Leading an organization today requires navigating the pushes and pulls of multiple stakeholders: generating shareholder returns, delivering value to customers, recruiting and engaging a talented work force and being socially and environmentally responsible to name just a few top-of-mind demands. The leaders of The Mosaic Company — the world’s largest combined producer of potash and phosphate fertilizer faced many serious challenges when it was founded in 2004.
By the time James Prokopanko, one of the authors of this article which originally appeared on the Supply Chain Management Review website, assumed the reins as chief executive officer and president in 2007, it was burdened with excessive debt; the prices of the products it produced and sold were at break-even or close to cost of production; its customers — the world’s farmers — were struggling financially; the company’s cash flow was the cause of sleepless nights for the CFO; safety performance was not what its employees deserved; and the company’s operational performance was nothing to boast about. That the company was beset with a barge load of problems was an understatement. In this environment, sustainability was nowhere near the top of the company’s “worry list.”
Since those early years, Mosaic has found its footing and has emerged as a growing, financially-sound enterprise with engaged employees making a remarkable positive difference to many lives around the world — an organization that is strong, resilient and enduring — a truly sustainable enterprise.
What makes Mosaic’s journey remarkable and unique is that it is substantively grounded in:
- the learnings around the notion of “sustainability” and the importance of developing a clear understanding of this important word; and
- the idea that a clearly defined, broad and inclusive understanding of “sustainability” can serve as a valuable compass to help leaders navigate the increasing challenges and vagaries of an ever more inter-dependent global economy.
In fact, Mosaic’s definition of the word “sustainability” evolved over the past decade to mean: “achieving lasting success from making smart choices about the stewardship of the environment, how we engage our people, how we manage resources, and how we bring value to the communities we serve.” Defining the concept was easy. Aligning the organization to adopt and achieve at times contradictory goals was much more challenging. Yet, as a result of Mosaic’s continued commitments to accountability and responsibility, sustainability today is at the heart of all that the company does.