SVN: You are participating in the Social Venture Network (SVN) Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations. How much of being a pioneer is dependent on courage?
Errol Schweizer: I think courage is a big part of being a pioneer. Speaking from a perspective of working for Whole Foods Market, I think it’s one aspect among many. As a company with purpose, we’re looking for suppliers that also have purpose. So I think courage is one aspect of it but there are definitely other traits that go into being a good supplier and creating a product and partnership that is changing the world for the better.
SVN: Have you had to take some chances?
Errol Schweizer: Actually, for some reason I tend to find trouble. I tend to be attracted to the edge of discussions and to look for the seams or crack in situations that will either provoke innovation or new discovery. I don’t want to get too philosophical about this, but I tend to be attracted to those sorts of things. Sometimes people look at me with chagrin, but I have a good time. It’s better to apologize than to ask for permission. I’m good at saying I’m sorry.
SVN: Why are partnerships so important?
Errol Schweizer: It’s the main reason why I’m in business at Whole Foods Market. Partnerships are our bread and butter. It’s about being mutualistic. Creating win-win partnerships with our suppliers is core to what we do. Creating these mutually beneficial relationships in our business dealings is not always easy. It takes a lot of work on both sides. As just one example, when we find a supplier that we want to work with, we share ideas and devote intellectual energy and time to help them innovate their products and bring them to market so they’re not just out there on their own trying to figure out what’s going to work.
SVN: What would you say to a supplier about the strength it takes to be a social entrepreneur?
Errol Schweizer: You know, it’s retail so there are no guarantees and the customer always decides. So, it’s important to have ingenuity, and to maintain your integrity. And it always helps to be a little insane – not too insane. I think the most important of those is maintaining your integrity. We have shared values and passion for what we are doing. All of us, including the Social Venture Network, are attempting to do something that we value as good in the world.
Errol Schweizer is executive global grocery coordinator at Whole Foods Market. He is recognized for ethical sourcing and for creating ongoing win-win partnerships with suppliers. In his first three years as global coordinator, he brought more exclusive products to the shelves than in the company’s history.
Attend the Social Venture Network Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations, April 25-28, San Diego.
For 25 years, the Social Venture Network has been helping leaders and social entrepreneurs to succeed while transforming the way the world does business – in favor of a more just and sustainable economy. Join the most extraordinary social entrepreneurs of our time on April 25-28 in San Diego at the Social Venture Network (SVN) Spring Conference, Courageous Conversations. To see who will be there, and why you should be there too, visit svn.org/spring2013.
SVN Interviewer: Martha Shaw, founder and CEO of Earth Advertising which promotes environmentally sustainable businesses.