Q&A With . . . Mark Jorgenson

“Producing an engagement strategy can be difficult. It’s much easier if there exists a shared set of core values.” — MARK JORGENSON, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY BANKING, U.S. Bank

Q. What were the foundations of your own sense of corporate responsibility—the influences  that informed your own values of what it means to be appropriately engaged as a company?
A: Banks especially enjoy a unique platform in our community and in our country. I see us as connectors, in the sense that we seek to connect resources to customers and to charitable organizations. Networking for good is something I’ve always felt is a personal responsibility for me and our colleagues at the bank. The nature of our business puts us at the middle of many interactions every day, every week, throughout the year. On a corporate level, success isn’t achieved if we’re not able to help other people become their best selves, not just businesses, but engaged collectively to enhance the quality of life in the Kansas City community.
Q: So were those views hard-wired into you growing up, or the products of years of honing that sense of corporate responsibility during your career?

A: A little of both, I guess. I’m proud to say I’m an Eagle Scout. There have been studies done on that, one by a fellow at Baylor who came into that study expecting to find no statistical difference between an Eagle Scout and anyone else in terms of values. When he looked at the data, he found that Eagle Scouts do give back more, they take care of the environment more effectively, they generally have better business careers. I’m not putting it all on scouting, but think that answers the question of how I was raised. In the workplace, everybody has the opportunity to pick a boss, a company, an industry, and I was fortunate to pick a company that really felt like being engaged in the community was really important.

Q: Tell us a bit about the challenges of producing a cohesive engagement strategy that can work across silos—corporate (especially as a public company), civic (which can step into the public sphere), philanthropic, etc.

A: Producing an engagement strategy can be difficult. It’s much easier if there exists a shared set of core values, as in our banking groups and business lines. We talk about the shared values quite frequently to keep them top of mind. We have our stated core values, and there are five of them: One, do the right thing. Two, we power potential. Three, we stay a step ahead. Four, we draw strength from diversity. And five, we put people first. I’m reminded of the time I was serving on the board of a youth organization, and when an issue came up, determining how to make a decision, board members would ask “what’s in the best interest of the kids?” It’s a simple question, but it reflected a core value. All the sudden, the right answer became readily apparent. So first, it’s very important for every organization to have and nurture a shared set of values. Then the silos just fall away and corporate action can be identified and initiated.

Q: The Washington Post just came out with a story about companies like Hertz, JC Penney and Nieman Marcus, where millions of dollars in bonuses were paid to a handful of executives immediately before bankruptcy filings. How badly do the optics of that tarnish the concept of corporate responsibility?
A: I guess all I can say is, I wonder about the core values of those companies. The first I mentioned in ours, we do the right thing. To me, that doesn’t sound like the right thing. I’m a big fan of capitalism, but not at all a fan of crony capitalism.

Q: We see a lot of organized blowback these days against companies over certain value sets of their leadership (particularly with private ownership, as in recent years with Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A). Just how much is the emerging role of a company’s digital presence (and outsiders’ ability to influence it) changing the underlying strategies for efforts to engage in social issues?

A: There’s no question, a company’s digital presence is a way to communicate with various constituencies, and it’s important to recognize that it’s one way that might resonate more with certain demographic groups. The concern is that your messages to be communicated are well-conceived and crafted to meet your primary objectives. We think it’s important that this company stands tall for what is right, and if possible, does things in ways that do not promote controversy. That’s easier said than done, but doing what is right is more important than standing on the sidelines with issues that face the community. 

Q: There’s much more of an imperative to keep those public-facing activities updated and evolving as well, isn’t there?

A: There’s no question that we’re living in a time of rapid change. That change demands that companies evolve and anticipate problems and trends before they happen. That way, the organization will no doubt be viewed as an effective leader in the community. Those core values that serve as your foundation, you do need to be mindful of the changes we face and anticipate those broader trends so you’re viewed as a more forward-thinking corporate citizen in the community.

Q: How difficult is it to align var-ious components of that strategy: the longer-standing corporate, social and environmental aspects, but also newer efforts that might be centered on race, public safety, equity and the like?

A: If you have a strategy in place, and if it’s grounded in core values, it’s much easier to pivot and support new and emerging efforts in a community. For us, we’ve ramped up diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives on several fronts—hiring, volunteering, grant-making, putting our money where our mouth is, leveraging relationships with key organizations like the United Way and here in Kansas City 
with the Urban Neighborhood Initiative.

Q: What makes that all work?
A: It comes down to listening. Not just to leaders in the community, but to your own employees, having the courage to have conversations that maybe in the past were not something that were even thought about. I was thinking earlier this morning about a conversation I’d had a person who came to one of our off-site meetings, at 36 he had been the youngest leader of the Pacific fleet ever, and he said that one of the things a manager must do is send the signal to your people to let them know how important they are to you. Use your influence to find out who they are, recognize 
the effects you have on them, understand how to make them grow taller. That fits into the conversation about equity, inclusion and so forth. As we learn from employees what’s important to them, we can help apply that in our communities.

Q: Does that require some sort of formal corporate structure?

A: It would be helpful, but I don’t think it’s necessary if you have the culture that promotes such communication and conversations. It should just happen. If it’s not happening, introducing some structure into the situation could help, allow you to get your sea legs as an organization and allow it to become part of the culture.

Q: Do you envision any new means of engagement by which companies can effectively calm the waters on some of the most contentious social issues the nation is facing?

A: We’re already doing a number of things to help the current situation, which involves some choppy waters. One thing that’s different, but we are committed to doing, is measuring the results of our activities. They are all designed to make us a more effective participant. The adage of What Gets Measured, Gets Done applies here. We’re trying to cater to a diverse pipeline of talent and have that throughout the organization, through all levels. If you’re measuring that, you can see when you’re not doing well and say, ‘”OK, we’re doing something wrong.” That creates a need to be more introspective. It’s one thing we’re committed to doing–measuring. You may think you’re doing something well, but it takes an objective look to make sure, and I think that’s important for any company.

Q: The bank’s national headquarters is in Minneapolis, and we all know what has happened there since May 25. How has that impacted the company, in regard to its social responsibility profile on social justice issues?
A: There’s no question, our senor leadership really embraced how we can do things in a different way to be supportive of our communities. One of the things we did, we had a diversity and inclusion officer at the bank, but he now reports to the CEO and is on the management committee. This by itself says its important. We also gave a lot of money back to the community, and do lots of volunteer efforts. Doing at the mother ship, the holding-company level, allows that to flow throughout an organization.

Q: You’re retiring at year-end, but say you’ll still have seats on various boards. Why is that important when you could instead be on a beach somewhere?

A: My wife and I raised four children who are now adults. We tried to instill in them a sense of community responsibility, so to do anything different from that would be disingenuous. That’s not something we’d think of doing, retreating from the civic and charitable arena. I have a friend who is also active who told me he loved being involved with charitable and civic board work because it was a great chance to hang around some really good people. Right now, I’m on six non-profits, a couple of for-profit boards and a private equity board, as well, so I’m going to keep plenty busy, along with my wife, which I like.

Q: What do you hope your history of engagement might inspire in younger executives?

A: I speak to a number of young colleagues in our company, and I tell them that it’s important to think about how each wants to make a difference, and that they shouldn’t be shy about asking leaders to help them get connected. It’s important that they seek it out, and especially important that they align with organizations that have missions with causes about which they are truly passionate. Otherwise, it’s a hollow effort. Once they are engaged, if they are offered a leadership role, they should pounce on it. No one is ever prepared for all the challenges that it will entail, but the experience would benefit the organization, it benefits the leadership of it, and it makes them better associates for their day job. My view  is that it’s a win-win-win for sure.