Testimony: Meet COMMON’s CEO, Mark Eckhardt
There are many exciting things in the works at COMMON. One of them happens to be my transition from Co-CEO to sole CEO. In reflecting on the opportunity, I realized that in spite of being part of the brand from the beginning, I have mostly operated in the background, and out of sight from the majority of our community. As part of my stepping forward, I have been encouraged by those around me to share about myself, where I come from and my thoughts on COMMON. In doing so, I have to admit being a little nervous. At the same time, it is important to me that we begin this next phase of COMMON’s existence by getting to know each other in a meaningful way. I hope you enjoy what I have shared below and are inspired to join me in continuing the work of redefining business and creating a better world.
So, without further ado, here is my Testimony…
Biologically, I am Italian and Spanish. To the world, I am an African American who was adopted by a white family in the late 1960s. My ethnic difference was only a small part of what made my family dynamic an unusual one filled with diversity and contrast. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a passionate Democrat, while my grandmother was a lifelong Republican. My father is gay, a fact which eventually led to my parents’ divorce — I could go on and on. From the outside, it must look like a difficult environment to grow up in, or a confusing one at best. In many ways it was, but there’s a wonderful part of being an Eckhardt that I am proud of, and consider the biggest gift I’ve ever received.
My family is living proof that people of different ethnic backgrounds, beliefs, orientations and points-of-view can be a family. That’s just something that’s deeply embedded in me, irrefutably. It’s who I am, and it’s the conviction I bring, first and foremost, into the world. We are proof that the constructs that hold our society in place, create separation, and impede progress are not fixed, but are just arbitrary systems around which far too many people unknowingly design their lives.
Does my family have issues? Yes, many of which have been painful to face and carry forward as an adult. Still, underneath it all there are mountains of good that have inspired my personal journey over and over again.
I learned about kindness, acceptance, and decency through watching my parents navigate the end of their marriage. My mother, who rightfully had a case to expose my father against his wishes, never did. On the contrary, she took the high ground and honored my father’s need to share “his reality” with his children in his own way and on his own time. I’ve never witnessed, or heard about, a member of my immediate (or extended) family embarrass or berate a friend, co-worker, or person on the street. Nor am I aware of any attempt on the part of any of my family members to take advantage of someone else in order to get ahead.
Instead, the majority of my family members are educators; they pledged themselves to teaching and worked tirelessly to empower younger generations. My mother has always referred to teaching as a calling, something that chooses you more than you choose it. When I was a little boy, and a student myself, I remember lying on the grass in the neighborhood park and being filled with a similarly overwhelming sense of purpose. I wasn’t destined to follow precisely in the family footsteps, but I did know that I wanted to continue their traditions of helping others, seeking clarity through knowledge, and building a brighter foundation for the future.
I’ve followed my calling through all kinds of roles, from studying business in college to spending many years as a professional musician, to starting a foundation, to working in the world of business consulting, to joining the Zen Buddhist Priesthood, and now to being a leader of COMMON. At my core, I am an educator, but not in the strictest sense. Now, I help businesses and organizations design ways to earn profits while building a better world for the younger generations that my parents worked so ceaselessly to shape.
At each stage during this pursuit, I learned valuable lessons, but the most important one remains the same: people are capable of amazing things if you break through the assumptions that lie at the base of differences and you illuminate what we hold and cherish in common. I learned this originally from my family, and have seen it revealed over and over again in the way they live, and who they are. This is the lesson that has defined me more than any other, the one that has been continually reinforced and expanded through time and experience, and the one that I aspire to bring more to life with COMMON.
COMMON was founded on the premise that in order to seek success and the greater good at the same time, social businesses can and should form a network of support with one another. We have now reached a point where social businesses absolutely must do so, for no longer will “social enterprise” remain the domain of a small few. The success of the movement is such that more and more consumers are aware of the option and the necessity of purchasing from socially conscious businesses. As a result, the movement no longer exists on the extreme fringe of society, but has shifted, and is shifting toward the middle. With this shift comes increasing pressure amid growing complexity, entrenched systems, and an environment dominated by a very small network of very large, very wealthy companies. In short, it translates into fierce “competition.” It’s the kind of competition that has the power to drive an explosion, or an extinction. The fate of the social business concept depends on the degree to which we band together while embracing new arrivals at the intersection of profit and purpose.
Now is the time to step more deeply into our mission, with a lightness of heart and a spirit of fierce determination, for history will judge us as it has judged generations before us. To the strong and the committed, I say: step forward. Bring all your courage and fortitude, as bringing a new world into existence is not a trivial matter or a place of refuge for those seeking to escape from challenges. In those moments of doubt that inevitably seep in through the cracks, we will look at those standing at our sides and be reminded that together, we can be fearless.
Let us appreciate and pursue what we have in common, and let us all come together, leaving no one feeling alone and leaving no one behind. Let us declare our roles in the movement to redefine business, and then walk together hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, to accomplish the unimaginable.
Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost. “Now” is our time.