For most of his thirty-year career, Richard Lawton, MBA ’12 endeavored to more closely align his livelihood with his values. Not long after graduating from Antioch University New England (AUNE), he founded the consultancy, Triple Ethos, LLC, as a way of moving closer to that goal.
He now advises corporate leaders and boards of directors on how to integrate sustainability values into their corporate governance practices, culture, and business strategies; based on the principles of servant leadership.
“My primary intention is to help cultivate large-scale systemic change, making a positive impact on the world as a path of service,” he said. ‘Triple’ stands for the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit, or running a business according to a matrix of social, environmental, and economic criteria. ‘Ethos’ refers to sustainability-oriented values being embedded within the character of an organization, rather than just seeing sustainability as a way of cutting costs or as window dressing to improve a company’s image.
This requires commitment and authenticity at the very top. It’s about board leaders and executives being clear about their organization’s primary purpose, and about honestly acknowledging and skillfully working with the tension that usually exists between the values they espouse vs. those actually in use, and between the intended vs. actual short-term and long-term impacts of their business practices on all of their stakeholders,” he said.
From Corner Office to Buddhist Monastery to Graduate School
Prior to studying at AUNE, Richard was no stranger to success. An award-winning executive in the publishing industry for more than three decades, he worked for such notable firms as Time, Inc., Barnes & Noble, and a joint venture between Hearst Magazines and Conde Nast.
He was recognized as one of the top forty innovators in the magazine industry by Folio magazine and served on the Magazine Publishers Association Environmental Task Force and Walmart magazine’s sustainability committee. He also published several articles on making the retail distribution channel more sustainable, efficient, and profitable.
When Richard became an empty nester, he took it as an opportunity to re-evaluate his life priorities and left his job and career. He took a sabbatical in order to question and clarify his deeper intentions and purpose, spending periods of time in retreat at a Buddhist monastery in New York’s Catskill Mountains, where he has been a student since the mid-1990s.
As he considered how to reorient his life to live more in accord with his values, he recalled attending a workshop at the monastery several years earlier which was led by Tom Wessels (now AUNE faculty emeritus and a renowned environmental activist and author).
“It was like a seed had been planted back then,” he said, “so that applying to AUNE’s MBA in Sustainability program emerged naturally as the next step on his journey. I wanted my second career to be focused on helping to create a more equitable and sustainable world, but I realized that I had much more to learn. I didn’t want a traditional MBA,” he said. “AUNE was unique in that it offered an MBA with sustainability fully integrated throughout the entire curriculum.”
“The program exceeded all of my expectations and hopes,” he said. “It offered me a broader and richer set of perspectives from which to view my prior business experience and a deeper understanding of the myriad ways in which businesses can exert enormous impact on society and the Earth along a spectrum between great benefit and great harm. The professors are wonderful and completely committed to the program and each student. And I really loved working as part of a tight-knit cohort. That was a nice surprise.”
In Richard’s small cohort were writers and engineers, as well as healthcare and financial professionals. Besides classwork and hands-on projects, they visited various companies throughout New England to see sustainable real-world businesses at work. During his first year, he served as co-chair of AUNE’s Net Impact chapter and attended the national conference in Michigan. During his second year, he joined the AUNE study abroad trip to Sweden, where the group had the opportunity to see and experience how another country is navigating the path toward sustainability.
“A big part of the program was geared towards helping each of us discover how to take what we learned at Antioch into the business world in a way that suited us individually,” he said. “I worked with my advisor, Polly Chandler, to develop and co-facilitate an offsite strategy meeting with the Monadnock United Way board of directors. This experience was a great way to put what I’d been learning into practice, and was influential in the development of Triple Ethos.”
From Student to Servant Leader
Soon after graduation, Richard earned certification in servant leadership from the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, and was named a Governance Fellow with the National Association of Corporate Directors. With these additional credentials, he launched Triple Ethos in October 2012. He also serves on the boards of directors of two nonprofit organizations.
“If I hadn’t gone to AUNE for my MBA, would I be able to do what I’m doing now? No way,” he said. “While I entered the program with an overall purpose and direction, AUNE helped me to better understand how the economy is nested within a larger set of complex inter-related societal and Earth systems, and how I can best offer my experience and strengths in a specific area of discipline that will help foster the transition to a more generative and sustainable way of doing business. I’m very grateful that the AUNE program was there when I was most ready for it.”