We lost a giant this week. An insipration. A friend.
There have been many moving and eloquent tributes. Here’s mine.
Ray Anderson was a man of big heart, generous spirit, penetrating vision, fierce commitment.
He inspired and taught so many – including me – that yes, we could dream our dreams, and even bigger dreams. AND bring them in to being in the world. Even in the supposedly cold, hard, just-the-facts ma’am world of business.
Ray was able to show, at Interface, that sustainable business leadership could be bold, not tentative, and that it could be profitable.
For all his visibility, so much of what Ray did was invisible. But indispensable. (Few people know that Ray was one of the people that Walmart CEO Lee Scott turned to shape Walmart’s pivotal sustainability initiatives.)
I’ve heard Ray speak dozens of times — every chance I got, really — starting in 1994 (at Pam Lippe & James Nixon’s pioneeing sustainable economy conference in New York, and soon after at U of Oregon) when the spear in the chest story was still fresh, and “Tomorrow’s Child” was already the culmination of his talk, as it would remain for the next decade and a half.
I watched his journey unfold, as he brought in his “dream team” of Benyus, Browning, Fox, Hawken, Lovins, Lovins, McDonough, Piccard, Porritt, Quinn, Robèrt, Stahel to help figure out the HOW of the WHAT that was increasingly clear. As he turned to The Natural Step to help build shared framework that could get the entire Interface organization aboard — down to the fork lift drivers.
I watched him in the film The Corporation (actually I watched him hold the film together), and thought “This man is a prince” — in the very best, archteypal sense of the word.
We’ve been in retreat together, with the Tipping Point Network, and with his leadership team, and it was clear that what you see is what you get.
Most recently, we were together at the Sustainable Industries breakfast in San Francisco — he the keynote, me introducing him and handling the Q&A. He recounted his journey through the motif of “What if a company…?”, chronicling the successes down to the dollars and tons, concluding “I know this is possible, since this is my company, and we have done this. I told him then that I’d heard him speak 20 times over the past decade and a half, and that it kept getting better and better.
A lot of executives get hung up on “the business case” for sustainability. Not Ray. He understood (as I’ve written before) that the business case doesn’t tell you what to do; your heart does. “What’s the business case,” Ray would ask, “for destroying the planet?”
Tuesday evening, as many of us were reeling from the loss, a friend asked “With Ray gone, who will step up now?” I knew immediately how I would answer her, and posted this video:
Who? Me. And you.