Turning Challenges Into Opportunities

It’s been a year since the Business Roundtable took a bold position in redefining the purpose of a corporation, inviting businesses to not only serve shareholders but to create value for all stakeholders. Vistra is proud to be among the original signatories to this pledge. For us, it was a no-brainer.

I firmly believe companies have an obligation to be part of the solution — whether we’re talking about social equity, climate change, or navigating a pandemic. We have a responsibility to both make sure our own houses are in order and to reach out beyond the walls of our companies to play a role in society. Caring about our stakeholders leads to higher customer satisfaction, more community involvement and support, and committed suppliers. In turn, it leads to a sustainable company and the highest profits and shareholder value, especially over the long run. In contrast, a short-run focus on profits alone will inevitably lead to a company culture that will miss long-term opportunities and fail to establish the lasting relationships necessary to sustain value.

At Vistra, this is ingrained in all we do. We are guided by four core principles, one of which is “We care about our people, our customers, our communities, and our investors.” I cannot think of another year that has provided a more significant opportunity to live up to these principles and the BRT’s purpose of a corporation.

As we fight a global pandemic, we’ve seen our customers struggling, so we’ve stepped in to help them pay their electricity bills, and we’ve donated millions to community organizations that can assist with critical needs, including everything from food and air conditioners to laptops for students in-need as they tackle e-learning.

But, it’s not just customers and communities; like most Americans, our team members have been impacted by the challenges that have come with 2020. How many times have you heard CEOs say that their people are their most valuable resource? It’s true. We have to take care of our people so they can, in turn, take care of our customers and communities. Those customers and communities will then support our businesses, driving profits and maximizing shareholder value. As we face the pandemic, the health, safety, and well-being of our people is our first priority. Every decision we’ve made allows them to work safely and to put their families first, as many of them must go to their work locations everyday as essential workers and others working from home while also taking on roles of educators and caregivers.

This year has also challenged us to pull back the layers, so we can continuously work to create a better workplace. Between the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic and the issues brought to the surface in the wake of the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, our employees needed assurance that their concerns were heard. So, we listened. I joined my management team in sitting down for nearly two dozen 90-minute internal listening sessions with our people. Hearing personal stories about how race shaped the lives and dictated the opportunities of my own team members is among the most difficult, important, and emotional things I’ve done in my career.

Based on those sessions, and what I feel the current moment demands, Vistra has committed to create a Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council made up of representatives from across the company; provide formal D&I training — this year; create multiple pathways to job opportunities; and institute a formal mentorship program to foster education on cultural differences and provide support in career development and advancement. All of this will make Vistra a better company and one that works equally for everybody.

It was also important for us, through a multi-year $10 million donation, to invest in organizations that grow minority-owned businesses, enhance economic development in challenged communities, and provide educational opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds. If we value diversity in our workforce, developing the next generation of professionals starts with access to quality education and economic opportunity. We must follow through on the rhetoric with real action and close the gap for the less fortunate among us.

Growing up, my dad taught me to see challenges as opportunities. On this anniversary of the reframed purpose of a corporation, and in a year of multiple crises, we’ll continue to look at the many challenges that exist today through the lens of optimism and progress. We cannot outsource the important work of social justice and equity in our companies and communities to others. We must step up and do our part. As we move forward, we’ll draw strength and inspiration from the BRT’s like-minded corporations, spreading a business philosophy — one that focuses on all stakeholders — that fuels the new capitalism and the modern American dream.

Business Roundtable is an association of CEOs of leading U.S. companies working to promote sound public policy and a thriving U.S. economy.