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Next-Gen CRE Leaders: Some Are Born Into Sustainability, Others Have It Thrust Upon Them

Russell Reynolds' Clarke Murphy on the Walker Webcast.

Talent acquisition and retention have been top of mind for business leaders for a long time, but the issues have become increasingly important since the Great Resignation of the last two years when millions of Americans quit their jobs. Along with the fight for talent, another major challenge has entered the spotlight for American businesses in recent years: How to make their companies more sustainable and environmentally conscious. 

Clarke Murphy advises the world's top companies on leadership strategies that fuel profitable growth and value for all stakeholders. As CEO and leadership adviser at Russell Reynolds, an executive search and leadership advisory firm, Murphy is known for his expertise in board formation, succession planning and sustainability

Murphy has spent years helping companies build the best boards and C-suites to suit their needs. Most recently, he has written a book called Sustainable Leadership: Lessons of Vision, Courage, and Grit from the CEOs Who Dared to Build a Better World. It focuses on how CEOs can not only find the right people to pass their legacies on to, but how they can ensure those people will also carry on their vision of a green future. 

On this week’s Walker Webcast, Murphy spoke with Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker about the challenges companies are facing today when it comes to talent and creating a more sustainable future. 

Walker reminded Murphy that when LinkedIn first started, many people thought that it could lead to the end of “fancy” executive search firms like Russell Reynolds. When Walker asked him why that ended up not being the case, Murphy said that putting 250 million résumés on the public domain is not recruiting, especially in the C-suite where most people are not actively looking to change jobs. 

“We often say that you recruit for résumé, but you fire for fit,” Murphy said. “Search firms make sure that fit is correct.” 

He added that his firm has often worked with LinkedIn, not against it, and the two companies have searched for ways that they can help each other and Russell Reynolds has piloted some of LinkedIn’s services. 

Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker on the Walker Webcast.

Some of the world’s largest firms like GE and IBM have “talent factories,” or in-house mentoring and training programs that nurture talent. Walker asked Murphy what smaller companies that don’t have their resources can do to develop talent. 

“The best companies in the world retain the best people longer than their competitors,” he said. 

Murphy said one of the best things companies can do is ensure that their employees know they are investing in them. This involves hands-on apprenticeships, mentorships and other actions that show employees that a company cares, that they will learn something from it and that they are working at a successful operation. 

Moving on to sustainability, Murphy, along with Lisa Kingo, CEO of the UN Global Compact, worked together to build a new generation of sustainable leaders. They pinpointed that the most successful leaders not only had a sustainability mindset but four specific competencies: multilevel system thinking, stakeholder inclusion, disruptive innovation and long-term activation.

Murphy said they interviewed 55 chief executives from continents around the globe, and discovered that multilevel systems thinking was key to their success. This means they have the ability to not only focus on their business challenges and its many needs, but also to layer on environmental, societal and governance issues.

“You're testing for conceptual thinking,” he said. “You're looking for people who can prioritize the critical and the nonimportant.” 

As for stakeholder inclusion, many companies now understand the importance of inclusion, Murphy said. But what he is referring to here is having the “guts” to go to competitors and regulators of other groups of people and bring them into the fold to help create real change. 

People who are able to accomplish this often fall into a category that Murphy calls “moonshot CEOs”: individuals who are committed to bettering their industries and, as a result, the world, but who understand that they don’t have all the answers so they’re willing to work with others to bring their visions to life. 

Murphy said that when it comes to sustainability, some leaders were born into it, meaning they have always prioritized green practices, some were convinced by data and research over time and others were “awoken,” meaning it took a major event or epiphany to drive them to embrace sustainability. 

He added that he believes that regardless of which category they fall into, all of these leaders deserve to be celebrated and listened to in order to build the next generation of sustainable businesses. 

This article was produced in collaboration between Walker & Dunlop and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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