Lessons from Jochen Zeitz: The CEO’s Pathway to Sustainability

What is the secret to building a successful business in an ever-evolving world?

As one of the world’s most renowned CEOs — who made history as the youngest person in Germany to head a public company when he became the CEO of PUMA at the age of 30 — Jochen Zeitz knows a thing or two about achieving business success. During his 18-year stint at PUMA, he brought the company back from near bankruptcy to become one of the top international sporting brands.

It was also during this time that Jochen conceived and pioneered a groundbreaking sustainability model — the first model to attach a monetary value to a company’s environmental impact. His model went on to influence how countless other companies measure their effect on the ecosystems and environments that support their operations.

Today, Jochen is the CEO and President of Harley Davidson, with a firm commitment to put social and environmental impact at the heart of the company’s values. A leader who is lauded for his trailblazing efforts in sustainability and conservation — efforts that safeguard over 21 million acres of wildlife and touch the lives of more than 750,000 people across the globe — he realised early in his career that sustainability is inextricably linked with long-term business success.

A recent guest on The Pathway with Fred Swaniker, Jochen shared invaluable insights for leaders looking to build sustainable and profitable businesses.

Here are some of our biggest takeaways:

Understand your environmental impact

“To make sustainable decisions as an entrepreneur, you need to know your impact on the environment. Start with transparency and awareness, ask where your materials are coming from, and step by step, work backwards to reduce your impact.”

Think and plan holistically

See the full picture

“We need to think beyond carbon; there are sea and land boundaries that we are breaching. If it continues, we cause irreparable damage to the planet and affect billions of people. The climate is only one part of the problem, but not the entire issue. Biodiversity is also critical — we simply can’t live without it.”

Consider your unique circumstances

Dare to take the path less travelled

“Reinvent the past and innovate for the future. You need to be innovative in what you do and not take the beaten track in a business that has been unsuccessful.”

Remain persistent and patient

“True transformation takes time, so I look at it from a 10-year horizon. You need a minimum of five years to notice significant change.”

Everyone can make a difference

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