Building Worlds that Kids Love

I was inspired by our recent interview with Michael Araten, CEO of K’NEX toy company, as part of our ongoing series of Executive Insights™ videos. So I decided to share with you some of the nuggets of wisdom from the interview.

Creativity – at K’NEX they have a process for creating new products and innovations that include consumer research with kids and their parents, a set of parameters for product development that looks at the marketplace and competitors, the inclusion of all disciplines within the company in the creative process, and a search program for new ideas among kids that includes scholarship awards.

Community – K’NEX connects with the community through three-tiers of communication. They connect with kids through a Kids Club, offer parents support through safety tips, age appropriate toy guidelines and opportunities to review their products, and have an education division to support teachers and schools in the use of their construction products with a tie-in to curriculum.

Environment – K’NEX’s manufacturing arm Rodon Group has worked hard to develop many environmentally sound practices including becoming landfill free (all waste is recycled or used for energy production), recycling water and plastic waste, and inspiring employees to reduce waste as well.

Made in America – Over the past 10 years K’NEX has brought manufacturing back to the U.S. to the point that 95% of the product is now produced here. Much of this was done by lowering labor costs, the one advantage that China has had in the past over U.S. companies. In the process, they have also helped start a consortium of local manufacturers to apply those principles to other companies.

Employee Development – K’NEX works with local technology schools to encourage students to enter the manufacturing workforce and provides an internship program that takes students from playing with toys to working to design them. Because Rodon’s manufacturing process is highly automated, the jobs they provide are higher-paying technical jobs rather than assembly-line jobs.

K’NEX is the kind of company that can serve as a model for other U.S. companies as to the right ways to do business. The principles they have developed provide educational products, local jobs, lower impact on the environment and they give back to the community in the process.

If you’d  like to hear the full interview with Michael Araten, subscribe to Soundview’s Premium Subscription. This interview is one of over 45 Executive Insights videos that are included in our library.

How Does Your Company Rate?

Although we’re seeing some slight improvements in our economy in recent weeks, we still have a long way to go to a full recovery. However, some are looking beyond the present crisis and see signs of a strong economy in the future – that is for those that make the grade.

In Good Company, Laurie Bassi and her co-authors make the case that to succeed in the future a company will need to meet the criteria for what they call a “good company.” They have developed a rating system (The Good Company Index) which takes into account certain criteria that are becoming essential in the new economy.

  1. Good Employer – they use a starting number based on ratings from and the Fortune list of 100 best companies.
  2. Good Seller – they use the consumer ratings of wRatings regarding quality, fair price and trust.
  3. Good Steward – they based this on statistics regarding a company’s record on the environment, penalties/fines, restraint in executive compensation and contribution to society/community.

As they state in their book, “A good company is one that starts with good intentions and then puts those into practice concretely through its actions in these three areas. Is your company good or moving toward good?

If you think that your company may not rate well and would like to move it up the charts, join Laurie Bassi and co-author Ed Frauenheim for our Soundview Live webinar Business Success in the Worthiness Era coming up on March 1st.

The Responsible Business

What does it mean for a company to be responsible? In the past the focus was on treating employees fairly, obeying the law, and not polluting the environment. defines corporate responsibility this way: duty and rational conduct expected of a corporation; accountability of a corporation to a code of ethics and to established laws.

But a shift has taken place in recent years away from the idea of just doing no wrong, to a forward-looking idea of doing more right. This is the new corporate responsibility. Recent books that touch at the many aspects of this change in thinking include Common Purpose by Joel Kurtzman, Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and Tactical Transparency by Shel Holtz and John Havens.

But Carol Sanford, author of The Responsible Business, takes it a step further by looking at the very heart and soul of the company and how it operates. One key principle that Sanford emphasizes is having a workforce of CEOs, where “every person in the co-creative group (employees, suppliers, partners, contractors) think like a CEO and feel responsibility for the success of the whole, including financials, in their everyday decisions and actions.”

In this way of thinking, responsibility is taken down to the level of the employees – the people who live in the community, have children in the local schools, and see the day-to-day effects of the decisions made by the company. If a company is accountable to the larger community in which it functions, this can have a huge impact on how it does business.

If you’d like to hear more about Carol Sanford’s thinking on corporate responsibility, please join us for our Soundview Live webinar with her on October 13th at noon EST. The webinar is aptly named Becoming a Responsible Business, and there will be ample time to ask your questions regarding the implications for your company.

Captain Moore’s Waterview

On Monday (Sept. 7) the oceanographic research vessel Alguita embarked on a 10th anniversary voyage to retrace its first trip to study plastic pollution in the Pacific Ocean. Specifically the course heads for “the great Pacific garbage patch” described in my Ocean Conservancy  calendar as “A giant floating ‘continent’ of garbage, twice the size of Texas.”

Apparently it was during Captain Charles Moore’s Pacific Ocean crossing after the Transpacific Yacht Race in 1997 when he was heading back to California from Hawaii that he had the disturbing intersection with what ABC News subsequently described as 3.5 million tons of trash that is 80 percent plastic.

Captain Moore founded the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which owns the ORV Alguita, and has ever since surrendered his time and resources to examining the impact of this massive floating swill, increasing awareness about it, and figuring out how to get rid of it. A July 2008 Discover magazine article described how in this particular area of the Pacific there is a series of currents several thousand miles wide that swirl together ensnaring trash and debris from North America, Asia and the Hawaiian Islands. The tricky part, as far as funding research and assigning cleanup dollars, is that the open ocean waters of the world are a difficult place to justify government spending.

I confess I had never heard about this huge floating garbage patch before. It makes me realize that we should be continuously promoting and adding to our Soundview Business of Green collection to give people access to information about sustainability and responsible business practices. Two other important books that we have summarized, Saving the World at Work and The Necessary Revolution shout out the importance of being environmentally responsible at work and home.

With fresh summer memories typically embracing a waterview that we choose to savor until next year, this topic captures another picture we shouldn’t quickly forget.

Onward to The Green Road

One of my joys as editor in chief is reviewing the numerous book reviews that are submitted to us. We have a talented pool of writers who imbue their reviews with style and creativity. From the monthly allotment, we provide the best reviews on for FREE. It just takes the simple step of signing up for a log-in.

Of course, my appetite for reviews doesn’t stop with the ones that fill my inbox. I go in search of intriguing reviews from many outlets, both print and online. This review, furnished by Matter Network via the folks at Reuters, deals with Andrew Winston’s book Green Recovery, published by our friends at Harvard Business School Press.

The review, as well as the book itself, make the case for continued emphasis on green thinking in business. With the recent battles over health care and the continued concern about the jobless rate in the United States, there may be those who assume that the green movement is pushed onto the side-table until other issues are resolved. This is a bit foolhardy, and Winston devotes a good bit of his effort to assert the needs of businesses of all sizes to not take their eye off the globe. Winston’s six business trends are among those commonly named drivers of the green business movement, and each has enough push behind it to ensure that it won’t leave the agenda in any boardroom for some time.

If you have a particular interest in the impact of the search for sustainability on the business world, I’d recommend Soundview’s collection The Business of Green. We compiled 11 of the most important books written to date on the subjects that rest beneath the green banner. It wouldn’t hurt to get informed on environmental issues, because as Winston indicates, a company’s ecological practices will only come under greater scrutiny in the months and years ahead. Oh, and don’t worry about the footprint of our collection … it’s available in a variety electronic formats but not on paper. No trees were harmed in its creation.