A Foundation for Living Out Our Corporate Values

Once you have firmly established the principles and Practices of The Leadership Challenge in your for-profit company, what can you do to truly bring those shared values to life in your community?  How about creating a private foundation?  That is what we are doing at my company, Kaneka Corporation, a multi-billion dollar chemical manufacturer based in Japan with subsidiaries around the world. 

My commitment to Kaneka began 23 year ago when I joined the company as a process engineer at the Pasadena, Texas facility.  In 2002 I became the plant Site Manager. And in 2007, when I discovered The Leadership Challenge, I quickly brought it to the plant management team.  Since then we have been working to integrate The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® within our own group and to spread the knowledge we’ve gained to other Kaneka facilitates around the world.  The Kaneka Foundation is our latest creation and a bold step in taking our values beyond the limits of the company.  

Like any responsible company, Kaneka had developed a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy that defines our commitment to various stakeholders, including employees, the community, investors, customers, vendors, and the environment.  And it was that CSR commitment which was the impetus for this new nonprofit venture. To focus more attention on the company’s outward efforts, I looked around to find like-minded colleagues who could help me get this initiative off the ground. Fortunately, I found capable partners in administration, human resources, operations, and finance—both local U.S. senior managers and Japanese expatriates—who joined me in developing a proposal that was ultimately presented to the Board of Directors.  

For us at Kaneka, getting the board’s approval in Japan on anything is always a challenge. However, according to one of my Japanese colleagues, this was the easiest proposal ever passed. Why?  It was very simply a matter of trust.  You see, our current Chairman of the Board in Japan, Mr. Kimikazu Sugawara, used to be the President of Kaneka Texas Corporation in the 90s.  And it is that long-standing relationship and trust built over many years that I credit for this success. 

So with the Board’s approval, in early 2014 we launched the creation of our private foundation to be headquartered at our offices in Pasadena, Texas. Today The Kaneka Foundation’s mission is to promote and facilitate charitable works in the advancement of four key areas: education, environment, health, and social services. And in an effort to closely tie the Foundation’s areas of influence with those of the corporation, most of the organizations we have supported to-date are well aligned with the global corporate strategy that internally we all know as “Kaneka United”:   
 
With the vision of being a source of inspiration and pride for all Kaneka employees, The Kaneka Foundation is driven by its commitment to having a positive impact on the lives of millions of people around the world.  We make charitable contributions to other 501 (c)3 organizations and provide grants for natural disaster relief. We promote employee volunteerism through Kaneka KARES and will be offering grants to employees to promote volunteerism in the community. In addition, we offer opportunities for corporate scholarships.

Although we are still quite young (as corporations go), we have already made a difference with sponsorships and participation in a number of key areas, including: 

 
Building the mission and focus of The Kaneka Foundation upon the powerful philosophy of The Leadership Challenge, we have been able to align our actions with our shared values, giving everyone in the Kaneka organization an opportunity to connect their personal values with the shared values we all support—in the end, increasing commitment and engagement.  Employee volunteerism is a big part of the projects we sponsor and inspiring our team to get involved in the communities where we live brings more pride to individuals and our organization.  I have been delighted to see the strong positive reaction from employees upon hearing about the creation of The Kaneka Foundation and for months have been flooded with ideas and suggestions for future projects.

Another positive outcome of the foundation has been teambuilding. These philanthropic projects are creating unique opportunities for Kaneka employees to come together and build stronger relationships.  And as we in The Leadership Challenge community know, building relationships leads to building trust…which leads to collaboration…which leads to results—in our case, for the foundation and, ultimately, for Kaneka Corporation on a global scale. For example, we recently participated in a local Habitat for Humanity build project. A group of employees who knew little about each other came together and spent the day painting a house. Throughout the day, I could see folks talking, laughing, and working together in ways that would not be possible at the plant site. In addition, several of our Japanese expatriate employees attended and experienced something completely new.  I am hopeful that as our efforts and the impact of the foundation grow, the volunteer spirit will be a valuable export from the U.S. to other countries where Kaneka employees live and work.  That is our vision: to be a source of inspiration and pride for all Kaneka employees.

By creating and growing The Kaneka Foundation, I hope that we can provide more opportunities to Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart for our employees and for others throughout our communities.   I also hope that we can be an inspiration to other corporations to consider a similar path for their own private foundation.

Steve Skarke is President of The Kaneka Foundation and creator of Leading Elements™. As an “Organizational Engineer” Steve supports the development of internal and external clients through facilitation and coaching activities.  A 30-year veteran in the manufacturing industry, he is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge and can be reached at steve@leadingelements.com

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