The Power of Purpose with Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO of AirBnB
HBS AASU 45th Annual H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference
Each year the Harvard Business School African American Student Association hosts the H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference, bringing together 400+ business leaders to connect and discuss issues significant to the African-American business community.
This year brought leaders from Technology, Finance, Travel industries and more, including keynotes from Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corporation, Vicki Fuller, CIO of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, and Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO of AirBnB. The last of which I found particularly relevant given recent events.
During Jonathan Mildenhall’s keynote entitled, The Power of Purpose, he describes the two core values he believes in: humanity and creativity. Every action he takes, both personal and professional, hold these two values at the center and have been key to how he has shaped his career.
In 2017, it’s hard to exist as a brand, let alone be successful, without purpose.
Before joining AirBnB, Jonathan spent many years at the Coca-Cola Company advancing through the marketing organization and becoming the SVP of Integrated Marketing Communication and Design Excellence. He used his role as a platform for change and was critical in the Bringing India and Pakistan Together campaign. The campaign documented the installation of Coke machines in these two countries and allowed their citizens to connect real-time! It’s an amazing ad focused on unity and celebration of differences!
While being openly gay was challenging at Coke, the largest affinity group at AirBnB is AirPride@, the resource group for LGBTQ employees and allies.
After an 8-year career at Coca-Cola, Jonathan decided to make the switch to AirBnB, joining as their CMO. He talked fondly about his “bosses” literally being young enough to be “his sons.” Though it was quite a shift for him, AirBnB’s culture made him feel right at home. While being openly gay was challenging at Coke, the largest affinity group at AirBnB is AirPride@, the resource group for LGBTQ employees and allies. AirBnB was also named 2017 “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” for the second year in a row. At AirBnB, Jonathan has a ton of creative control as seen in his spotlight ad after Caitlyn Jenner’s speech at the 2015 ESPY Awards. See the ad below; it will give you goosebumps!
Jonathan closed his talk with how important it is to work for a brand with purpose. In 2017, it’s hard to exist as a brand, let alone be successful, without purpose. A brand’s purpose does not have to be one in the realm of social change, but it’s almost required for it to resonate with employees and customers. Naturally, Jonathan’s last piece of advice: “be who you are” and “live with purpose”. So, I challenge YOU to do the same. How are you being exactly who you are? Do you create spaces for others to be who they are? Are you living with purpose? Are you working for a company with a purpose driven mission?
If you missed out this year, I’d highly recommend attending the next H. Naylor Fitzhugh Conference, tentatively scheduled for late winter 2018. It always leaves me inspired and challenged to think about what my lasting impression will be on the world. It’s also great for building relationships, learning from thought leaders, and expanding your view of the world.