"Leading the good fight"What business does a non-democractically elected, heirarchical organisation have attempting to achieve political change?
What do you do when your brand is your best asset, your organisation needs money, but your 'customers' have very high standards? Peter Weekes reports.
Steve Shallhorn is sitting tightly on a potential pot of gold that other chief executives can only fantasise about - a brand recognition for his business of more than 90 per cent.
However, unlike other CEOs, Mr Shallhorn has no intention of leveraging his brand to generate a regular and stable source of income. "Greenpeace Approved" tinned tuna will not be on the supermarket shelves any time soon, says the recently appointed head of the Australian Pacific arm of the multi-national activist organisation.
"If we went down that road we would have to be absolutely sure that the product is what we say it is all the time," Mr Shallhorn argues. "We figure the monitoring it would take to make sure the product is what we say it is is not worth the risk of damage to the brand."
Over its 30-odd years, Greenpeace has created its household name by doing everything from chasing down Japanese whalers in Antarctica to abseiling down skyscrapers to hang protest banners. In the process they have frustrated, annoyed and generally earned the wrath of most governments around the world, and the applause of supporters.
The chief executive of global brand consultant Interbrand, Sam Osborn, argues that commercialisation would not necessarily harm Greenpeace's brand, and would have an important upside by moving away from society's fringe and broadening public support.
"You have to measure the objectives they set themselves and the change in views of the broader public. They can keep doing what they are doing and get the support of the minority, but to get greater support some of those behaviours might need to change," he says.
"Commercialisation is an opportunity for them to become less ideological and more approachable and accessible. Their extremism, which may be viewed as an expression of the their passion for what they believe in, also disenfranchises broader support."
Osborn cites Oxfam, which has shed its political edge and runs 16 shops nationally. "It's kinda cool to buy a pair of non-sweatshop sneakers from Oxfam. Even though you pay a little bit more but you know you are doing something good for society."
Indeed, Greenpeace is so concerned about reputational risk and perceived conflicts of interest that it will not accept donations from governments or corporations. This leaves only one source of income to keep the organisation afloat and punching above its weight - donations and bequests from Joe and Josephine Public.
However, times are changing and the environmental activist market is becoming more fragmented, meaning Greenpeace no longer has a monopoly on green donations.
It is a testing time for the 50-year-old Canadian activist, who was appointed chief executive six-months ago, but he believes Greenpeace still has the edge over his competitors in what he describes as "collaborate rivalry" with each group agreeing to focus on their own particular issue.
"We all realise that there is a certain amount of competition when it comes to fund-raising but we all have our niches. Greenpeace has some advantage as we tend to be more activist-oriented so we retain people better than other organisations," he says, adding that many young people are attracted by the spectacular protests.
Still, he concedes it is costing more money to raise money due to a high turnover of volunteers. "Return on investment on direct dialogue has been in decline for last five years and a big part of that is the competition," he says.
Mr Shallhorn has taken the reins at Greenpeace Australia, which has stemmed the tide of supporters deserting the organisation. Last year, it expanded its supporter base by 7000 to about 117,000, after it had shrunk 17,720 the previous three years.
The new boss puts this down to a concerted recruitment drive and high-profile campaigns such as the anti-whaling action in the Antarctic that received widespread international coverage.
Shallhorn says the organisation is starting to think afresh for a very different world to when he was first headhunted by Greenpeace to work as a disarmament campaigner straight out of college in 1987.
Like any new CEO, one of Mr Shallhorn's first jobs was to run a review of the Australian organisation that has just merged with Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and develop a strategic business plan.
He says over the past few years a view has emerged that television images and centimetres in newspapers that their protests created was no longer enough to win environmental campaigns.
"We have a very high brand recognition," he says. "In most countries it's over 90 per cent, but we felt there was a need to reinvent the organisation, to move with the times."
"There was a feeling shared by most of the staff that we needed to change our tactics, that just doing the same old, same old was not having the same effect and was starting to be ignored by the media and the public. We also needed to get more people involved."
As most CEOs attempting to shift a business' culture will testify, it can be a hard slog. But Mr Shallhorn says implementing the review's changes has not met "too much resistance".
Among other things, the review called for mass-marketing activities (fund-raising) to help fund its ongoing campaigns after it reduced its operating income reserves to what Mr Shallhorn says is "a more appropriate level" of 21/2 months.
"It is one thing to get people to sign a petition against whaling, it is another thing to get them to agree to give you $25 a month to stop whaling.
"When people are out on the street with clipboards, campaigning, they are talking to people directly about Greenpeace, which is giving us a profile, as well as building support for our campaign," he says.
Last year Greenpeace Australia Pacific raised $14.98 million, up from $13.28 million the previous year. Citing independence, it accepts no donations from government or corporations.
About 90 per cent of the funds come from supporters who have set up direct-debit accounts. This has sustained the Australian operation and finances other international campaigns.
A true "company man", before arriving in Australia, Mr Shallhorn had a short stint as head of Greenpeace Japan. In 1993, he was involved in action that led to a significant global treaty banning the dumping of nuclear waste at sea, and more recently he fought against illegal logging of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia in his native Canada.
"I have the benefit of my skills and experience as a Greenpeace activist to bring to senior management. I have been in all sorts of campaign situations in many different countries. This allows me to anticipate campaign needs and ensure that the organisation is in the best position to support campaigns," he says.
Shallhorn himself is a veteran campaigner. He vividly recalls being held by a squad of Soviet soldiers who boarded his boat during a Greenpeace action he was leading against secret nuclear tests near the islands of Novaya Zemlya in the Soviet High Arctic during the Cold War in 1990.
The soldiers used a battering ram to break down the door of the radio room where Mr Shallhorn and a couple of others were hiding. Unknown to the Soviets at the time, it was broadcast live around the world and became the last time the Soviets tested the devices.
Mr Shallhorn laughs good-heartedly when asked how you manage a not-for-profit activist multimillion-dollar operation made up of necessarily overtly opinionated staff and volunteers - something not often encountered in the for-profit sector.
"I am a very firm believer in participatory management, but, yes, I am the boss and at the end of the day, Greenpeace is a hierarchical organisation, not a democratic organisation. I am responsible for all aspects of the organisation.
"The participatory management is: I go and ask people or my senior managers go and ask people who are actually doing the work. Sometimes that can take a little bit longer but I make better decisions."
Mr Shallhorn says he will measure the success of his time in the job on three criteria: the number of supporters, fund-raising success and political change.
June 2004 July 2004 August 2004 September 2004 October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 January 2010 February 2010 April 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 February 2011 March 2011 May 2013 June 2013