Dr. Keith Whittingham Presents on Corporate Social Responsibility at BlackRock in New York City

November 6, 2018 - by Jake Rakoci

Dr. Whittingham ‘01MBA discusses environmental impact of large organizations at one of America’s leading mutual fund companies.

When it comes it the carbon footprint that we as a society leave behind, most people don’t think of Fortune 500 companies as being the agents of change.

“They don’t think companies get involved in that; they think they’re are only interested in their own bottom line,” said Dr. Keith Whittingham, Crummer’s Associate Professor of Management Science, who specializes in global sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Dr. Whittingham has focused much of his career in academia to staying on the cutting-edge of corporate social responsibility and studying virtually every way a large company can make a difference in keeping the Earth green.

It’s a big reason why he’s in such high demand to speak about sustainability, and another big reason he often finds himself as the only academic in a room full of corporate folks.

Just a decade ago, he says phrases like “renewable energy” were just starting to pop up, and today he’s finally starting to see companies embrace making a real change for the better.  

“It’s exciting when people start realizing the potential corporations have on making a real positive environmental impact,” said Dr. Whittingham.

A Unique Opportunity

In October, Dr. Whittingham was in Costa Rica, presenting at the 10th Anniversary of Life Monteverde, a partner of Crummer that preaches the awareness of sustainability in their day-to-day activities. He received a message from Courtney Gladden ’18 MBA, a former student who now works at Chepenik Financial, inquiring about having him speak in New York City at BlackRock about corporate social responsibility.

Chepenik Financial and BlackRock have a close relationship. Chepenik Financial hosts an annual 4.01k Race for Financial Fitness every year in Central Florida, and BlackRock is a major supporter of the race.

When BlackRock planned on hosting a two-day financial seminar, they reached out to Chepenik Financial CEO Jason Chepenik about having someone speak on the topic of corporate social responsibility.

“Dr Whittingham’s class was amazing, and he talked a lot about corporate social responsibility,” said Gladden. “So, I went to Jason and said he’d be perfect.”

It just so happened that a big part of Dr. Whittingham’s class that Courtney was a student in a few months back, was taught off of a letter from the BlackRock CEO, Larry Fink, detailing how BlackRock was committed to being a good global citizen.

“It was an annual letter written to shareholders and other corporate CEOS, and that year it had a slightly different tone, almost like they were being put on notice by BlackRock,” said Dr. Whittingham. “As if they were going to be seriously looking at organizations and their idea of what their real purpose is, beyond just their mission and vision.”

BlackRock asked Dr. Whittingham to deliver a 30-minute presentation on corporate social responsibility, where he detailed Crummer’s initiatives designed to prepare future business leaders to create sustainable value, as well as how companies can implement a sustainable culture into their workforce.

“It came across really well, lots of positive comments,” said Dr. Whittingham.

For Courtney Gladden, it was an incredible experience to see what she was just learning about in class, applied to real life, just one year after her graduation.

With Crummer’s emphasis on a practical focus, Dr. Whittingham says this is exactly what the school tries to achieve in their academic teachings.

“The work I do, I want it to be immediately applicable, not just theories for 20 years while we try to figure out what to do with it,” said Dr. Whittingham. “This was a great opportunity for people to stand up and say, ‘wow this is some great stuff coming out of Crummer’.”

A Strong Partnership

Chepenik Financial CEO Jason Chepenik has mirrored much of BlackRock’s commitment to being a good corporate citizen in his own company.

“We practice it, and that culture is really important. It not only allows us to grab the best talent with people like Courtney Gladden from inside of Crummer; it leaves us focusing on the right clients,” said Jason Chepenik.

Jason’s father, Barney Chepenik ‘76 ‘79MSM, built the financial company off of a Crummer education, and Jason says the shared values between Crummer and Chepenik continue to this day.

“There’s always been a connective tissue between Chepenik Financial and Crummer because of Crummer’s impact on Winter Park and the Central Florida community,” said Chepenik. “There aren’t a whole lot of schools that have a focus on philanthropy and focus on teaching the idea that it’s important to be involved in the community.”

Dr. Whittingham says companies instilling a corporate culture of sustainability is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what it can do for the company. It goes beyond just satisfied employees; it can also lead to better financial success in the long term.

“They can do all of this [be good corporate citizens] and not sacrifice profit, if they do it right, do it strategically and do it systematically. This is what I try to teach in my courses,” said Dr. Whittingham.

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