsible.

However, this one was especially satisfying.  Here are two quotes that particularly struck me:

  • "We are focused on making our entire value chain more sustainable, because this is the right thing to do for our shareholders and the communities we serve . . . Higher levels of sustainability will improve operating efficiency, reduce our risk, and grow the top line."  This quote from KeyCorp CEO Beth Mooney is wonderful.  She wants to do this because it is right.  At the same time, she wants to lower risk and to make more money.  Are other commercial banks listening?
  • "Our approach is designed to put in place a robust framework that will help KeyCorp to plan, run and improve its business to a triple bottom line . . . We'll focus on leadership development, metrics, and a multi-year game plan that the entire organization can support. Partnering with the corporate real estate team puts sustainability into every office, community and long-term business decision."  This quote from Jones Lang LaSalle SVP Michael Jordan suggests KeyCorp is serious about embedding sustainability practices into all parts of its business.

Of course, KeyCorp has had a long history of caring and service.  A May 2011 CSRwire release noted that 8,300 of KeyCorp’s employees participated this year in a day of volunteer community service—and that this was the 21st year that the company had supported this program.  Still, the new program goes beyond charity and a desire to do good, and attempts to incorporate sustainability into everyday business decisions.

I’ve been interested in KeyCorp since I met one of their past CEOs years ago, when I was a consultant at McKinsey.  I remember how he strode out of his office, looked me in the eye, and shook my hand forcefully.  He was wearing a white shirt, tasteful rep tie, and a charcoal grey suit, and he had a small flag pin in his lapel.  He seemed perfectly suited to run a conservative regional bank that specialized in commercial loans.

Over the intervening years, KeyCorp seemed to benefit from being in Cleveland—and removed from some of the fads and craziness of Wall Street.  I enjoyed watching a steady rise in the bank’s dividend and stock price, as KeyCorp grew and diversified into various financial management markets.  I was shocked (as was the stock market), when the company cut its dividend 67% in the 2008 financial crisis—breaking a string of 43 straight years of dividend increases.  Their announcement told me that the crisis was real—and that it would damage solid, well-run businesses all around our country.

Now KeyCorp is signaling more positive news, especially for those of us who are interested in corporate social responsibility and sustainability.  They are signaling that interest in CSR is spreading throughout the country—and that mainstream companies are starting to commit to a triple bottom line approach, for managing their businesses.

Bahar Gidwani is a Cofounder and CEO of CSRHUB. Formerly, he was the CEO of New York-based Index Stock Imagery, Inc, from 1991 through its sale in 2006. He has built and run large technology-based businesses and has experience building a multi-million visitor Web site. Bahar holds a CFA, was a partner at Kidder, Peabody & Co., and worked at McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to both large companies such as Citibank, GE, and Acxiom and a number of smaller software and Web-based companies. He has an MBA (Baker Scholar) from Harvard Business School and a BS in Astronomy and Physics (magna cum laude) from Amherst College. Bahar races sailboats, plays competitive bridge, and is based in New York City.


Published by Bahar Gidwani August 31, 2011