Perdue Farms Taps Gaia for Sustainability Chief

March 28, 2016 – Executive search firm Gaia Human Capital Consultants has recruited Stephan Levitsky as vice president of sustainability for Perdue Farms.

In his role at Perdue, Mr. Levitsky will be responsible for advancing Perdue’s progress in achieving sustainable growth, fostering working relationships with a broad spectrum of stakeholders at the federal, state and local level, and serving as Perdue’s spokesperson on sustainability and environmental matters. In essence, he becomes Perdue’s chief sustainability officer.

Mr. Levitsky joins Perdue from American Sugar Refining Inc., where he served as director of corporate sustainability and helped create and implement a global sustainability program for the company.

“We’re pleased to welcome Steve to Perdue,” said chairman Jim Perdue. “His breadth of experience and proven performance in aligning business strategy to sustainability opportunities make him an excellent choice to advance our commitment to growing our company sustainably, enhancing our reputation as a responsible corporate citizen and living up to our commitment to being responsible stewards of the natural resources we use.”

“We’re honored to have represented Perdue Farms in leading this important national search,” said Gaia founder Dawn Dzurilla. “Perdue’s preeminence as the most trusted brand in food and agricultural products has driven the company to making environmental stewardship an accountability within every aspect of their business.” Perdue Farms is the family-owned parent company of Perdue Foods and Perdue AgriBusiness.

At its core, she said, sustainability goes beyond policy. “Increasingly, companies are turning to passionate sustainability executives – strong, engaging, credible leaders and team-builders who have consistently earned the respect, trust and credibility of their company’s CEO, board, executive and senior staff,” said Ms. Dzurilla.

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“In our search, we sought successful sustainability executives that had forged relationships across an enterprise and beyond, enabling them to get things done through both formal and informal channels and having earned a favorable reputation throughout the environmental stewardship & sustainability industry space.”

Mr. Levitsky is one of a number of executives to have recently taken sustainability into the C-suite. Following are some excerpts from a recent discussion on the topic with recruiter Dawn Dzurilla:

Is the chief sustainability officer (CSO) a relatively new title / new C-level concept?

The CSO role has evolved since DuPont first appointed someone to the role in 2004. Similar to other C-level executives, the CSO is the most senior executive responsible for driving, executing and leading their organization in day-to-day and strategic process and cultural change management. Bringing large doses of passion, practicality, patience, business savvy and a touch of counter-cultural behavior to their role, the CSO has to usually work pretty hard to define and justify their role and the work that they set out to achieve. Understanding the issues at hand, having the ability to create a vision for the future and having the skill to persuasively communicate a sustainability narrative (telling the story and making the case) is critical to the success of a sustainability executive. The CSO’s ability to communicate ‘why’ determines the degree of success in advancing an organization’s sustainability agenda and in keeping employees and stakeholders focused on what is most important.

What does the sustainability leader essentially do?

CSOs are appointed by organizations that have made an explicit commitment to increase their path toward ambitious environmental, corporate social responsibility, and risk management initiatives. CSOs influence impact every aspect of an organization, including environmental engagement & program development, community engagement, public affairs, communications & branding, employment branding & talent acquisition, philanthropy, health & safety, energy management, carbon footprint, waste management, investment policy, labor relations, compliance policies such as carbon offsetting and supply chain transparency and sustainable business practices. In the Perdue Farms position, and similar to an increasing number of other organization’s sustainability roles, the most senior sustainability executive will have a seat at the table where major decisions are made. To be effective, they need broad access and a view across the entire organization.

Why do companies require a CSO and what is driving the need?

The fact is clear: companies that have adopted environmental, social and governance policies outperform those that have not. Business models that put profit ahead of everything create extensive human and environmental misery in the world. Many studies have proven that sustainability is absolutely an essential ingredient that significantly adds to a company’s long term success. Driving the need for sustainability leadership is multi-faceted. Company executives and boards are increasingly reassessing how they earn their profits, and how they do business considering the long term consequences of a wide variety of critical issues. In what has become known as the triple bottom line – going beyond the traditional measures of profits, return on investment, and shareholder value to include environmental and social dimensions / values, commonly referred to as the three P’s — People, Planet and Profits — companies are capturing the very essence of sustainability by measuring the impact of an organization’s activities on the entire world. The willingness of investors, customers and stakeholders to tolerate anything but taking environmental and social variables into consideration is totally not acceptable. The awareness of climate change, environmental degradation, unfair / unjust labor practices, and grassroots initiatives — ranging from healthcare reform and socially responsible investing to health & safety management — is taking center stage with the global corporate, governmental and non-profit sectors.

What do you look for in a CSO? 

I look for a strong, credible leader and team builder who has consistently earned the respect, trust and credibility of their company’s executive management, senior level staff and stakeholders. Candidates having earned a very favorable reputation throughout the environmental stewardship and sustainability will be high on my list. I also look for CSOs who are technically knowledgeable; media savvy; competent in capital and financial management; strong communicators; and who have deep negotiation skills.

Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media

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