In a recent New York Times op-ed, “America Is in a Disgraced Class of Its Own”, sociologist Matthew Desmond writes about the shameful amount of poverty in America, and our responsibility for it. He also writes about solutions. He points to B Corp as a beacon of light, a resource for people who want to support corporations that actually respect workers, their communities and the environment. Our guest this week, Jay Coen Gilbert, is one of B Corp’s founders. He’s also someone Abby consulted with while making her documentary, The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales. She says Jay helped her think through many complicated economic questions, especially around how to limit the power and influence of American corporations and their leaders.
According to Abby, “Jay is the rarest of creatures—a smart businessman who knows how to run a company—but he’s also unashamed to say that values matter, principles matter, and that greed is—now, are you sitting down for this?—not good.” Over the course of the conversation, Jay explains what a B Corp is and why it may hold the potential to fundamentally change the way corporations function in our culture and our economy. In most states, the law essentially requires companies to maximize financial returns to shareholders. Profit at all costs, Jay tells Abby, has become the “source code” for modern capitalism’s operating system. B Corps, he says, are attempting to rewrite that code: “they are changing the settings” he explains, so that other “stakeholders” can be included in a company’s mission. In other words, a company’s board can pay workers a living wage, for instance, or work towards a sustainable, equitable supply chain—and not be punished by shareholders for doing so, but instead encouraged to do it. Ultimately, Jay hopes that “the settings” that B Corps are pioneering will become mandatory for companies above a certain size: “at a certain point, if you’re too big to fail, you’re too big to not only fail your shareholders, you’re too big to fail society.”
Cofounder B Lab (B Corporation movement)
Jay Coen Gilbert is CEO of Imperative 21, a global network-building narrative power for a just economy. Imperative 21 believes the imperative of the 21st century is to reimagine and redesign a new economic system whose purpose is to maximize well-being, not profit. To achieve that purpose, we must design for interdependence, invest for justice, and account for all stakeholders. Imperative 21 bridges the energies and interests of business leaders, movements, and culture shifters to tell a new story about the purpose of business and to meet this moment with bold action to build a more just economy. Imperative 21 builds on Jay’s experience as cofounder of B Lab, the nonprofit behind the global B Corporation movement. Along with his B Lab cofounders, Jay is the recipient of the UMKC Entrepreneur of the Year Award, as well as the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and the McNulty Prize at the Aspen Institute, where he is a Henry Crown Fellow. Since 2016, Jay has been called into antiracism work, prioritizing his own learning and UNlearning journey while co-convening multiracial and white caucus spaces, including White Men for Racial Justice (WMRJ), a BIPOC accountable peer-led community of practice for White men to develop racial literacy, stamina, and equity skills, and a commitment to dismantling racism in ourselves, our organizations, our communities, and our country. Prior to co-founding B Lab, Jay co-founded and sold AND1, a $250M global basketball footwear, apparel, and entertainment company, and the subject of documentaries on Netflix and ESPN. Jay also worked for McKinsey & Co, as well as organizations in the public and nonprofit sectors. Jay grew up in New York City and while he graduated from Stanford University with a degree in East Asian Studies, his most rewarding educational experience was co-teaching a class for the last ten years about the role of business in society at Westtown School, a 200-year-old Quaker institution. Between AND1 and B Lab, Jay enjoyed a sabbatical in Australia, New Zealand, and Monteverde, Costa Rica with his yogini wife Randi and two children, Dex and Ria, now 24 and 22. Jay and Randi live in Berwyn, PA.