missional capitalism

October 24, 2005

The November issue of Fast Company has an intriguing article about Jeffrey Swartz, the CEO of Timberland. It’s called Walking the Walk and it’s worth reading. The full article should be available online in a few weeks. Here’s the first few paragraphs of the story to give a taste of why I think it is so fascinating:

Jeffrey Swartz, the CEO of Timberland Co., strode purposefully into a New York office packed with McDonald’s executives. Dressed in a blazer, jeans and Timberland boots, he was there on this mid-August day to convince the fast-food behemoth that it should choose his $1.5 billion shoe and clothing company to provide its new uniforms. The executives waited expectantly for him to unzip a bag and reveal the sleek new prototype.

“We didn’t bring any designs,” Swartz said flatly. Eyebrows arched. Instead, he launced into an impassioned speech that had virtually nothing to do with clothes or shoes. What Timberland really had to offer McDonald’s, Swartz said, was the benefit to the company–and the world at large–of helping it build a unifed, motivated, purposeful workforce. “Other people can do uniforms,” Swartz said, his Yankee accent asserting itself. “This is about partnership. We can create a partnership together that will be about value and values.”

As unorthodox as it sounds, what Swartz was pitching was not Timberland’s creativity or craftsmanship, but rather its culture, and the ways the culture could rub off on McDonald’s.

How many publicly traded corporations think this way? How many churches actually think this way? How can we constantly remind ourselves that we are not in the business of creatively offering a salvation product, but that we are here to shape a culture, and invite people into it?

I think I’ll browse the Timberland aisle next time I am looking for shoes.

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