Doing Well by Doing Good: 12 Companies that Got it Right in 2021

Doing Well by Doing Good: 12 Companies that Got it Right in 2021

The best organizations today understand that culture is their strongest asset and can be the glue to retaining top talent. Whether you nurture it or not, you have a culture. It may be empowering or toxic. Either way, the results are showing up in your bottom line.

Here are the 12 companies we featured in CEE News this year that show how doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive.


1. Tentree, “We’re planting 1 billion trees by 2030.”

Tentree is a lifestyle apparel company that essentially thinks of itself as a forestry program that sells clothes. For every product purchased, the company plants ten trees through thoughtful programs that not only reforest the earth but also help rebuild communities around sustainable local economies. Since its inception in 2012, Tentree has planted over 35 million new trees around the globe. By 2030, the company’s goal is 1 billion. [Read More



2. Uncle Nearest, “First known African-American master distiller.”

Uncle Nearest Logo

When entrepreneur and author Fawn Weaver saw a 2016 New York Times article about Nathan “Nearest” Green, who while enslaved, taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey, she moved to Tennessee from California to see if she could turn the story into a book or movie. Shortly after arriving, Weaver found that the site of Green’s distillery was for sale. She made an offer and quickly set about to give the godfather of Tennessee whiskey his due. If you’re curious about the quality, you may be interested to learn that Uncle Nearest was the most-awarded American whiskey or bourbon of 2019 and 2020. [Read More



3. H-E-B, “We’ve grown from a store, to so much more.”

As Texas faced record-low temperatures in February and snow and ice made roads impassable, the state’s electric grid operator lost control of the power supply, leaving millions without access to electricity. As the blackouts extended from hours to days, top state lawmakers called for investigations into the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, and Texans demanded accountability for the disaster. But when the power went out on February 16th at a crowded H-E-B in the Austin suburb of Leander, Texas, employees told shoppers that they could walk through the checkout aisles and take their groceries out of the store without paying. [Read More


4. Articulate, “We make the world’s most popular apps for online training.”

Articulate LogoAdam Schwartz started Articulate in 2002 out of his one-bedroom apartment in New York City. He had just enough money to hire two experts – one who lived in Missouri and the other in India. Together, they built the backbone of an online learning product that would revolutionize the training industry. Today, over 112 million learners in 161 countries have taken advantage of career-boosting training from online courses created with Articulate applications. That model of hiring the best and giving them the freedom and trust to thrive is part of Articulate’s secret sauce and culture of empowerment. [Read More



5. Ringcentral, “Our biggest strength is that we’re not all the same.”

RingCentral logoOf the nearly 600,000 immigrants from former Soviet countries who settled in the United States between 1975 and 2003, Vlad Shmunis’ family was among the first. His family left Odessa in 1975 to escape the restrictions of the Iron Curtain. Shmunis’ story is just one example of the impact that the Soviet diaspora to the U.S. had on Silicon Valley and America’s innovation economy writ large. Freeing people to connect and do their best work is the foundation of the inclusive culture at RingCentral, where Shmunis serves as CEO to 6,000+ team members. [Read More


6. Tuft & Needle, “We believe everyone deserves a good education, a clean community, and a great night’s sleep.”

Tuft & Needle logoIn 2012, Silicon Valley software engineer JT Marino stumbled across a problem—buying a mattress totally sucked.

Between confusing buzzwords, pushy salespeople, and backwards policies, JT knew there was an opportunity to take an archaic industry and flip it upside down. Enter Daehee Park, his long-time friend and colleague. They launched a simple test site to see if anyone out there would actually be interested in buying a mattress online. Within just 15 minutes, Bingo! They had their first buyer.

After returning the money, they set out to learn everything they could about the industry. Tuft & Needle soon grew from two Silicon Valley software engineers to a team of over 150 people headquartered in Phoenix, AZ. They work each day to deliver a universally comfortable mattress, with no middlemen, and change the way mattresses are sold and delivered. [Read More


7. Elastic, “Our story begins with a recipe.”

Elastic LogoAs humans, we are insatiably curious. Prior to the inception of the Internet and the rise of the search engine, we had a limited array of solutions when a question arose. But, as the Internet grew, organizing, sorting, securing and mining vast amounts of data quickly became a challenge.

That’s the problem Elastic Founder and CEO Shay Banon found when he started building a search engine for his wife’s recipes. While she attended cooking school at Le Cordon Bleu, Banon worked from their flat in London to building a search engine to manage her growing collection. [Read More


8. Nehemiah Manufacturing Company, “Building brands, creating jobs, changing lives”

Nehemiah Manufacturing Company logoBefore the pandemic, 38% of manufacturers had trouble finding candidates with the right skills, and today that number is 54%, according to a report by The Workforce Institute at UKG thinktank. Yet, despite this labor crisis, Cincinnati-based Nehemiah Manufacturing has more applicants than it can handle, even as it navigates a pandemic-driven business boon[Read More



9. Chili Piper, “Reinventing the meeting lifecycle.”

Chili Piper Logo


Alina Vandenberghe traces her entrepreneurship roots to communist and post communist Romania. Both of Alina’s parents were factory workers with limited income. So, instead of relying on them to pay for her textbooks and other school expenses, Alina started a series of ventures at the tender age of nine. [Read More



10. Stance, “We exist to celebrate human originality.”

Stance logoWhen seasoned tech investor Jeff Kearl met with John Wilson for a pitch meeting over breakfast in 2009, Kearl thought Wilson would be talking up a new product in the consumer electronics space. After all, Wilson had previously been an executive of Oakley and was working at Skullcandy on the morning that they sat down. Instead of pitching a cool new consumer device, however, Wilson threw out one of the lowest tech products imaginable – socks. [Read More


11. ReCharge Payments, “We turn transactions into relationships.”

recharge logoIn 2014, under the name Bootstrap Heros, Oisin O’Connor and his two roommates were determined to solve one of the biggest problems facing Shopify merchants: recurring payments. In October, after many months of takeout and trial and error, ReCharge Payments was launched. By 2015, O’Connor’s team became the preferred partner of Shopify Plus, so they upgraded from their whiteboard-lined apartment to an office in Santa Monica, CA.

Today, the company has grown from a handful of employees to 250+ fully remote team members. Working remotely enables Recharge team members to have more control, gain autonomy, and achieve balance in their lives. The company made Forbes Top 100 for remote jobs by going the extra mile to make team members feel that they’re an integral part of the company’s success regardless of where they’re logging in from. [Read More


12. NatureSweet Tomatoes, “to transform the lives of its employees while providing consumers with great tasting tomatoes year-round.”

Nature Sweet TomatoesNatureSweet Tomatoes has a vision: to transform the lives of its employees while providing consumers with great tasting tomatoes year-round. It’s a bold ambition for a company in the agricultural industry where employees historically work for low pay, have little stability and rarely see opportunities for growth.

For the company’s 8,000 employees, that vision means working full-time, year-round for a living wage that comfortably supports a family of four with opportunities for bonuses and professional development. This approach helped the company expand its operations from a single small farm in Texas in 1990 to a $2 billion corporation with more than 1000 acres of greenhouses. The company’s commitment to producing flavorful vine grown tomatoes and delivering them to market in its signature clamshell container with a peel-off lid has also helped to create a “snacking tomato” market, which now represents more than one-quarter of all tomatoes sold in the U.S.

Kudos to all 12 of these amazing companies who understand the value of culture as a competitive advantage! 

Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!

Merge Ahead: The Rules of the Road for Effective Team Engagement

Merge Ahead: The Rules of the Road for Effective Team Engagement

In order to get my driver’s permit as a teenager in Texas, I had to take a series of Saturday morning classes offered by my high school. After completing the classes, I needed at least 12 hours of driving practice accompanied by a licensed adult 21 years or older in the front passenger seat. Much to my mother’s horror, she was my designated adult passenger.

Luckily, Mom and I survived those practice drives, although the row of flowers she’d lovingly planted along our driveway paid the ultimate price. After I was issued a driver’s license by the State of Texas, I quickly learned that the written rules of driving were subject to interpretation. Merging, yielding, passing, and allowing others to pass meant very different things depending on whether I was negotiating rush hour traffic on I-45 or taking a weekend trip along the network of state routes and farm roads that connected small towns across the state.

When it comes to interacting with a group of people, it helps to establish a common set of guidelines for everyone’s safety. For teams, guidelines lay out how you are going to connect with one another, how you can create a space for everyone to contribute comfortably, and how to be individually vulnerable to make the collective outcome stronger. Here are some “I will…” recommendations for teams that want to create the rules of the road to improve engagement.

1. I will respect confidentiality. Every team needs to be able to invoke confidentiality when sensitive issues arise. The team needs to be able to have open and frank discussions without worrying about whether I will leak what is said to other coworkers.

2. I will be fully present. If an issue arises that can’t be covered in an email, I commit my full attention to what’s being discussed. I will resist the temptation to multi-task or respond to cell phone notifications during team meetings.

3. I will ask for what I need. I will assume responsibility for asking for what I need to be successful in my role. Nobody is a mind reader. So, if I need something, I will ask for help getting my needs met instead of waiting for someone else to figure out what I’m missing.

4. I will not assume my perspective is everyone’s reality. My perspectives are shaped by my beliefs, opinions, experiences, and unconscious biases. They’re how I view the world. Owning my perspective is part of speaking my truth. That said, it doesn’t mean my perspective is always right or true. It’s just what’s true for me.

5. I will have the courage to be imperfect. Learn to fail or fail to learn is a framework for a growth (rather than fixed) mindset. Mistakes come with being human, so I will admit my mistakes and course correct, where possible, as soon as possible.

Teams that honor and model a set of rules of the road both individually and collectively will create a mutual sense of safety and move forward faster.

Question: What are some of the rules of engagement on your team? Are they healthy?

The Culture Equation: What do you Measure, Reward, and Ignore?

The Culture Equation: What do you Measure, Reward, and Ignore?

Culture. What does that word actually mean?

Though many have tried, no one has ever landed on a fixed, universal definition for organizational culture. The subject has been vigorously debated from the pages of the Harvard Business Review to the halls of MIT Sloan. What is not debated is that culture is part of the DNA of every organization. Whether your organizational culture is empowering or toxic depends greatly on two factors: shared experience and modeled leadership.

Consider this. When new employees join your organization, they step in on Day 1 with a set of preconceived beliefs based on past experience. They may believe that markets are finite and there is only so much business to go around. They may believe that success is a win/lose proposition. Some have been taught that ethics and morals can be bent. Others have relied on the strict dictates of policies and procedures. That makes up the experience half of the equation.

The other half comes directly from modeled leadership. If the leaders of the organization are fixated on business development, channel expansion, and market domination, they are not likely spending any time intentionally trying to shape the culture. Unintentionally, however, they are sending very clear signals about what is important to them. They are the cultural architects of your organization and contribute three critical elements to the culture equation:

1. What is measured. 

Let’s face it. Culture can be hard to measure. Senior executives tend to shy away from anything with a fuzzy ROI. Yet, whether you measure it or not, your culture is showing up in your bottom line. Skillfully managed cultures can be a performance multiplier. Recent research by the Great Place to Work© Institute found that companies that actively invest in workplace culture yield nearly 2x the return over their competitors. They also typically report 65% less voluntary turnover, saving an average of $3,500 per employee in recruiting and training costs. If culture isn’t part of your KPI mix, you’re sending the signal that it’s unimportant.

2. What is rewarded. 

A recent study by O.C. Tanner found that employees report being recognized for their work as their most important motivator, over 20 times more than salary. Employees study what behaviors and achievements get rewarded, and naturally modify their work accordingly. Leaders who understand this connection create recognition programs that go beyond passing out paychecks. WD-40 CEO Garry Ridge proudly hosts the company’s annual People Choice Awards. Each year, heartfelt speeches are given by winners of coveted awards like “Best Mentor Coach” and “Best Team Player.” Leaders like Ridge know that coin-operated employees have no passion.

3. What is ignored. 

Leaders are bombarded with data, hold back-to-back meetings, and field urgent requests on a daily basis. When we need to respond to fast-moving competitive situations, it is tempting to tap only our direct reports for feedback. In his Harvard Business Review article “The Focused Leader,” New York Times bestselling author Daniel Goleman warns that this temptation is dangerous. He recommends that leaders practice expanding their focus of awareness. “A failure to focus on others leaves you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided,” Goleman writes. What’s worse, leaders who ignore input from those outside their immediate circle are signaling to the rest of the organization that their input is irrelevant.

Leaders are the cultural architects of your organization. The key metrics they pay attention to, the contributions they reward, and range of their awareness directly impact both your organizational culture and your bottom line.

Question: What do you measure, reward and ignore? How is that impacting your organizational culture?


Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, subscribe to receive CEE News!