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Cassandra Pulley '76 discussed the past, present and future of socially responsible business at the Donald P. Jacobs Center on Nov. 8.

Beyond the buzzword

Pulley shares insights, experience from 30 years in business of change

By Aubrey Henretty

11/6/2006 - “Find out what your passion is, what you care about, what you really like,” said Cassandra Pulley ’76. Since graduating from the Kellogg School, Pulley has pursued her own passion for social change through business, and on Nov. 8 she stood at the front of a classroom in the Donald P. Jacobs Center offering strategic insights to students, faculty and staff interested in doing the same.

Sometimes, said Pulley, following one’s passion means having to “go out on a limb and take a risk,” and while she urged aspiring world-changers to do so, she also advised them to be realistic about their tolerance for risk. “Don’t let go of the parachute if you’re not willing to fall without it,” she said.

As the Kellogg School’s second Beacon Capital Partners Executive in Residence, Pulley was visiting campus Nov. 8 and 9 to speak with students about the power of business to effect social change. Her Nov. 8 remarks at the Jacobs Center were preceded by lunch with professors teaching in the Social Entrepreneurship at Kellogg program (SEEK) and followed the next day by dinner with Social Impact Club members, Center for Nonprofit Research scholars and board members, key donors and SEEK faculty.

“There’s a lot of talk now about corporate social responsibility. That’s a big buzzword now,” said Pulley, who is a board director of Chicago Public Radio, Jobs for Youth Chicago and the Steppenwolf Theatre Co. and who was recently the vice president of public responsibility at Sara Lee and president of its foundation. She emphasized the importance of a holistic approach — one that combines philanthropy, community development and positive environmental impact — and said that U.S. companies in particular have a long way to go toward that goal. “I just haven’t seen any place where that’s the business model, where they’re all together,” she said.

Pulley also rejected the notion that business should be governed merely by bottom-line concerns. “I don’t subscribe to that theory at all,” she said, maintaining that everyone, including shareholders, stands to gain from socially responsible business. If shareholders disapprove, she said, they are free to take their business elsewhere: “You can always sell your stock. You don’t have to own the company.”

In the pursuit of passion, said Pulley, a strong sense of self has kept her focused even when her precise goals were hazy. She encouraged students to follow their instincts and not to settle for work that doesn’t challenge and delight them: “If it isn’t something that really pulls you in and really pulls you out, how will you learn?”