Exclusive Interview: Jochen Zeitz – Visionary, Businessman, Philanthropist
How to introduce Jochen Zeitz? The youngest CEO to head a public company in Germany, a member of the Board of Directors of Harley-Davidson and chair of their sustainability committee, creator of the not-for-profit Zeitz Foundation of Intercultural Ecosphere Safety and The Long Run and co-founder, with Sir Richard Branson, of the B Team. In a word, cool. Having a rare quiet moment he answered a few of our questions.
Where did your enormous commitment to sustainability originally come from?
My interest in sustainability must have originated from my early travels in Africa and throughout the world, appreciating how amazing the natural world is and in contrast, witnessing the negative impacts of business.
Later while working with PUMA, I started realising that despite achieving significant growth and financial profit, we needed to start looking deeper into our supply chain – to better understand and determine our impact on nature and society and how sustainable we were throughout the supply chain, including all aspects such as raw materials, means of transport and essentially how much impact the company was having on people and planet. To better visualize our impacts I created the new concept of an Environmental Profit & Loss (putting a monetary value on environmental impacts) which helped us start translating sustainability into the day-to-day operations of the business.
My commitment to sustainability has expanded ever since, now Chairing the Sustainability Committees for Kering, Harley-Davidson and Wilderness. Also through Segera in Kenya, and other sustainable nature-based tourism enterprises globally (as seen through The Long Run), where our unique principle of the 4Cs – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce – are being managed holistically to ensure that long-term sustainability is in focus for all key areas.
You were the youngest CEO to head a public company in Germany, what was your proudest outcome of PUMAVision?
The creation of PUMAVision was to make a better world, a world that was more peaceful, safe and more creative. This lead us to define our responsibility and opportunity to contribute to a better world and future generations based on a moral compass that we created – of being Fair, Honest, Positive and Creative in our actions.
The Environmental Profit & Loss, which became part of PUMAVision, was one of the major initiatives that was then taken up by Kering and its luxury sports and lifestyle brands (such as Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Gucci and Stella McCartnery), which this year published their results and also came up with a 5 year strategy plan on sustainability for the group. Through one initiative leading to another, this has now integrated into a bigger vision for Kering and the group.
You’re now on the Board of Directors of Harley-Davidson and chair Harley-Davidson’s sustainability committee. Do fast bikes and sustainability mix?
In the long run, they can and should, and in Harley-Davidson’s case, they do. Sustainability is now a core pillar in Harley-Davidson’s strategy and in July 2014 they launched LiveWire – their new electric bike which combines Harley-Davidson’s notorious horsepower, style and speed with an electric engine.
You were the founder and co-chair with Sir Richard Branson of ‘The B Team’. What has been the greatest achievement of that big idea so far?
The B Team has brought together an incredible collection of global leaders, that have all done great things for people and planet, in an attempt to combine and define an agenda to make businesses more sustainable. This leader base is growing and so is its agenda, with clear goals and an ability to make a greater impact when it comes to essential issues such as climate change and sustainable development goals.
You’ve also created The Long Run around sustainable tourism and ecosphere retreats. What are ecosphere retreats and why have you made them your flagship initiative?
The Long Run is a growing community of nature-based organisations committed to Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce (the 4Cs) as a sustainable solution for human wellbeing and a healthy planet. Members of The Long Run either own or manage extensive conservation areas which demonstrate sustainable business practice, innovation and commercially-viable operations offering fair wages. The Long Run provides a platform to connect and support existing and new members aspiring to follow our philosophy of the 4Cs, embodied in a Global Ecosphere Retreats® (GER) standard that fuels a drive for continued excellence.
You’re now only 52, What is the next big hairy audacious goal for Jochen Zeitz?
I’m kept busy by the various different companies and not-for-profit organisations I’m involved in, but at the moment the 2017 launch of Zeitz MOCAA (Major Museum Of Contemporary Art) in Cape Town is driving a lot of excitement both for me personally and for culture and the talented contemporary art scene in Africa.
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