Guilherme Leal: Co-Creating Sustainable Economies [Transcript]

Guilherme Leal: Co-Creating Sustainable Economies

In dialogue with Walter Link


Watch the full episode HERE.


Guilherme Leal


[00:00:12] I would say that the most important thing is to be honest with yourself, try to avoid becoming a personage and be yourself with your pain, with your happiness, with your doubt.


Walter Link


[00:00:32] Welcome to GlobalLeadership.TV, my name is Walter Link. I have always been fascinated by the question of how we move from our many challenges into our full potential as individuals, organizations, and whole societies. In this television series, I inquire with some of the most innovative leaders from around the world about how they managed to move from inspiration to real change. Please join us in this exploration because we all make a difference and we all can get better at it. Therefore on our website we not only show other dialogs and publications but also the kind of practices that these leaders and their organization used to move from inspiration to real change.



[00:01:29] Please join my intimate dialog with Guilherme Leal, cofounder of Natura, one of Brazil’s most highly respected companies. With a network of over 1.5 million direct distributors, Natura sells sustainably produced cosmetics inspired by Brazil’s great cultural and biodiversity. Since the 1990s I collaborated with Guilherme to advance the global movement of integrating social and environmental sustainability with business and economic development. Guilherme continues to be at the forefront of using business to transform economies and societies. Now also as a member of the B-Team with Richard Branson, Jochen Zeitz, and other global leaders from business and civil society. Join us as we explore as we co-create sustainable economies.




Walter Link

[00:02:38] So from the very beginning when we met in the 1990s, a really long time ago, to co-create this movement of doing business differently, of integrating the social and the environmental and the human aspect into business, what struck me was that you had such a strong passion, not only to change a business but that this was also a very personal journey for you and that it started in a way very young seeing how we split life between the personal and the professional, between the business and the sustainability, between the human and the professional, that these splits very much also one of the core problems of why we don’t have a really healthy economy and a healthy society and healthy environment. How did it start for you, this recognition of this splits and the journey of overcoming them?


Guilherme Leal

[00:03:52] It’s tough to say exactly how this has happened, but I believe that at home where I was living and experienced that they would like to create another one, an alternative one. This experience, this personal experience at home was related to work as a way to provide the conditions to survive and leave love as a separate thing.


It was a challenging experience I would say, we could have had much more enjoyable life if we could as a family group live in a more integrated way. My father had a very early end in his 50s with lack of hope, and my personal journey is to keep hope alive.


I used to say and I repeat many, many times and it’s true for me that without hope I can’t life. So my life since I was 20 or 21 it’s trying to prove that we can combine, that we need to combine hope, change, day by day the way we live our lives, working, eating, celebrating, doing things and keeping hope but not in a naïve way. Trying to build the foundations of hope, build experiences that can reinforce the reasons for hope.


Even knowing that human being is a highly complex being, that our history as humanity is not only made of pink colors but tough red colors, black colors, and so trying to be connected to reality but without losing this perspective that things could be changed. You yourself can change, can learn, can share, can be better day after day, and things could be better, companies could be better, societies, communities could be better and many times I think that we are in the early stage.


We are, human beings are at the early stage. We are not using probably 10% of our capacity to build, to co-create, to change things, to use less energy, to use our more inner energies.




[00:08:06] I started this experience with Natura and in the first, I would say, eight years, it was a very intense experience of building the business. Building the business and the first time I have discovered the power of individual – the individual potential, the individual entrepreneurship because I was dealing with direct distribution with our representatives, our consultants, and I was amazingly surprised with the power of this kind of people that from nothing could build very, very interesting things.


[00:09:07] But at the end of this first period of my personal experience I had a heart attack in ‘87, when I was 37, and considering from now, it was a gift, because that heart attack at 37 made me feel, try to understand deeper what was I doing, what’s the reason of life, how we can build a more healthy life, and Natura was thinking about what’s the meaning of all this.


[00:10:05] It’s an interesting business. Lot of people at that time I would say 20,000 consultants something like that at the end of the ‘80s, but what’s the real meaning we were asking ourselves, and myself, I was asking for myself, what’s the reasons of being here. Though the combination of these two very intriguing questions, I think has built the rich five years of my life, the end of the ‘80s and the beginning of the ‘90s. When those questions together were on the table, and the values, the beliefs of Natura that was still driving our company today are totally linked with this reflection that we had.


[00:11:17] The main one it was that everything is connected. I am connected with you, with the air, the wood, the trees that came before, and Chinese, Brazilian, Americans, we are all part of one thing, we are connected. Even recognizing or not, we are interdependent. This was the main perception that life is interconnected, the whole chain of life, and it was not just a construction, a beautiful phrase. It was a deep outcome of this reflection process.


[00:12:14] And the next step was to deal with this and how we bring to reality this belief, or how we can mix with our business, how we can change our view based on this assumption, this is the beginning of the experience, and I would say that it’s a very rich experience.




Walter Link

[00:13:05] So you said there are these two very important elements and one of them is also your very personal story, and we talked about the years that you did Jungian therapy, the years that you just looked at methods that supported you personally to go deeper in this reflection process and also how you have discovered nature itself as a very important source of inspiration, and I wonder whether you can tell us little bit more about what really helped you in terms of resources to do this, deep inner reflection that then brought for us this very innovative approach in Natura?


Guilherme Leal

[00:13:51] I would say that I have tried a lot of different things. I went through to Jungian therapy very early, I went to dance, I went to learn about body, body language, body and spirit, but I would say that the most important thing is to be honest with yourself, try to avoid become a personage and be yourself, with your pain, with your happiness, with your doubt, and I have been trying to do this. I have no ready lessons to give, but I would say that and it is another time.


[00:14:49] One of our beliefs in Natura that truth is a way to the – it’s best to find a way to things, to be true with yourself and to others to really listen and try to understand. I think all of us need to be honest with yourself.


[00:15:14] You mentioned a very important discovery for me, it was in the end of the ‘90s when I started to become more connected to nature and I felt really a huge difference to be influenced by the whole, the many different expressions of nature, gave me different perspectives. Our ego reduces a little bit when you look to the sky you cannot avoid to see how little we are in the cosmic time and in the wholeness of the universe.


[00:16:05] So I really perceived that disconnection, this reconnection, this ‘religare’. It was really a fundamental thing to the quality of my life and my thoughts and my endeavors. And I have been trying, a lot of times there is always a connection, it was the end of the ‘90s, it was the time when Natura had its commitment to biodiversity, to sustainable use of biodiversity, but it was a business experience decision, but at the same time I was living a personal journey of reconnecting to nature.


[00:16:59] So if you really provoke me as you are doing to think about this whole life, the connection between my personal experiences and the experience that we brought to life in Natura has – I am not Natura, I am part of Natura, and this very central belief that we are all interconnected avoids me to be too egocentric. But, it is true that the personal journey has had enormous influence in Natura and the opposite is true at the same time.


Walter Link

[00:17:53] What do you mean the opposite? How?


Guilherme Leal

[00:17:55] The opposite, we used to say that we build Natura and we were built by Natura, it’s a two way experience, we are not just creators, we are created also. The experience that Natura has brought to us, it’s enormously rich experience, and myself, I am part of the process of my life and Natura is an important process.



Walter Link

[00:18:49] By now, I think it’s two million people who have been involved in creating products and distributing products in the whole creation experience of Natura and of course nowadays many companies do professional training, they even do leadership training, even do innovation training, but you do it with a very deep personal exploration, and I was always very struck by one of the first questions that these many, many people ask when they come to work with Natura is what is the purpose of your life and how can that very personal purpose come into co-creation with the purpose of Natura that is not only to make and sell good products, it’s also really to be of service to the world.


[00:19:52] So, tell us a little bit about like this journey that you invite people into who maybe have not asked the question to themselves and did not go to places to work where the company asked them, what do you care for? You as a human being what’s important for you? What has meaning for you?

Guilherme Leal

[00:20:17] And remember the alignment of your personal desire, your personal meaning with the alignment, with the beliefs of a group of a company, make a huge difference. I remember that I read somebody probably around the ‘80s, saying that the American workers at that time used to leave their automobiles hearts and minds in the parking lot and just the body enters the offices and I used to say that without the heart pumping lot of blood to our brains and passion we cannot really make difference.


[00:21:21] We have been trying and it’s not easy for sure to bring hearts and minds to the work, to offer an opportunity to find meaning for our lives, not only find the resource to pay our bills but to bring, to really feel. We would love that all of our collaborators could feel important as builders of this new work that we would like to see. It’s not necessary to talk about the pains of this work, but about the hope and the possibilities that each of us has to promote change, together in a company like Natura, like Apple, like whatever, but as a citizen, as a family member, as a community member, as a customer exercising your power.


[00:22:41] So, we try to bring this wholeness to life with our collaborators, our partners, our suppliers, the leaders of our communities and so on. We try to bring that it’s possible to work together, and it is possible and highly desirable to connect your personal life with your work, the home that you have in the community. It works, it’s our belief. It’s tough, it’s not easy. We need to change the ways to do this, to reinvent things, but it works.





Walter Link

[00:23:30] And it actually works in a very measurable way because not only are you, let’s say financially and business wise, successful but also as part of that Natura has become a very special brand. You have done of course brand research and you found out that over many years it’s one of the most valuable brands, because in a way it is more than just a brand, it’s a community. It’s a soul, it’s something living and even Brazilians who do not necessarily buy the products are somehow proud that there is such a thing and they support the brand.


[00:24:21] So, there is a special way of how this company has really become a part of the society and because it serves the society rather than what so often happens in modernity, society has become the servant of companies and the economies.

Guilherme Leal

[00:24:43] I think that we have built a really strong brand that it’s not ours anymore because I think that the best measurement of this success is that everybody, many, many people, shareholders are not, consumers are not as you said, somehow are owners of this Natura brand and this is the biggest success that we could achieve.


[00:25:25] Not only the founders, the shareholders are the owners of the brand but the brand became a public good somehow that promotes better situations for better futures, better situations for different communities. And this has started, this came out from this perception, the perception that all of us have possibility to improve changes. That companies are change agents more than just providers of solutions for individual person.


[00:26:15] And, bringing this to the table, you offer something that, for instance, for workers that work with you, who are collaborators. I remember that in the ‘80s it was very normal to say that the mission of a company, it was today the number one or two in each market that plays. What could this mission bring, inspiration to each of the workers of a company, just to be the number one, just to be the number two. This is nothing, this is nothing, and so when you share your hope that each of us can somehow – and we are doing your business, selling products, in our case consumer products, beauty products, you can bring a better relationship with yourself when you apply your products.


[00:27:21] When you know where the product comes from and which communities are involved in the production of this, you bring a whole new world of perceptions to each of us involved in the process, so the brand starts to get a meaning and it’s inspirational, and this is what we have been trying to do. Really we don’t believe that the whole of our companies just to make money for the shareholders, because it’s too low, it’s too tiny as a fact. And we really believe that we can produce change, cultural change, value change.



Walter Link

[00:28:34] And of course you and I got together the first time was not so many people, maybe there were 1000 business people that we knew around the world, some were our friends, some we met at a conference, we started to, one, to bring about this new movement and at the beginning people were laughing at us and that were the nice people were laughing, the not so nice people were having much worse comments on us because we were in a way seen as disrupting the mainstream of the view that really society was there to serve business and we were saying no, business is there to co-create and to serve society and culture and the environment.


[00:29:32] So, I think maybe you are as surprised as how in a way even though it’s still so long way to go forward to find a really sustainable and humane economy how much has happened over the 20 years, and I wonder what you learned from what the ingredients are that made this movement in a way so successful, to show that another way of doing business, another way of doing economy is actually possible. It’s not yet succeeded as a mainstream but it is a very strong side stream that shows a real alternative. What do you think are the ingredients that allowed us to get there?


Guilherme Leal

[00:30:19] I am first of all proud of being part with you and many others, not so many of this journey, and I agree that we have walked a lot in this direction, not only in the business environment but in the societies, in a total different way, in different bridge and society and so on, but things are really going, and I am really happy to be part as in the beginning of the ‘90s into other movements that reinforced this belief.


[00:31:12] I am in the last two years have been part of a group called The B Team, a compound of influential leaders. Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz are the two that has invited the others to come together, to reinforce this perception that business can and must redefine its success, not only as profit maker but environmental and social creator of value.


[00:32:05] And the idea is to reach the tipping point. Always you have the first 10% that when you reach you probably get too convinced that the other is 90%. And being brought also this new movement, the big corporations that made clear that the commitment not only to the shareholders but to the community and environment in their bylaws, formally they are committed. Natura has become the first publicly trade company that is considered certified as a B-corp and I am talking about this because reinforce the process.


[00:33:05] We are on the way, we are becoming, I think that society has its basic needs supplied. Society will start to, the people will start to think about the future and consequence and the challenge that we are facing as humanity and for sure, the companies that has so important role in providing some kind of solutions are becoming more and more charged about the whole behaviour, the good and the bad things that they create. We are here to create a better world and to make money with this.


[00:33:59] So, this redefinition is an ongoing process, sometimes you are much more enthusiastic about things, sometimes you are not so, but I am among the ones that think that there is no other way.




Guilherme Leal

[00:34:45] In my very personal agenda today, many different fronts that I am working on, I am trying to bring institutions and people together, reducing the institutional or individual egos to work together and to produce more significant impacts on the main issues. We are trying to do an example of this, this Brazilian Coalition for climate, environment, forestry and agriculture, where the most important contribution that we gave is trying to let’s work together.


[00:35:45] There is a huge opportunity here, a necessity, but a very badly coordinated behaviour from different institutions. You have a huge experience in coaching, interviewing, in promoting, communicating movements, companies, and things like that. I would like to hear from you how can we improve this because I believe as I told that states, civil society, and business are essential so dialog is essential and among business, among governments, among civil society organizations, in my opinion it’s totally necessary to work together, to co-create to use a very expression of you.


[00:36:50] How could we improve. Do you think it’s important and how could we improve this kind of behaviour.


Walter Link

[00:37:02] Well the first question is co-creation important and I think also our lives we have always believed deeply in the power of cocreation and the success that has come to us has come out of cocreation because we believe deeply in sustainability as a core and diversity and innovation that comes from diversity really is necessary to achieve sustainability which by definition needs to include all. We cannot have a sustainability on a globe and leave people or countries or sectors out and so co-creation I think is at the core of what we need to do, and the more difficult question is how can we do this successfully, and I think we are all on an ongoing journey of how to find that out, but in my experience the key to it really is humanity.

[00:38:13] The heart of materialism is that we forget that this is a living planet that you and I are living beings and that the people we want to co-create with are real living beings, and if we treat them like things, that’s materialism. If we treat ourselves like things, you are saying that at 37 you had a heart attack. That is an example of not really being in touch with our body, with our life in a way where we treat ourselves as part of the sustainability. So how can we learn to work together in a way that we deal with complex technologies and complex understanding of how the climate works and how it interacts with technology and so forth, but not forget that the people who have to find the solutions are still human beings.


[00:39:13] I think one of the losses of modernity, of this new paradigm of the industrialized, materialized society was that somehow our humanity became unprofessional, something you put into the private life, something that you can’t really talk about and be taken seriously because that’s for the soft people.


Guilherme Leal

[00:39:42] It’s poetry, like I heard many times. As it was not a great homage to say that I am close to a poet.


Walter Link

[00:39:56] Right, but it really I think is at the heart of success in all of these endeavors and that I think leads to another very important question is how do we grow from just being humans to become humane beings, because we are not born that way. We are needing development to mature and to develop the potential that we as human beings have including the potential of cocreation, including the potential of listening deeply to each other but also deeply to ourselves, to nature, and the world so that original innovation can occur because the old solutions have brought out the world we have now. So what is the new solution?


[00:40:59] I think we need to use the deep human technologies that have existed for thousands of years in very diverse cultures, from the rain forest, to ancient Buddhism, from modern psychology, to brain science, from the experiments of leadership work of bringing this wisdom into the world of action. There is incredible richness. We have a lot of knowledge, we have a lot of human technologies, a lot of process understanding but we are using very little of it. It is as if that the worlds are split and I think if we want to find solutions, finding new politicians, new business leaders, new companies, new governments, new global corporations, we need that wisdom and the way of how to make that wisdom work in the modern world and day to day challenges.



Guilherme Leal

[00:42:13] Somehow confirms the perception that without being more complex human beings with all of our aspects, we cannot build connections and create solutions. I think that we need to really connect and to connect, and our deepest connection is to be a human being among other beings in nature. So, don’t forget to try to start from the beginning and this is the beginning, I think it’s a very good.

Walter Link

[00:43:03] When we first got to know each other and before that, my work was more running companies, running nonprofits and these international networks, and doing more work at the forefront of action, and really what I saw during that time is that so many people, individuals and organizations have now a lot of inspiration actually, a lot of vision, but we do not often know how to translate the inspiration into real change, and so I moved kind of from the forefront to the background to support in particular leaders that I think are models and organizations and social movements that can be models for society and to bring in these deep human technologies, these ways of how to translate wisdom into action because I felt that that was for me the next step of how I could be of service.



Walter Link

[00:44:32] A lot of your activities were of course focused on Brazil, but also you have taken more and more responsibility internationally, you have joined The B Team and I would like to hear more about that. You have been present in Davos to speak about different view of business and politics to political leaders and economic leaders, and you are also involved in the global climate negotiation approaches looking at how can we on a global level bring about more climate, and also the important role of course that Brazil has this particularly rich biodiversity and these vast forests that are like the lungs of the planet.


[00:45:30] So how we can support this also on a global level. So tell us a little bit more about this movement into this global involvement.


Guilherme Leal

[00:45:43] First of all, we are as you have described Brazilians, our main trusts are in Brazil but who believes that everything is interconnected includes the whole world. We cannot avoid certain problems or build some certain solutions without considering the whole planet and beyond.


[00:46:15] So, it’s natural to be in another level discussing where are we going as humanity and how are we going to face the tough challenges that we are facing, how are we going to build solutions and this invitation to be part of this group of individual it’s important to say.


Walter Link

[00:46:47] The B Team.


Guilherme Leal

[00:46:48] The B Team. Because individuals are more open to dream and to do things than corporations and institutions. The institutions are critical but individuals normally take the lead to make things happen.


Walter Link

[00:47:11] And tell us some more of the names of the people.


Guilherme Leal

[00:47:12] The names we have as I said, the first two ones were Richard Branson from Virgin United and Jochen Zeitz from PUMA, Kering Group, François-Henri Pinault from Kering Group, Ratan Tata, very well known, Mo Ibrahim, an important African leader and many others, Ariana Huffington for instance from Huffington Post and people – Muhammad Yunus as a fighter for the social business and people like those, and we are trying to take the lead in promoting this change of the whole capitalism somehow.


[00:48:08] The definition as I said of success of business and in a very concrete way. For instance, in last January, we assumed as a group a commitment to get net zero emissions by 2050, that is earlier than is being discussed, the net zero emissions, because we know that many people, companies are not going to get there. So you need leadership. You need commitment, you need processes to get there. So we are trying to deal with climate assuming commitment, we are trying to deal with corruption, how to improve the quality of workplace, and showing that this is good.


[00:49:15] There are opportunities for business in promoting the change society needs. We mean business. We are talking that our challenges and opportunities that must be taken. We are trying to show that it’s possible. We are trying as individuals and using the power of communication, using the influential power of this group to bring to the agenda the right issues and to show with your own behavior that it is possible to deal successfully with this.





Walter Link

[00:50:20] How is this interaction between on the one hand this individuals that represent of course also companies and other kinds of organizations but that are very individually strong people that interact with these big institutions, these global UN processes, this climate change conventions, so there is kind of the individual and then there is this vast system that you try to impact. How is this meeting of these forces?


Guilherme Leal

[00:50:59] It’s a building process of human relation as anyone. You cannot get much if you don’t build real strong bonds and to do this you need to be open, you need to listen, you need to show yourself your difficulties, your challenges and so on. So, that’s why we need to be patient. It’s not magical. Its lot of people with lot of different interests sharing something very strong but people from different cultures and so on. So, if you want that they really work as a team you need to build those relationships and to build relationship you must be yourself.


[00:51:57] After that I believe with good humor, with really not only as a responsibility or burden but as a possibility, a possibility to express yourself in a creative way and to get recognition, see things happening more than anything. So, it’s another time. Its things to people that want to spend their time in searching these dreams, but its fun.


Watch the full episode, Guilherme Leal: Co-Creating Sustainable Economies HERE.