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VIP: A conversation with Eric Parsons, CEO, The Standard

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006


"I TELL FOLKS THAT I WENT to business school in a feed store. My dad ran a feed store in Klamath Falls, and I remember one time I was in the second or third grade; it was in the afternoon and about to rain. My dad showed up at school and took me out of class. He had closed the store and taken the crew and a couple of trucks and was heading out to a farm, where one of his customers had died. The man’s hay had been cut and baled, but was still in the field and if it rained on the hay that crop was ruined. And that was the inheritance of the widow. My job was to drive the truck.  My legs were not quite long enough to reach the pedals, but by standing up and holding onto the wheel I could reach the accelerator and the brake. I learned from my dad that his customers were also his friends. His relationships lasted for 40, 50, 60 years. A lot of what I do is colored by that experience.

"How we’re celebrating our 100th anniversary is an important statement about the company. Our Days of Caring are opportunities for us to contribute something to the city.  It’s just such a Standard way of doing a celebration.

"The people who founded Standard 100 years ago founded many other important organizations in Portland. We’ve a deep history that goes way back. We can’t address every problem, but we try to be there at the right time. We try to support education and arts and folks on the street. Portland is one of the greatest cities in which to live. One of the reasons is because people take care of it. We all have a responsibility to do that."

Photo by Stuart Mullenberg


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There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda

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