Talking Sustainability with Presidio Graduate School’s President & CEO William Shutkin
March 30, 2015
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good, and I’m John Shegerian and I’ve got today with me my friend, William Shutkin. He’s the President and CEO of the Presidio Graduate School. Welcome to Green is Good, William. WILLIAM SHUTKIN: Thanks so much, John. It’s a pleasure to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It’s so great to have you on. Not only are you my friend, you’re a fellow New Yorker and also you’re doing amazing and great work at the Presidio, which I’ve also been part of in a very little way. I’m so glad to be able to share with our listeners today and highlight all the amazing and wonderful directions you’re taking the Presidio Graduate School. Before we get talking, though, about the Presidio, can we share a little bit your story, William, and journey leading up to this great position that you have there? WILLIAM SHUTKIN: Of course, John. Thanks so much for that great introduction. Part of my story is being one of the few people on the planet, John, who knows that you have a harness racing history, so I’m very proud of that fact. Speaking of which, the harness racing that you did as a younger man in New York City was part of the reason I do what I do. I grew up largely in the suburbs of New York and Connecticut, but with lots of family in New York City. Growing up in the seventies and eighties largely in metro New York was to experience around places like the Yonkers Raceway and Belmont, among other places. The dramatic transition in both landscapes and social-scapes that was going on several decades ago, and that was essentially from beautiful, pristine, suburban neighborhoods to blighted and distressed urban neighborhoods. That transition sort of shocked me and caused me to think not only about environmental conditions, how can we make sure that everybody has access to healthy and vital outdoors, but also social conditions. Why is it that some communities were just so far behind and living in such distress in a place like America? So that really set me off on a career where I’ve tried to join the best of environmental protection strategies with a real call for social justice and social equity. I’ve done that as a lawyer, as a social entrepreneur and as an academic. As you noted, I now run, and have for the past several years, one of the world’s leading graduate management schools for sustainability, where issues of the sort that I’ve cared about my whole life and my whole career are front and center, and they’re what we teach in the classroom and they’re the kind of jobs and careers that our students seem to pursue. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I just want to share with our listeners one quote about you, and then we’re going to get on and talk about the Presidio. A gentleman named David Brower described you as “an environmental visionary creating solutions to today’s problems with a passion that would make both John Muir and Martin Luther King equally proud.” I’m lucky to have you as a friend. I’m very lucky to be part of the adjunct teaching group of professionals that you are so gracious enough to invite into the Presidio to share our experiences with your students. William, I’m just so thankful you are joining us today at Green is Good to share all the amazing things you’re doing at the Presidio Graduate School. WILLIAM SHUTKIN: Thanks, John. I appreciate that. Of course, John Muir and Martin Luther King are two heroes of mine, and indeed, to me represent two sides of the same coin, which is the coin of the promise of American society, not just a society of opportunity and prosperity for all, but environmental quality for all. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there that want to learn more about the Presidio Graduate School, please go to www.presidio.edu. William, now that you’ve done so many interesting things in your life and had a fascinating journey and you’re at the Presidio Graduate School, when you look back and look forward from where we are today in 2015, what social or environmental challenges do you think are most pressing now that we can sort of address? WILLIAM SHUTKIN: Looking back, having done this work for about 25 years, roughly a quarter of a century, as a professional, as a lawyer and an adult, I have to say I’m extremely excited and really bullish on where we’re going. The dramatic shifts and changes in attitude and behavior for the better, notwithstanding all of the crises and the problems that exist, are extremely exciting and give me great cause for optimism. When I started my career in the early nineties and was called a social entrepreneur, almost nobody knew what that term meant, including me. But now, we’ve got an entire generation seemingly committed to pursuing careers in social enterprise and in for-benefit business, among so many other areas that really didn’t even exist, at least in name, a short decade or two ago. A lot of evolution has taken place at a fairly rapid pace, and that makes me excited. Looking forward, we need more of the same. The planet is only getting more crowded, there’s over 7 billion of us today on it, and it’s projected that by the half century, it will be over 9 billion. The questions of how they’re going to live, where they’re going to live, the quality of their lives, whether in America or anywhere else on the planet, these are central questions of our time and demand continuous innovation and creativity. These are precisely the sorts of questions and the sorts of skills that we talk about at Presidio Graduate School. We believe that present day and future leaders will have to be increasingly creative and really curious about the strategic direction of their enterprises as we move forward in this century. That means moving beyond the assumptions of past and even current business practice. That is to say, assuming that resources are limited, assuming that there’s a fundamental difference between a producer and a consumer in an age when increasingly consumers are able to produce, thanks to technology and the like, assuming that one needs to own everything versus share or rent it, all sorts of new ways of thinking about enterprise are emerging and taking center stage. These are precisely the kinds of approaches and strategies that we talk about at Presidio and that we believe will comprise future business success. JOHN SHEGERIAN: William, with a lot of the cries out there now, there’s a whole movement, an anti-higher education movement. Can you give the flip side of that right now? Why is higher education today more relevant than ever, and why is Presidio so different than other higher education schools in the United States right now, maybe around the world, frankly? WILLIAM SHUTKIN: Sure. Look, higher education, like every other industry, is being disrupted for all sorts of reasons, many of them very good and important. The great recession really caused us to think in this country and everywhere else about the value, the return on the investment, of education at all levels, given the price of education in this country, especially, and the availability of good paying jobs upon graduating, whether from an undergraduate institution or graduate institution. The great recession caused us all to think about the true return on investment, not just financial, but otherwise, from education. In addition, the globalization of education, the fact that there’s now so many more programs to choose from around the globe and students who are traveling to and from to attend institutions have caused us to think differently about the customer, who we’re serving, and how we’re serving them. Finally, technology, the availability of online education and the mix of bricks and mortar and virtual education. All of these things have really created a rich sort of stew for rethinking, reconceiving what it is we’re doing. What makes Presidio, I think, different and so well positioned for taking advantage, if you will, of these changes, is that for the last 13 years, and we were just founded in 2003, we have been sort of ahead of the curve. We were the first in our particular niche to combine online and onsite education in a hybrid delivery model. Our students are in classrooms, but only one weekend a month, and then they are engaging online. We think that we’ve got the best of both in terms of a 21st century model. Next, we looked at the management curriculum taught at places like Harvard Business School and Wharton and Kellogg, the top 10 brands, if you will, and we took that same management curriculum and said, “What does this curriculum really need to be relevant for the 21st century and beyond?” What we were talking about earlier in this conversation, limited resources, the sharing economy, etc. We integrated the management curriculum taught at more traditional programs across the board with sustainability principles and frameworks and practices, so whether our students are learning about accounting or finance, strategies or marketing, they’re learning about those functions and disciplines from the perspective, through the lens, of sustainability, which we think is the cornerstone, and will be the cornerstone, of all business, as we go forward. Finally, we’re doing this work and this education in, really, the epicenter, the heart, the hub, of sustainability, which is the San Francisco Bay Area. This, we think, is a great advantage of us because people, not only around the country but around the world, want to be here and want to be in this dense and dynamic mix of entrepreneurs and investors, public policy innovators who are doing all sorts of things here in the Bay Area and in California generally, that folks in most other places simply don’t have access to. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Our listeners, if you’ve just joined us now, we’ve got William Shutkin on with us. He’s the President and CEO of Presidio Graduate School. To learn more about the Presidio Graduate School, please go to www.presidio.edu. Sustainability, now, has taken on a whole new meaning, compared to 15 years ago, where there were very few, if any at all, Chief Sustainability Officers and things of that such in corporate America. How does, now, sustainable businesses have an advantage over conventional businesses that have still not even come along with regards to the sustainability revolution in the United States, William? WILLIAM SHUTKIN: You’re so right, John. These positions, the Chief Sustainability Officer in, say, a Fortune 100 company, or the Sustainability Director of a city like yours, New York or San Francisco, or for that matter, Tokyo or Madrid, these are new categories of management and leadership positions that didn’t exist 15 years ago, that not only exist now in abundance, and I think are really required of a competitive company or government agency, but eventually, of course, these positions themselves will morph into something more generic. That is to say that every CEO, every leader of any enterprise, we believe, will be required to know, to learn, the kinds of skills and knowledge that we teach at Presidio. We’re very confident that this is the way, this is the trend. Where we stand today is that essentially these positions and companies that have embraced sustainability as a strategic advantage are now increasingly able to make the case to operate in a sustainable way is to operate with a competitive advantage. For example, on the energy side, we know that there are so many savings throughout the supply chain, and indeed, in a company’s own facilities, from looking critically at the way a company uses energy across the board and to look for opportunities to save money. Not only is going green with energy the right thing to do, we believe, for the planet and for people, but it turns out it’s a more profitable strategy, and now we’re actually seeing that and we’re able to make that case very clearly and simply. Secondly, sustainability we see increasingly as a marketing advantage for companies. The millennial generation, the rising generation of consumers here and abroad, want to know increasingly the companies whose products and services they’re purchasing take seriously these kinds of values, whether that’s engaging stakeholders more meaningfully in the activity of the business or investing in employees and in environmental protection programs, these sorts of values are increasingly valued in the marketplace by consumers who have plenty of choices and are increasingly voting with those wallets. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. I’m on your website now. Again, for our listeners, it’s www.presidio.edu. What I love is I love this description of the Presidio. Presidio is producing a new kind of leader for a new kind of world. What does that mean to you, William, and what should that mean to our listeners who are thinking about going to graduate school and now considering the Presidio school? WILLIAM SHUTKIN: We think the kind of leader that we’re producing, and that’s fundamentally what we’re about, is producing leaders, producing folks who are comfortable in their own skin and comfortable with the idea of bringing others along, of making change and of steering change. For us, that leader is not your father’s or grandfather’s leader, and indeed, it was gender, right? For us, the leader increasingly is a woman, so we’re one of the few management schools where women every year outnumber men historically. Our ratio is 57 percent to 43 ptercen women to men at Presidio Graduate School. We know the workforce is becoming increasingly diverse and, certainly from a gender perspective, women are on the rise. We ourselves are sort of out front. Women and female leadership, number one. Number two, we’re all about leaders who care more than just about the financial success of their companies, but understand that financial viability, financial success, is essential for a long-term viable enterprise. Our leaders are much more interesting and creative than simply focusing and obsessing with one bottom line. They believe that we’ve got to be doing more and creating more value than simply financial return on investment. That’s a social and environmental return. How are the employees of the enterprise, the customers and all of the other stakeholders who care about what we do as an enterprise, how are they benefitting and how can we measure that benefit? Then, of course, environmental return. How are we not only protecting, but restoring, natural resources, as we develop services and products to meet needs, both present and future? Our leaders are just more expansive in their thinking. We think they’re more creative, and ultimately, more responsible and evolved when it comes to the purpose of enterprise, and frankly, the purpose of their leadership. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m sorry. We’re down to the last minute or so. Give a shameless plug. Where does Presidio rank in terms of graduate schools in the world? I want our listeners to hear that directly from you. You’re a humble guy. WILLIAM SHUTKIN: Not only do we think, but others think, that we’re the number one program of our kind in the world, not just the United States, but in the world. We’ve consistently been ranked number one or in the very top tier of management programs around the world. There was a recent review of 108 programs around the world, and we showed up number one. We’re confident in our position, but it’s really not about rankings for us, it’s about knowing that what we’re doing, the hard work of producing the kinds of leaders and placing them in great jobs, like Facebook and Salesforce and Cisco and in great big cities around the world, that that kind of work that we’re doing is important work, it’s meaningful work, and we’re prepared to continue to do it as best as we can and innovating along the way. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re going to have you back to continue the great story of the Presidio. William Shutkin, the President and CEO. For our listeners that want to go to the Presidio Graduate School or learn more, go to www.presidio.edu. Thank you, William, for your inspirational leadership at the Presidio Graduate School. You are truly living proof that green is good.