Nov 25, 2020
I think we can all agree that creating a culture of
integrity in our workplaces in important. We want to be able to
trust the people we work for and work with. We want to know that
the company we are representing as an employee or as an owner is
one that people can trust; that the brand has a certain amount of
ethics behind it. That doesn’t just have to be regarding just
manufacturing, but the fact that a company strives to have
integrity on the whole. My guest today is creating and leading a
revolution of ethical companies that hold integrity as a top
priority. Rob Chesnut if the former Chief Ethics Officer for Air
B&B, and the author of the new book, Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead
An Ethical Revolution. Rob is a graduate of Harvard Law School and
The University of Virginia. He worked for 14 years with the US
Justice Department, where he prosecuted bank robberies, kidnapping,
murder, and espionage cases. He joined eBay in 1999 as the
company’s third lawyer where he led eBay’s North American legal
team and later founded its Trust and Safety Team. Rob subsequently
spent six years as the general counsel and first attorney and
digital education leader, Chegg, where he helped take the company
public in 2013. He joined Air B&B as general counsel in 2016,
where he grew the legal team from 30 to over 150 legal
professionals in 20 offices around the world. His team led
initiatives to promote home sharing and address regulatory issues
with local governments and landlords around the world. As Chief
Ethics Officer, Rob developed a popular interactive employee
program, Integrity Belongs Here, to help drive ethics throughout
the company. He lives in San Francisco, and his website is intentionalintegrity.com. I will tell you that this
was a fansicnating conversation. Rob has so much experience and
knowledge and is the type of person I’d love to sit down with for
dinner and ask 7 million questions. I asked him about half of those
here today. 😉 You are going to absolutely
love this conversation with Rob Chesnut!
5:58 - The Rob 101
- Rob is an author, tech general counsel, and has
been a federal prosecutor. He enjoys the idea of variety and being
tough to label! He started his career as a lawyer in Virginia.
After some time in that role, he felt like he was presiding over a
lot of negativity. He started to feel pulled to do something
positive and uplifting. He believes business has the power to
transform the world in a positive way, even more than government,
which is often pulled apart by partisan politics.
- Rob started looking for companies doing good things
in the world. While working as a prosecutor in northern Virginia,
he received calls from other prosecutors wanting records about a
company called America Online (AOL). (This is when you still
received a disk and needed dial up for the internet). 😉 It struck Rob that the internet may have staying
power, and he started using a few sights like eBay.
- Most companies at that time did not need (or didn’t
think they needed) a federal prosecutor, but Rob contacted eBay
regarding the potential problems they might run into with illegal
items, fraud, regulations, and more. eBay called Rob back the next
day. He was asked to start eBay’s “Trust and Safety” department and
Rob grew the team to more than 2,000 employees who helped maintain
order and prevented fraud on the site.
- Later in his career Rob moved onto Chegg and then
Air B&B. Air B&B is in the Trust business. There need to be
rules and order so that people can connect over their common
interests. That has been a theme throughout Rob’s career.
9:00 - Intentional Integrity
- While Rob was the general counsel at Air B&B,
it really struck him that the world was changing. Everywhere he
turned, Rob saw companies in trouble and being called out for bad
behavior. At that time, the level of feedback and public criticism
was really something new. People want leaders and companies to step
- Rob sat down with Air B&B founder, Brian Chesky
to talk about how to drive integrity into the culture of a company.
They had no idea how to start, but both agreed they needed to try
it. They started developing a program that encouraged Air B&B
employees to treat each other with integrity, and the employees
truly embraced the program.
- Rob’s wife, who works in publishing started
(strongly) encouraging him to write a book about it. No one else
was doing it at the time and she knew it was important for the
world. Rob, however, was not at all interested in writing a book.
Rob’s wife convinced him by offering to find a co-writer and a
- Rob thought he had all the knowledge on the
subject, but the more he engaged with the writing process, the more
he realized he still had a lot to learn. Rob discovered the writing
was really a journey of knowledge. The book is called Intentional
Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead An Ethical Revolution. It
includes a wide range of perspectives from well-known artists and
13:19 – A Major Shift
- The Internet and social media have truly changed
how we interact with brands and organizations. We seem to be on the
cusp of an ethical revolution. Up until even just a few years ago,
most companies operated under a mantra of “shareholder value.”
Anything was ok as long as it increases shareholder value.
- Shareholder value worked for a few decades, but
parts of it did not work. It did increase short-term focus but may
have hurt the planet in the long run, used slave labor in other
parts of the world, and not offered employees health benefits. The
world started to realize the mantra was also causing problems and
was no longer working.
- Shareholder value is now being rejected as the way
companies should operate. It’s been replaced with stakeholder
principles. Now companies need to operate with the best interest of
all of its stakeholders. Air B&B must consider not only its
investors, but their employees, guests, hosts, and the communities
where it operates. Companies are beginning to realize they have a
broader obligation to do good in the world.
- The key is to think about it holistically across
all stakeholders. It should not be all about profit, but profit is
important for companies to be able to fulfill their purpose. When a
company is perceived to be operating ethically with its business
model, with the way that it treats people, it actually outperforms
the market and outperforms competitors. It’s not a tradeoff. It
gives companies that operate this way a wind in their back. It
helps them operate and be more successful as a business.
- Employees are holding their own companies
accountable and customers are jumping in as well. They both care
about where their money is going. If they feel a company is not
ethical, they’ll move their money elsewhere and they’ll share on
social media to spread the word about unethical practices.
Government will jump in too if they see consumers feeling this
23:51 - Leveraging the “6 Cs”
- Rob talks about leveraging the 6 Cs to foster and
manage a culture of integrity at work. The first is for “CEO.” You
can talk about integrity all you want, but your CEO has to be
following that and setting an example. All things are possible if
the CEO is on board.
- The second C is for a “Code of Conduct.” Having a
Code of Conduct isn’t enough. Any company can do that and follow
compliance rules. It must be intentionally created with values that
reflect what the company is about, and clearly communicated and
followed with appropriate channels for feedback and
- The third C is to “Communicate Your Code.” It’s
important to proactively prepare and have the message communicated
from the top. Consequences are necessary for when rules are
violated. Rules must apply to everyone, from the bottom to the top.
There must be a clear reporting structure with fair
- Stay tuned to hear more about the 6 Cs and
intriguing examples of how they relate to human behavior!
49:05 - Getting To Know Our Guest
- Find out what song Rob has to sing along to when he
hears it, someone who has really impacted him with the way he
approaches business, what his favorite TV show was growing up, and
more! Be sure to stay tuned to hear Rob’s answer to our all
important question of what it means to him to run a business with
8:45 - “I think that’s been a theme throughout my
career. Trying to promote good in people and promote human
connections through providing a little bit of structure and order
to enable the best behavior.”
10:37 – “Where you work is such a reflection of who
you are. The brands of the companies where you work become your
brands...I think we all want to be proud of where we work. We want
to feel as though we are a part of something that is doing good in
16:20 – “The world started to realize that
‘shareholder value’ mantra was causing a lot of ethical corner to
be cut, and it wasn’t working. Not that shareholders aren’t
important, but why should shareholder thing be the only thing that
17:35 – “Why shouldn’t a company also be thinking
about what’s good for the broader communities where it operates?
And I think that part of this revolution is an understanding that
we need companies to think and act differently, and I’m glad that
companies are embracing this new idea of stakeholder principle.
18:51 – “You need a purpose as a company. Profit is
not purpose. I think you need a ‘North Star’ to kind of guide your
actions. I think you have to be solving a problem in the world or
doing something good for the world. I actually think profit is
critical. Profit is what funds your ability to accomplish your
~19:45 - When a company is perceived to be operating
ethically with its business model, with the way that it treats
people, it actually outperforms the market and outperforms
competitors. It’s not a tradeoff. It gives companies that operate
this way a wind in their back. It helps them operate and be more
successful as a business.”
~23:45 – “You can’t operate as a 20th century company in the 21st century.”
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