Global Conversations With: Ed Satell, Founder and CEO of Progressive Business Publications

Kate Tocci, for GPA -- Ed Satell is the founder and CEO of Progressive Business Publications (PBP), a group designed to inform and educate executives and professionals on a wide variety of industries. Satell’s commitment to his work and his passion for corporate social responsibility is evident through his philanthropic endeavors and everyday attitude in the workplace. From founding PBP in the late 1980s and transforming the company to better fit its growing marketplace, to funding Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) educational programs and partnerships, Satell’s dedication to striving for the greater good emanates from all aspects of his life. He founded the STEM Scholars, an initiative formed with the Franklin Institute, which exposes underprivileged students in Philadelphia to sciences, technology, engineering and math. He also founded the Satell Technion-MIT leadership Program, which trains many of the next generation of scientists and STEM professors in Israel.

What are the values at the core of Progressive Business Publications?

Well it seems that you’re asking two questions. One: how do values relate to the publishing industry? The second part: what do values mean to us personally? Maintaining values is a way of life for us. It always comes first and our values start with the greater good. It isn’t necessarily by itself the high ground or the moral ground and we think it’s in our self interest to have these values. I’ll mention a few in the general sense that are very important to us. One is that we must accept responsibility and accountability for our own situation. The second is that we need to think, of “we,” instead of just “me.” The third is that there should not be a gap between what we say and what we do. These are the kinds of things that we think about at PBP.

Can you explain how reaching for the greater good and corporate social responsibility is in your self-interests as a business?

I can explain it on many levels. First off, let’s talk about customers. Customers like to deal with people who they believe in. They like to deal with people who they feel were given good values. The definition of value can be different to different people. Some of them want the lowest price, some of them want the best quality, some of them want the best service, but they all want it to be identified. If a customer wants to shop in Walmart, we know they are going to be a price buyer and that’s important to us. On the other hand, if the customer goes to Bloomingdales, we know that’s more of a fashion kind of place, where quality rather than price is the paramount factor.

Additionally, customers and employees alike want a business to be honest. Honesty counts, fairness counts and that’s what we want to deal with as an employee. One of the big things that happens with people is that they’re disappointed with their own company. They’re disappointed because the company doesn’t treat people the way they want to be treated oftentimes. This is not an indictment of anything, it’s just that people prefer to work where they’re treated respectfully, where they can believe in what’s happening, where greed is not the paramount thing and the employee can feel good about working there. Practicing corporate social responsibility allows you to retain employees.

How do you implement corporate social responsibility in your everyday business life? 

Because we’re a business, it starts with customers. You have to do the right thing by customers. That means values, that means sustainability, that means thinking about the long term.

Every business fills certain needs. Sometimes it’s a guarantee, sometimes it’s follow-up service. But whatever business you’re in, we look at it creatively to see what we can do to make life better for our customers and that is still consistent with our business purposes. The same thing with employees. You don’t please everybody. But you’re certainly pleasing your own constituency and you’re doing what you think is for the greater good.

For instance, we always have a rich 401k. Why do we do that? Because people are concerned about their future. It’s a talent to save, and not many of us have that talent. Expenses and appetites are often bigger than people’s pocketbooks.

We think about it in terms of the greater good and doing what we can. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. And we can choose those things we’re going to do. This to us comes under the heading of corporate social responsibility. I talked about customers and I talked about employees, now I’ll talk about the community. The community in order to survive needs support. You should choose to support those areas that you have a passion for. Now sometimes it’s your children’s school. Sometimes it’s your religious group. Sometimes it’s the boy scouts or the little league or the art museum or whatever you think is important that makes this community a better place. In our case, the International House is one we wanted to foster. We were early on with the International House and we have been involved with them for perhaps 20 years. And we tend to be a sustained giver. When we join we stay.

From where does your passion for achieving the greater good come? 

As a youngster I saw others doing some of that. I’m a student of history and I like it when the great heroes of history have done that. I believe we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and we honor them by doing good ourselves. We can never go back and do things for them. I can’t do anything for Ben Franklin, but we can honor him by doing what he did. He made this country a better place, and we can make this country a better place. The second thing I believe is that it’s a round world, meaning that what you do will come back to you. You get benefits out of it. You meet great people, you have a better community, you can take pride in what you’re doing. Helping others is a good thing. In some ways it fills a personal need, but that’s ok. My high school principal used to say, “No one should do that which if everyone did would destroy society.” The opposite of that is also imperative.

You used the quote “problems are disguised opportunities” in a previous interview. What did you mean by that, and how did you figure that out? 

Well that quote did not originate with me, but I certainly adopted it and I buy into it. Problems are times of creativity. There’s an old saying in business, “business is problems.” If you don’t want problems, don’t go into business. Problems create opportunities for creativity to solve these issues. Often times we’re doing new and different things and in solving the problem we expand the community, we expand jobs, we expand wealth, we expand opportunity and we think of things we may not have ordinarily done. I think GPA is probably a good example of that.

Why is STEM important to you? Can you talk about the Franklin Institute STEM Scholars program?

STEM is probably the most important educational thing that is going on today. We are living in a world of science and technology, which calls for engineering and mathematics skills too. Why is science so important? Because it calls for cures in healthcare, it creates jobs, it solves problems. It’s the same with technology. Sciences and technology in some certain ways are related. Even in healthcare, they’re using technology to go ahead and make things better.

All of the things that happen in our world are what I would call currency. It is currently valuable and it is spurring us on to solve many problems. That’s where many of the jobs are. We have moved from a society of labor skills, using the muscles on your back to achieve, to a knowledgeable society where you don’t use your back, you use your brain. Machines and technology are doing a lot for us.

The need for scientists, for engineers, for people of mathematical backgrounds, is growing in abundance. You can’t get there if you don’t have the right training. You can’t just one day say, “I want to be in science,” or, “I want to be an engineer.” What you need to do is learn about it. With the STEM Scholars program, we work with the underserved community in Philadelphia together with the Franklin Institute, and we find kids that are bright in that community but are unexposed. We have a four year after-school program in the school year and a full time program in the summer. We have partners such as Penn, Drexel and Princeton and we expose kids to science. It transforms these students. It turns them on to a world they never would’ve known. Most of these kids were candidates for dropouts. Not because they’re[unintelligent, not at all, but because that’s the environment that they live in. We’re very pleased that of our beginning 15, 13 finished in four years, if you can imagine, and are all going to college.

These kids don’t lack the skills but they would have been in the dropout community. Now, they’re going on to school, some with full scholarships. We believe in this program. It makes a better world. If these people get jobs, it creates business, it creates a healthier community, it creates less crime. Sometimes we have kids going to the best schools, but they end up in jail because they thought there were shortcuts. They didn’t think of values. It was all about money. It was all about “me” instead of “we.”

The Satell Technion-MIT Leadership Program also seems to have been a great success so far. What is your role in that and other STEM leadership programs? 

I’m being the principal funder for this. I also have a developmental role. I’ve spent a lifetime in development. I don’t mean development in nonprofit and fundraising, I’m talking about development of people, bringing the best out of people. Now one of the things that can happen with extremely bright people who are extremely capable, is that they start out with great intentions, great values and great purposes, but they get persuaded along the way to go in a different direction, allowing themselves to lose their values. Most of these people who go into research are interested in making the world a better place.

They’re interested in the discovery of new knowledge. We want to encourage that. Well, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the developmental process. My role is to try to help and to assist. I’m not running the programs, but I fund them to make sure they happen. With this particular program we have the opportunity to work with some of the best people in the world.

Image courtesy of Progressive Business Publications.