PwC’s pioneering CR officer gets granular.
By The Editors
Shannon Schuyler aspires to a job without a future. Despite the marketplace being filled with downsizing, displacement, and distrust, the Corporate Responsibility leader of the Americas at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), feels that her ultimate success will only occur when she is told that her services are no longer required. “If I do my job right,” she says, “I will not have it in 10 years.”
Schuyler began working at PwC more than a decade ago. “Before PwC, I had started out at an accounting firm, where I did recruiting for actuaries and accountants. So when I came here, I saw the organization from a different view. When people think accounting, they tend to think it is very staid. But this organization has breadth and scope and an ability to try different things.”
After working in various roles—client service, HR, and marketing—Schuyler realized that PwC employees held a collective set of beliefs that would support a formal CR effort. “I had been in HR, helping run health and wellness programs, diversity workshops, community relations. Recruiting said we were interested in going green, that our brand and reputation were being defined as more than revenue, that they included the perception of people, product, things you were selling. It was a perfect storm.” She presented a CR white paper in 2007 to senior management, who promptly put her in charge of the effort.
“I grew up in a family of teachers and school administrators who were committed to raising the next generation of leaders, even if they were frustrated by a lack of resources,” she says. “That has been with me throughout my career.”
At a firm, and in an industry, that has been traditionally dominated by men, Schuyler has become a pioneering leader. As Managing Director of CR, she oversees what she describes as “our four CR pillars”—marketplace, people, community, and environment. That trope has translated into a variety of specific initiatives:
•The Summer of Community Service program gives PwC’s 31,000 U.S. employees paid time off to participate in firm-sponsored volunteerism. The firm also provides 10 hours of paid time off for staff to engage in discretionary
•PwC has made a specific commitment to shrink the carbon footprint of its U.S. operations 20 percent by 2012.
•The firm conducted its first vendor assessment survey aligned with the Code of Conduct that PwC developed for its suppliers. (The code outlines ethical business practices that PwC expects from its suppliers and, thus, shapes procurement strategy.)
•The company signed the UN Global Compact, the framework for businesses that are committed to aligning operations and strategies with 10 universally accepted principles around human rights.
•A new program, IMPACT, offers an educational outreach program that mentors talented African-American students through the complicated and rigorous college application process.
Schuyler articulates two principles—one idealistic, one practical—as fundamental to her approach. And both derive from the variegated background that led to her “perfect storm.” The first notion is that CR should be approached “holistically.” While that might sound abstract or even naïve, her application of the idea is to learn the divisional functions inside and out so that she can help everyday line managers and C-Suite bottom-line hawks buy into the CR effort.
“I think it’s key to come to every meeting with about five different business cases,” she says. “No matter which executives you are dealing with, you need to say, ‘I know this organization well, and this is why I think you would be interested in investing time and resources into CR.’ You need to invest the time upfront so that you can imbed the theme into everybody’s job. It’s can’t just be throwing issues over the fence and hoping they will run with it.”
She becomes more tactical: “There’s a different way to approach the CFO—what it means to him, what to invest in and how, the savings that would be achieved—as opposed to the CEO, how it helps elevate the brand further, differentiates us in marketplace, shows how it’s a great way to build revenue.”
She warns that many so-called CR actors engage in greenwashing or showcase philanthropy, which informs her pursuit of “embedding” the culture within the corporation and even—gasp!—collaborating with competitors to avoid a race to the bottom. “You have to partner with others in industry, even competitors, to broaden the marketplace. Everybody has to use water, but you can talk to a competitor who has resource issues and say you’re going to work together. That’s sustainable! Some companies are reactionary, talking about this because that’s what people want to hear. They’ll have heavy press releases, things that sound like one hit. That’s not sustainable.”
What about the effects of the The Great Recession?
“Take recycling, which has more appeal in a downturn. I hope we won’t see a step back, when the economy is better and pressure is lifted. Things are more challenging than consumers, employees, and stakeholders think. Recycling seems like a no-brainer, but we have 92 offices—and each state, municipality, or building, has different requirements. That’s at least 92 different policies, just around recycling.”
Learning how to make the business case for recycling in 92 different offices in both a down economy and a recovery—now that’s a great way to make yourself obsolete. Until, of course, a desperate, underperforming, aspirational firm comes knocking. Schuyler seems unlikely to face unemployment any time this century.
PwC’s pioneering CR officer gets granular.