How to deliver that make-or-break Breakthrough Pitch

You know that a radical change is needed in your organisation’s strategy — and your top team suspects it’s coming, too. But no-one is prepared to stick their neck out, yet. Now it’s time to put the facts on the boardroom table, the known, the unknown and, inevitably in fast-changing markets, the as-yet unknowable. Your version of the emerging business case for breakthrough change.

But how to get started?

Having been in exactly this situation countless times, in companies around the world, I thought it was about time to crystallize what we have learned in the process. With the backing of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest sustainable business platform, with over 9,000 corporate members, our team set to work to create a template for the ‘Breakthrough Pitch’ that growing numbers of business leaders — including the new breed of Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) — will now need to build and present.

We all know it’s possible to change top team thinking. We have all heard the stories about those Damascene conversion moments, when a business leader suddenly “gets” an emergent risk or opportunity.

A striking recent example was when the chairman of a major German auto company was taken on a learning journey to see Uber in Silicon Valley. The mobility app company was profoundly dismissive of the German, whose status was almost akin to a Foreign Minister, abruptly telling him his company would be run off the road within a few short years.

In the restroom afterwards, the normally calm German was heard to say: “F**k!” And he then explained the out-of-character expletive, saying that he had been endlessly briefed on the emerging threat to his industry from such start-ups, but had never fully grasped the nature and scale of the challenge — until confronted with it head-on.

Interface founder Ray Anderson, now sadly no longer with us, often described his “spear in the chest” when he read Paul Hawken’s Book, The Ecology of Commerce. By his own account, he suddenly realised that future generations would view his generation of business leaders as eco-criminals. As a direct result, he kick-started a profound transformation of his company, which is described in one of our Project Breakthrough interviews by Interface CSO Erin Meezan.

Erin Meezan, CSO, Interface

For insights into how two other CEOs began similar journeys, please take a look at two of our other filmed interviews: the first of Francesco Starace of Italy’s energy utility ENEL, who is steering the company away from conventional fuels and into renewables; and the second of Covestro’s Patrick Thomas, who is bringing a start-up mentality to a company that is over 80 years old.

Patrick Thomas, CEO, Covestro

Whether or not your top team is led by an Anderson, Starace or Thomas, or perhaps by someone currently less able to connect tomorrow’s dots, they need your help. The Breakthrough Pitch provides a template for thinking how to take this to the next level — and is now downloadable from the Project Breakthrough site.

The Pitch is being road-tested in New York with a group of major companies, but we are also very keen to have feedback from people who are championing corporate transformations — with a view to ensuring that future versions of the Pitch hit even more of the top team buttons. Please get in touch to continue the conversation, initially via my colleague Richard Roberts (r.roberts@volans.com).


John Elkington is co-founder and chairman of Volans and co-author of The Breakthrough Challenge: 10 Ways To Connect Today’s Profits With Tomorrow’s Bottom Line with Jochen Zeitz. He tweets as @volansjohn.