Lisa Hendrickson: Sustainability x Tech, Sustainability Pioneer, Author, Inc 500, and TEDx Speaker
Based on the Chaos Theory, small changes can have a significant impact. The goal of the Butterfly Effect Studio is to uncover how leaders and change makers developed their purpose, competencies, and community to have a great positive impact. Each episode is packed full of ideas you can apply to your life.
In this conversation, Christian speaks to Lisa Hendrickson. Lisa is an innovative strategic business leader with a focus on sustainability, innovation, and technology. Her in-depth knowledge of environmental, social, and governance issues led her to her current role as a leading Strategic ESG Account Specialist at S&P Global Sustainable1 where she works with key multi-national companies to empower impactful business transformations aligned to a low-carbon economy.
[00:00:02.090] - Christian
Welcome to the Butterfly Effect Studio. I'm your host Christian Rebernik. As you know, based on the Chaos Theory, small changes can have a big impact. The goal of this session is to uncover how leaders and change makers develop their purpose, competencies, and community to achieve a great positive impact. Every episode is packed full of ideas you can apply to your own life. In this episode I speak to Lisa Hendrickson. She's an innovative leader, serial entrepreneur, professor, speaker and book author with a focus on sustainability, innovation, and technology. Great to have you in the studio.
[00:00:38.430] - Lisa
Thank you so much Christian, for asking me to be here. I'm so delighted to have this conversation with you and to be sharing with your students.
[00:00:48.030] - Christian
Yeah, when I prepared I was reading about your history and it's so amazing. I didn't know how to compress in the best possible way with so much experience. Looking back at your achievements, what are you actually most proud of? What really stands out to you?
[00:01:06.850] - Lisa
It's interesting. I think mostly what stands out to me as a real shining accomplishment is being able in my role as COO of HCC, one of the first sustainable design and manufacturing companies in New York City that I participated in, was actually taking the ideas around sustainability and operationalizing them. And not only was it to operationalize that idea of sustainability, but put together metrics to train employees and be able to, on a daily basis, change how people were thinking and seeing sustainability as a key important benefit and a way to see manufacturing in a different way. Design and manufacturing.
[00:02:07.940] - Christian
So if you're talking about sustainability and actually helping the people to understand that, how do you describe that? What for you doesn't mean sustainability in that regard.
[00:02:17.870] - Lisa
So if we were to look at and I don't know if you use this model with your students, the UN model, where we have environmental profitability, right? Our business models, when we look at putting together a company, we can start saying the profitability model is going to be engaged with us being thoughtful about resources. And resources are physical resources, human resources. And when we look at a circular economy, where do these materials come from? Where do they end up at the end of life? Instead of making waste a linear manufacturing process when we start talking about those things and normalizing the way that that looks there's real power in that. When I talk about sustainability I'm really looking at putting in elements of physical sustainability in humanity. Of course there's another conversation called Decarbonization and net zero and those metrics are of course incredibly important but I also believe in this simple elegant solution how to explain these people, whether they're your clients or customers, your employees and the overall stakeholder universe you engage with.
[00:03:50.010] - Christian
When did you define for yourself the path to really embrace sustainability, circle economy? How did you get there? Because it seems like one of the red lines throughout pretty much of your life. So when did you choose that path?
[00:04:07.450] - Lisa
Let's say that it's interesting. I started my career in technology and I was continuing to work and build an organization. When I got out of grad school, my generation was the first one to start building virtual companies, right? Software technology companies away from brick and mortar. And through that discovery, I really started thinking deeply about what the next generation company will look like? Who participates? What must we do? And it also was extremely clear to me that we were on an unsustainable path through macroeconomic trends, whether it be population growth, use of resources. All of the indicators pointed to me like AHA moments. Like the pathway that we're seeing is unsustainable. I think people wake up to things in two ways. One is like a cloud burst, right? That's how that was for me. Some people will have it like a sunrise where slowly it's dark when you wake up and all of a sudden the sun is here and you're like, okay, I see that now. And however that happens for people, so be it. But my awakening to it is one I've always been in an innovator space. Thinking about building something also means innovating that space and then looking at what is coming in the future.
[00:05:47.390] - Lisa
And so all of these elements from technology, from organizations and then sustainability, these ideas came together that drove the idea that this is the way not just for business, but for humanity. As we roll into 8 billion people and their growth of the middle class and we're seeing it now. Resources become more scarce, prices go up, we see instability, global instability from political situations. We are seeing the remapping of the energy market. So like, all of these things coming together, yes, shakes up what we're seeing now. But there's a huge opportunity to be able to reinvent the things that haven't been working for so many people.
[00:06:42.990] - Christian
What is that? Because if you're describing this to me, I think it sounds like you have also most likely resistance. On the other hand, you say, hey, I don't see that you end up there yet. I don't have this kind of clarity on this perspective. How do you deal with the resistance? What is keeping you really going on that path?
[00:07:05.850] - Lisa
So what a wonderful question. And as entrepreneurs and serial entrepreneurs, you should know the first answer to your question will be no. And the reason why is that it has nothing to do with you. Let's take this out of talking about sustainability and entrepreneurship for a minute. Think about when you walk into a store and a salesperson comes up and says, hi, can I help you? You say, no, no, I don't need your help. No, right. You go shopping and you look and you pick something up and you're like, where is that person? I need them to help so you go from no to a neutral, and if that person can actually help you do something, more than likely you're going to buy that item. So there's a transformation of attitude that happens in your shopping experience. Well, I like to suggest that the same called reflexive no is how innovation, invention, and something new is met. In general. Part of what's difficult about hearing no or people not wanting to do your idea or your business is simply engaging with that reflexive no. Being able to understand what I know about you as a person? Is that known about you as an idea, or is that no?
[00:08:31.330] - Lisa
Not right now. Let me look around and think about that for a minute and see if there's something here that I'd like to do.
[00:08:38.010] - Christian
But that's really inspiring, that comes to my topics. Also, with so much success, which kind of competence, what have you built up? What has been most important actually in your life? Actually what have you learned and applied? Maybe there.
[00:08:59.050] - Lisa
So some of the best things that I say help me as an entrepreneur is I am a lifelong student and I take learning as seriously as anything else. Because when you come up against a world of no, you better have your ducks in a row to say, I know exactly why it should be yes and how to get to yes. You might have to ask ten people to get to one yes because they can see where that is and you have to be ready to be able to deliver on that. So often I feel like we're swimming in a world of mediocrity. Mediocrity that even if somebody is interested in your idea, you haven't gotten the foundational principles pulled together yet in order to make either a compelling argument or be able to show that you can operationalize that idea. There's a difference between being in love with your idea and being able to show that idea in a concrete, physical sense for people. The other thing that I'd like to tell entrepreneurs out there, if you have not taken an accounting class, please do so. You must be facile in understanding finance, because some of your first conversations when you're pitching to people is they have to have you be credible in understanding what you're asking for and how you are going to use that.
[00:10:41.310] - Lisa
It is incredibly important for you to be able to not only have your numbers down cold, but to be able to unpack. This is what a sample P&L looks like. And the P&L is really important. When you ask for money, you're talking a balance sheet conversation. You're talking about equity investment. We're understanding stock. But when we go and deeply drill down to what will happen every day and how are you spending that money? What is your burn rate? Tell me. Have a realistic tam. Show me your service addressable, market, and show me where the money in a P&L is going to have a straight line to be able to get market share. So you have to be a serious student and you need to be able to have that facility to have credibility to speak into that conversation about why your idea is so compelling. Right. Let me give you also an example about so often we are in love with our own ideas and think we're going to make a huge change. Okay, great. Whatever your company idea may be, or your invention or your innovation. So here is innovation versus change. So for those of you who didn't know life before a smartphone, Steve Jobs was competing against.
[00:12:20.700] - Lisa
And there are people out there, come on. I remember we had a little flip phone. It was like this. And if you had to text, you had to be like it took a really long time, you guys. Right? But it still was cool. But it still was cool because we thought that's very interesting. Now, the way the contracts worked for the mobile companies, they had a two year contract and they put in a very steep churn fee. Basically, they wanted to put a big barrier to you exiting prior to the completion of that term. And the reason why is they would give you this phone for nothing because they said that this had no value, but really where the value was, that was in the contract. Understood. Steve Jobs comes out and says, I am going to charge you $499. This is a phone, but it also is your calendar and your email. And you can leave the office, but still be connected to answer calls or do other things. Your work can follow you. That is innovation. Because people stood around the corner, right? Stood online for hours and hours and hours to buy a phone versus the free phone that they could have.
[00:13:41.540] - Lisa
Why? Because this is a promise of a new future. This is a disruptive technology that changes the very nature of how we could do things. This is innovative. If we were only making this better and said, I know, no flip phone. We're going to put a keyboard like a BlackBerry, right? And then all the people can do that. Still, that is a change on what is happening on the original item. This is an innovation. When people say, oh, people are going to invest, because it's a no brainer. If you can show innovation that has a key disruption inside or making a new market as a market maker, that's when you're able to show some real power in the marketplace to people and you'll be able to transform that no. And to tell me more about that, you need to also be able to talk about finance, where your money is going to go every day, what that burn rate is, how things are going to look. And you have to have a leadership model. Just being an engineer and an innovator that can make something doesn't mean you can lead a company.
[00:14:59.150] - Chrisitan
So Lisa, how did you learn? I like that we have touched on a couple of topics from resilience, from learning, which is really important, from accounting, from sales, being convincing arguments, rethinking, maybe coming back to no, because I think those videos are like getting from a note to you. Yes. How did you learn that? How can you learn that as a student now?
[00:15:24.890] - Lisa
So here's an exercise you could do in the classroom. Or if you're not in a classroom and you're virtual all over, line up ten people in your life and tell them, ask them something and say their only response to you can be no. Right. And just have them say, hey, do you want to go out for dinner? No. Do you want me to help clean up the house? No. Do you want to go to the gym now? No. See what happens when you start getting okay, ongoingly with someone telling you no and a lot of people telling you no. Because really what you have to understand is you'll live through no. You'll live through it. And most people are not good investors for your project. Overall, out of the world of investors, there are a slim few that understand the marketplace that you're participating in such a way that they could be good investors for you. So going back to no, you want to be able to engage powerfully with the word no. You also could look at well, that other no means I'm one step closer to yes.
[00:16:54.390] - Christian
Absolutely beautiful. If you're recruiting or if you want to work together with somebody, what are, from your perspective, the most important skills, competence. You will be looking at that you would expect awesome.
[00:17:12.890] - Lisa
If you're looking for a Co-Founder, you want to have complementary skills. Oftentimes I see Founders come to my classroom together and they might say, I'm in marketing, she's in marketing. We're going to make a marketing company. Overall, it's a good idea to start a marketing company. You can tell me why you're going to do that. What's not good is no one says, I love to sit and do the hard work, the boring work. Let's face it, if you sit and have to grind over spreadsheets all the time and you're a really extroverted marketing person, it's almost like torture to have to do that. And then you're going to get in an argument with your Co-Founder about who's going to have to do it. And when we look at startups, one of the things that we know is that we have a scarcity of resources, whether that's time or money. And so when we partner with complementary skill sets, a marketing person with an engineer, an engineer who is going to work with an operations person right. And know that you have to budget time and think about who are your most important first hires and those most important first hires are your weak areas.
[00:18:40.570] - Lisa
The mistakes that entrepreneurs make is that they think they have to get better in their weak areas. And instead, what they need to do is be able to learn how to hire those people to come and do that work for them in the company in a meaningful way.
[00:18:58.250] - Christian
So how do you know what you're really good at?
[00:19:03.230] - Lisa
Some of it is that you have agreement in the marketplace. And what I mean by that is somebody's hired you to do this in the past. Right. So you're working at a current company, thinking about putting together a company yourself. And you may look at your own work in your own position. When you see that you have been able to hold down a job that you are competent in, that you feel comfortable in, you get joy out of accomplishing certain things. That is where, you know, okay, somewhere in here, this resonates with me, you can find your sweet spot. Part of being able to do something effectively is to know what you give away and what is at core, something you are really good with. Right. Again, the only caveat I put in is everyone needs to learn finance. You do not need to do the functions of that operation, but you certainly need to understand deeply what that P&L looks like on a weekly basis, how you understand whip, how you understand your tax laws.
[00:20:25.350] - Christian
But talking about this P&L because I mentioned this now and you mentioned before this kind of sustainability and maybe not the focus just on profit. How do you bring this together? How do you help, especially as of now, if you want to start a business, but also if you're running a business?
[00:20:42.910] - Lisa
[00:20:44.190] - Christian
How do you put this focus on circuit economy maybe in place?
[00:20:48.830] - Lisa
Exactly. You must decide what is the strategic imperative of this business? What must we do in order to have this be successful? We have to decide what our principles are. What do we believe deeply in this company to make this work? We believe in sustainability. We believe in resource positive resource management. We believe in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Whatever it is that you believe that must be codified, you will see that. Right? It'll come out in your mission, your vision, your values. But to have that not just be a talking point, we have to be able to take that strategic imperative and align what our products and services are, and what our operations are going to look like. Everything starts from that strategic positioning and that idea. So when we made our company, what we decided was there were some facts. One, in the US. 60% of objects that are in the landfill come from the building trades. And I said, I don't want to participate in that. There's got to be a better way. We even zoomed down into his garbage. Garbage. What constitutes garbage? What goes in there? What gets to be upcycled?
[00:22:18.720] - Lisa
What gets repurposed now? It means that you have to teach and train your people differently. So that's why you have to be able to take those ideas and be able to put them in from whether It's departments or however. What is that strategic imperative for purchasing? Does it mean that purchasing only buys from certified sustainable manufacturers? Does it mean that our waste will be upcycled and where? What do these things actually look like? Will our products be shipped overnight or will we find a more effective way? Will we buy carbon credits to offset the carbon that we're going to produce?
[00:23:05.610] - Chrisitan
So you're saying, hey, it's great to have your profit and loss calculation. You need to have that. You need to have your accounting before it's actually about that. You need to talk about your strategy and your strategic imperative, the foundations for your decision making process. And this should be about the values you actually want to incorporate, what your company's about. And you should always keep that as a basis. As a basis. And then this should be profitable. But this then comes on top, let's say, the profit and loss calculation. Is this correct?
[00:23:43.800] - Lisa
Yes. So you have to have that big idea first. And the reason why I just bring up the P&L and finance is that your best idea on its best day. If you cannot support your people through a profitable business, you cannot give them a raise, you cannot increase benefits. All the things that you imagine inside of creating an excellent environment that really values and treasures the people that you work for is an impossible dream if we don't run an efficient and effective organization.
[00:24:17.650] - Christian
Yeah, absolutely. I'm just looking at the time and I would like to touch base on that topic. If you're talking about your community or who from your perspective helps you the most in your life to be successful, who should people maybe in the audience and students, who should they surround themselves with and how can they also collaborate with them to use that actually, so.
[00:24:41.580] - Lisa
That's a great question. I am a community builder. I think there's a method of give, give. We need to be giving as entrepreneurs and it's not even volunteering time. It's helping one another, it's listening. I don't think I need two of these, one of them, and then I'm going to have a really great community. Sometimes friends are just friends. My good friend, I went out with my brother in the 8th grade. She's a school teacher. I don't ask her about policies around operations inside of businesses. We just have a friendship. I think being supported in a community, finding people and helping them across all different aspects of the value chain will help you. We don't necessarily know today what we're going to need in two years. But from now what we do know is that oh my goodness, I know I can talk to so and so who I met at a conference or a networking event. And I know that's in their wheelhouse, we need to be able to have a big enough community to be able to help find our way. I love how the Internet has made almost anyone like one or two degrees of separation, but mostly Austin.
[00:26:12.750] - Lisa
I know enough people to say, I don't know how to do this, but I might be able to know somebody over here who's going to send me in the right direction or introduce me to another resource. I think it's really important to be able to be used by your ideas. And what I mean by that is when our life is purposeful, we allow ourselves to be driven by these different ideas. And I think part of sustainability is being giving is not being siloed, is being able to offer help when you can and where you can. I'll pretty much have a conversation with almost anybody simply because we don't know. Right? It's not like, oh, I need to go meet that high roller over there, or I need to go and surround yourself with all kinds of people, see how you might be able to be helpful. What I mean by that, if you can do a favor for someone or an introduction that will take less than five minutes, you should go do that. Part of how some of the great things that come into my life is simply because I've helped somebody else.
[00:27:29.580] - Lisa
So I feel like being really a giving person is really important. One of the things that I don't like is when people reach out and I get these all the time, hey, you don't know me. I saw your profile on LinkedIn. I'd like to pick your brain. Is there anything in there? Do I want to be friends with that person? Do I want to know anything? I'm very personable with people. I see what they're doing and I'm like, I could help that person or I can pick up the phone and call somebody or send an email. I could do that. Sure. Regardless of how many accomplishments you have. We're not. I'll speak for myself, sitting on our laurels saying, oh, I did all of this. What I'm still doing is figuring out problems and solutions for something in the future and I still need help. I like it because I'm tackling something new. Ask me what you can help me with, too. Right. What can we help each other with? That is the network that you'll build.
[00:28:35.490] - Christian
So beautiful. So beautiful and so true. And I think this is one of the strengths. We have a community that if we help each other, then we together have more and it can accomplish more and achieve so much more. Who would you say is your role model, who is inspiring for yourself? Where do you have many ideas?
[00:28:56.100] - Lisa
Maybe from our so many people there are no, it's not like, hey, there's this big industrialist. Like Elon Musk is a huge inspiration. I'm usually inspired by what has happened for people in a small way. Everyone has so many different aspects of themselves. And we have found this in so many artists where they'll say this part of their life, their art, is so laudable, and now we find this dark side of someone. Yes. Aren't we all made up of and I'm not excusing really horrendous behavior, but what I'm saying is we're not just one thing, we're many things. And so when we look for inspiration, most of my inspiration, I would say, comes from books and sometimes in talks. And part of this thing about inspiration is when you see other people accomplishing those things, it gives you the bravery, even if you are scared to take that action, to do it yourself. I say if something resonates with you, books are interesting. I have a book going all the time, so it is a big influencer for me. Paul Pullman from unilever. I think he is an amazing force in business, regardless if he was at Unilever or what he's done next and ongoing, it's the mindset that I would say is really incredible.
[00:30:45.230] - Lisa
And so I am brought up like Steve Jobs. Didn't seem sorry if you really love him. Didn't seem like he was very nice to his employees a lot of the time. He didn't seem like he was a great boss. Did he inspire? Was he an innovator? Absolutely. He did all those things. But I think there's probably mixed reviews. So we really want to look at people from human space. They did this and that was good, they did that. Maybe they could have done better.
[00:31:17.670] - Christian
I love how you say that many people actually can spy you. It doesn't need to be those big role models, but it could be literally the next person who's giving you inspiration and more convincing that you can do it as well. And this is what they are doing here as well. So that's really great. And I think it may be really inspiring for someone to listen to us now, looking back at your time, when you finished school maybe, and then said, hey, you want to go maybe and study? Or to the next thing. From today's perspective, what would you wish for now? What advice would you give yourself at that age today?
[00:31:53.010] - Lisa
What would I do differently? I would have said I was kinder to myself. It's going to be okay, it's going to work out. It's going to work out. I used to have, like, the hard part about innovation and being on the forefront of things is there's a lot of formulation in a marketplace where some of it feels really real to you, but it may not be really real to other people, like the Metaverse right now, and where that's going to go? Some people are deeply engaged in that technology, but it's not really real for a lot of people. And that would make me very uncomfortable in ways of doubting yourself or like, am I doing the right thing? Am I expressing sustainability in a way that people can understand? So I would tell my younger self, it's going to be okay. It's just a road less traveled. So I would say that. And as long as you feel like what you're doing, I'm speaking to myself. Has integrity. Has integrity in the action of it. That's the most important thing.
[00:33:24.590] - Christian
Thank you. I like the sentence. I follow their vote, which is all the less traveled. And don't also try that. I think you don't need to hesitate. Just go that way. It's totally okay. And it might not be great. And don't be so like, I left what I said before about the nose, because, yes, on the road less travel, you will get more nose. And despite for sure, you learn and see what are the arguments. It shouldn't be the first reaction. Okay, then I stop and change my roles. So true. So just to wrap this up, is there any suggestion, any recommendation you would like maybe to leave our students with?
[00:34:09.890] - Lisa
So I love the question. This is what I am going to recommend. Be a really good student. Know your stuff inside out. Do not be deterred by all of those nodes that you're going to hear. That's what innovation is all about. And don't think like somebody you prove them right. If you have a failure, what you're calling a failure, it may be the smartest thing that you're going to do with that company. And you'll only be able to see it in retrospect. Unfortunately, life needs to be lived moving forward and understood. Looking backwards.
[00:34:57.450] - Christian
With this beautiful closing. Thank you you so much, Lisa, for joining us in the Butterfly Effect studio.
[00:35:03.490] - Lisa
I'm so delighted to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me.
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