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David Murphy, CEO of Better World Books, described his company as “an online bookstore with a soul.” He and business partner Kevin Jones met with students May 11 at Wieboldt Hall, home of Kellogg’s Part-Time program.

David Murphy, CEO of Better World Books

‘A different kind of company’

Business partners David Murphy and Kevin Jones, the 2010 Beacon Capital Partners Executives-in-Residence, reveal their strategy for doing good — and for doing well

By Rachel Farrell

5/27/2010 - For online bookseller Better World Books, social responsibility isn’t an afterthought. It’s at the core of this for-profit social enterprise.

Through a partnership with nearly 1,400 libraries and more than 1,800 college campuses, Better World Books collects unwanted textbooks and library discards, sells them online, and distributes a percentage of its sales to support high-impact literacy organizations, such as Room to Read (founded by Kellogg alum John Wood ’89), Books for Africa and WorldFund. To date, Better World Books has raised nearly $8 million for global literacy efforts and saved nearly 33 million books from landfills.

“We’re a different kind of company — we’re an online bookstore with a soul,” said David Murphy, CEO of Better World Books, who addressed Part-Time Kellogg students on May 11 alongside his investment partner, Kevin Jones, principal of Good Capital.

Murphy and Jones visited the Kellogg School to accept their appointments as the 2010 Beacon Capital Partners Executives-in-Residence, an honor granted annually by the Social Enterprise at Kellogg (SEEK) program and the Net Impact Community. During their two-day visit, Murphy and Jones met with several members of the Kellogg community, including Part-Time and Full-Time students, Kellogg faculty, SEEK staff, Net Impact leaders and local nonprofit leaders.

The Beacon Capital Partners Executive in Residence program is a unique opportunity for the Kellogg School to invite a world-class leader in social enterprise to spend a few days talking with the entire Kellogg community about important issues in nonprofit management. Previous Beacon Capital Partners Executives-in-Residence include Room to Read’s Wood; Jim Scherr ’89, the first Olympian selected to lead the United States Olympic Committee; and Christopher Crane, president and CEO of Opportunity International.

“The Beacon program started as a way to bring non-traditional leaders to Kellogg,” said Liz Livingston-Howard, a social enterprise lecturer and associate director of the Center for Nonprofit Management. “What’s most interesting about these executives is that they’re truly applying business principals for the greater good.”

During his talk with Part-Time students, Murphy explained that three principles, in particular, have enabled Better World Books to thrive: a unique supply chain model, scalability and transparency. Collecting books from libraries, colleges and — eventually, Murphy hopes — the community, keeps supply costs down. Creating a 280,000-square-foot distribution center and employing 300 people has allowed the business to scale. And being honest and open about their business operations has “built trust with colleges and libraries,” said Murphy. “It gives people comfort to know that we’re doing what we say we’re doing.”

Jones added that the more Better Word Books grows, the stronger its mission becomes. “It’s a business with scalable social impact and market rate,” he said. He believes so strongly in its business model that he invested $2 million in Better World Books two years ago.

“I wanted [to invest in] a social mission that cut costs and builds a lifestyle brand,” he said. That is, “if you want to say that you’re someone different, buy from Better World Books.”