This year has been a year full of challenges that have led many people and companies to question how we can display exemplary leadership and have a positive impact on society. Many companies have amped up their social impact efforts this year, and TOMS is no exception.
TOMS is an apparel company that has always been centered around giving, making it well poised to have an impact in 2020. We recently spoke to Amy Smith, the Chief Strategy & Impact Officer at TOMS, who shared how the company’s recipe for impact has shifted and evolved in the midst of the challenges of the year, how TOMs values inform leadership, and her vision for the future of TOMS.
Amy Smith is a business executive and entrepreneurial strategist with 20 years of corporate and non-profit experience leading innovation in product and business development. She currently serves as the Chief Strategy & Impact Officer at TOMS, where she oversees all aspects of the company’s corporate strategy, consumer insights and social impact efforts.
Previously, Amy Smith was the Chief Strategy Officer and President of Action Networks for Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service. Prior to joining Points of Light, Amy held several management positions at Apple helping to lead their retail initiative including international real estate development, store design, construction execution and store operations support. She was on the initial team at Apple that opened the first 50 stores in the U.S.
Can you tell me about your background, and what led you to TOMS?
I’ve been lucky to have an interesting and diverse career so far. I started my career at Apple Computer doing a variety of things including helping to lead their retail initiative and being part of the original team that opened the first 50 Apple retail stores; I’ve also been part of a startup working in business development and project management, and before coming to TOMS, I worked for a global non-profit focused on strategy, program development and partnership management. I also helped two local organizations complete a merger to better support the community they together served. I love building things, I love problem solving, I love creating—that is something I’ve had the great fortune to be able to do across my career. All those experiences brought me to TOMS, which combines my corporate and non-profit experience with strategy development, relationship management, and creating impact in the world. I’m passionate about a lot of things, but now more than ever I really believe in the ecosystem that is being created between corporate and non-profit organizations. By bringing profit and purpose together, we can create meaningful and durable change in the world, and I feel so lucky to be able to be part of it at TOMS.
How have TOMS values illuminated the path forward amidst the challenges of this year?
At TOMS we are constantly looking forward, evaluating ourselves and asking the question, are we making the greatest possible impact with the resources we have? Over the past few years that question has been front and center for us – we’ve done a lot of research, reflecting and strategizing. That’s why in 2019 we decided to decouple our impact from the very same One for One model that we pioneered so that we could be more nimble, meeting the needs of a new world reality. Now for every $3 we make we give $1 away. Most recently, due to the challenges of this year, we applied our new model of giving to the current worldwide health crisis. Our first step was to understand which of our Giving Partners needs specific to fighting COVID-19 were most pressing, and where we could quickly create meaningful impact. In response, we developed the TOMS COVID-19 Global Giving Fund, which supports our long-time Giving Partners that are directly responding to COVID-19 through mental health, handwashing, and providing supplies to medical workers in under resourced areas. Thanks to our customers, over the course of 5 months, the fund helped generate $2 million which will be distributed over the next few months in support of relief efforts across the globe.
Additionally, we are now focusing our Impact efforts on the upcoming presidential election which is another crucial moment this year. We have partnered with Vote.org to encourage voter turnout by launching a suite of voter registration tools on our website. Anyone can visit TOMS.com/vote to check their registration status, request absentee ballots, view state-by-state mail-in deadlines, and sign up for reminders about the upcoming election. It’s important that we remind everyone that their voice matters. Please vote and we are here to help you do that.
What have the biggest challenges been for your team in adjusting to this new reality? What have you done to address those challenges?
TOMS has always been nimble and even a little scrappy at times. We are a smaller organization and we continue to find smart, strategic ways to adjust as needed in real time. The global health crisis forced us, like all companies, to quickly adapt our 2020 plans to address the current business and evolving impact needs landscape. It has not been easy but we are doing our best to make decisions and move forward with plans that are grounded in our mission of using business to improve lives. We are grateful that our brand loyalists will be the customers that help our business weather the tough times. As long as we remain authentic, honest and open with them I believe we will find success in the work of this movement for a long time to come.
Our Giving team is always in the process of figuring out how to create a more flexible and sustainable way of giving so we can bring the most meaningful impact forward year round, but especially in times like these. I am very proud of the recent initiatives tied to the challenges of here and now—our Global Giving Fund, recent donations to organizations combating racial injustice, and our Vote.org partnership.
How are the values that TOMS espouses externally reflected internally, in the company culture and leadership?
Since TOMS impact has been the core of our company since day one, it is at the forefront of everything we do and how we think about the business as a whole. We are committed to transparency to both our employees and our customers. Last year, we distributed our 2019 Impact Report which is a deep dive into the last 13 years of TOMS giving, our B Corp status, accreditations, and more. Going forward, the TOMS Impact Report will be released annually, so everyone has access to the latest impact information.
We are very much a practice-what-you-preach organization. Our leadership team is committed to giving at the highest level, as is every employee that works here. Prior to this year, employees were invited to attend and participate in giving trips to experience TOMS giving firsthand. While we cannot travel given the current global health pandemic, we still offer other opportunities for our employees to participate through virtual volunteer opportunities and discussions with our giving partners and we hope to get back to giving trips just as soon as it is safe to do so. Another opportunity we offer to employees is The Tomorrow’s Project. Every other month, every TOMS full-time employee has the chance to submit a fresh, forward-thinking idea that benefits others. Then, we put all of these Tomorrow’s Projects to a company-wide vote and settle on the winner. When a project is chosen, the employee is given financial and administrative support from TOMS to make it the best it can be. We are proud to be a part of and support a community of purpose driven people.
What would you say are the key steps any company could take to have a positive societal impact?
TOMS is unique because it is built on giving, it is part of the DNA of the company, this is not the case for many companies. I can’t say for sure that TOMS ever meant to change the way consumers think about the power of their purchase – or to inspire an entire industry rooted in doing good. But that’s exactly what happened. We now know that having a thoughtful purpose or impact strategy is good for business. Over half the people on the planet now say that a company’s stand on societal issues impact their willingness to purchase from that brand. More and more companies are starting with purpose in mind, which is the best, easiest, and most authentic way to get there—but you have to be committed. When times get tough or sales are not what you expect them to be you have to stay committed to your model. You have to consider your stakeholders, not just the shareholders. So get really clear about where and how you want to create an impact, make sure it is sustainable for your business, you have leadership buy-in and that you engage with the experts who know the needs best – the last step in that process is to invest.
Can you share any anecdotes of exemplary leadership that you have seen from the TOMS team recently?
Our employees are truly amazing humans, they take pride in working at a company that aligns with their personal values and show up in those values everyday. Recently with the racial injustice movement, we saw many employees come directly to the Leadership Team proposing ideas on how we can improve internally. Not only did we see true leadership, we also gained a deeper connection to our employees by having open dialogue. TOMS is an anti-racist organization, but we know we have work to do to live up to that commitment. That work is on-going. We know this is a journey and we are committed to it for the long term. In practice that means, we are keeping the conversation open with our employees, providing learning resources, and working with external partners who are experts in this space. We are reviewing our processes, systems and protocols and implementing better ways of doing this work. Myself and the rest of the Leadership Team are committed to transparency which allows anyone at the organization to share their feedback and demonstrate their leadership skills, no matter what team or title.
What is your vision for TOMS in the future?
We recently signed an agreement that transfers the ownership of TOMS to a group of investors led by Jefferies, Nexus, and Brookfield. These organizations have all expressed a commitment to our company, our brand, and our mission. To show that commitment and support our future growth, the new owners are investing $35 million into our company. Combined with an enhanced capital structure, this funding will enable TOMS to further invest in promising growth areas and continue our commitment to giving, which has been our mission from the beginning.
My vision is for TOMS to play a real part in creating a more equitable tomorrow. Over the past 14 years, TOMS has impacted nearly 100 million lives. And I know we can do more. There are so many organizations that are moving the needle with the work they do, and my goal is that we continue to learn from and support organizations creating real change on the ground in local communities everyday.
What advice would you give to other leaders right now?
For other business leaders, I think that it’s so important to be listening to your consumer and evolving with them. Customers are more saavy than ever; they are living their values through their purchases and aligning with brands that stand for something. Even if it’s starting small, involving corporate social responsibility into your business is crucial in this day and age, and makes the world a better place in the long run.