Dragoș TuțăFrom: Pitești Born on: - Occupation: Consultant and social entrepreneur. Founder of "The CSR Agency". Initiator of the "Embassy of Sustainability in Romania".
“We have to take responsibility for all the costs of the things we buy. We have to think not only to the financial price, but also to the ethical one.“, I heard Dragoş Tuță saying, some weeks ago. He is the initiator of the Embassy of Sustainability in Romania and the founder of the first consultancy agency on sustainability and corporate social responsibility in the country, The CSR Agency. Prior to these two major projects, Dragoş was an independent consultant for OMV Petrom and worked for 10 years in Selenis (as a shareholder) and Ethos communication agencies. Throughout his entire activity, the uninterrupted red thread consists in supporting the actions that the Romanian economic (and not only) actors have taken in order to behave more responsibly.
Among the first people who contributed to his moral education are his grandparents.
He remembers an old funny childhood story and he says smiling: “I was walking one day with my grandmother near home when I saw a chicken and I just grabbed it in my arms. I was very small and my grandmother, the most non-aggressive woman I have ever met, asks me why I took the chicken. “Finders keepers!” I told her. What followed was the only slap my grandmother ever give me. Then, she gently explained that I have no rights to take something that doesn’t belong to me and together we went to look after the chicken’s owner.”
With his grandfather, he was constantly crafting things in courtyard and, as an unwritten law, at the end of each activity the used utensils had to be cleaned and put in their place. Always. An useful lesson over time. “My grandfather also taught me to embrace the truth, to fight for it and not to run away from its consequences.”
Dragoş interacted for the first time with an NGO in the faculty. He was fascinated by the passion with which his colleagues did things within the organization, and after a short time he lived the joy of achieving a result and, he says, “I easily became part of the team in a role where my words were listened and they influenced the strategy. Looking back I see that all the projects I have carried out have had a significant contribution to society. They have helped people who were in great need of help, and somehow that has always been my motivation.”
As a podcast guest, Dragoş, previously presented himself as “a family guy”, but he didn’t limit to the basic meaning of the expression, going further to the concept of “community”. I fully understood this statement after he confessed that working with other people has always been a source of joy and motivation for him. “I encourage the notion of “team” wherever I go.”
MS: You said in a preceding interview that “after 10 years of hard work and a lot of managerial maturity lack, I chose to restart”. What does “managerial maturity lack ” means?
It’s related to the years spent in Ethos and Selenis communication agencies.
That lack may have pass undetected looking from outside. It was visible internally, to us, and sometimes not even so. I started from scratch in a team without too much experience, but with a lot of ambition. Although we did great things, there were a few that we missed, such as a more detailed financial management. Even if, there was a balance sheet, nobody thought to make savings for eventual crisis times.
As shareholders we worked very, very hard, even though we had employees. There was no social life; we didn’t have any milestone in achieving the financial goal and that just kept us in a loop. We managed to impose ourselves on the market, to sell products and services at good prices, but all we gained was reinvested in growing the team. We never said “stop”, in order to cease the crazy vertical development rate and to scale from a certain level horizontally. We always wanted to grow and this increased the managerial effort. We didn’t have that deep gratitude for accomplishment and when our projects were a success or we delivered more than we had been asked for (and that happened quite often), it was just normal. It was ordinary to deliver an extremely well done project.
This entire imbalance I’m talking about was paid back through a lot of work.
Unfortunately it took me 10 years to wake up.
MS: You donated your shares and you just left. How was this restart?
I’m not so sure that my personal experience it’s a good example. It was an extreme game.
I saw that things were not right, that we work much more than 12 hours per day, that we didn’t necessarily offer a nice experience to our employees. Although they grew professionally very quick, the vibe of a team was missing. We focused on the effort and on how to step outside the comfort zone. Every day. It was our behavior both as managers and employees. For 2 years I tried to adjust the situation and because I didn’t find the solution there, in the team, I had to stop.
I don’t recommend such an attitude because I have reacted so having a very high confidence in myself and a strong self-motivation ability. I knew I could get out of any situation, but it’s not always happening as you think. I managed to overcome that moment with a bit of luck, not just with wisdom. The risk was huge and even if I didn’t want to, I probably left behind a negative impression to my partners or to my employees because I have never been able to tell them how I saw the things, how I lived the experiences there or how have been for me the last two years – when I tried to find a solution.
It was my struggle and I didn’t share it with anyone. I acted as I felt.
Photo: Dragoș Tuță during Inspiro Conference 2019, credits to Inspiro Conference 2019
MS: In 2011 you started Corporate Social Responsibility Agency, an agency that wanted to teach companies that their social responsibility doesn’t mean charity and sponsorship acts. You present the concept of sustainability in a form that only today starts to be understood. How did you choose, think and build services for a non-existent market at that time?
The fact that I predicted this trend already adopted outside Romania was only an argument in my journey, but not the main one that get me here.
Reading and learning about business sustainability and corporate social responsibility, the real one, not the philanthropy acts from Romania, I became passionate about ethical and sustainable management. It ended to be my motivation source. So, in 2010, I decided that it’s something that I’m passionate about both professionally and personally. The CSR Agency mission is also my daily mission.
It’s even an inside joke, here, at Sustainability Embassy that even if we go out for a drink, we are still talking about responsible companies.
The passion for this subject links us all.
MS: How did you actually start to build?
From scratch. I found support and a safety net in my former partner Andrei Borțun, but the agency started with only one consultant – me. We didn’t hire people from the first days, but there were resources that we could access, making our lives easier.
I relied on my experience in fundraising and sales and I knew that it wouldn’t be difficult for me to identify clients even if it sounded like a “blah, blah” what I wanted to do. There was a need for business, there was a need for stability. I just “translated” it into companies language. After all, this is the main benefit of the sustainable or ethical business model: cutting risks. If you manage to have an open dialogue with all stakeholders and to see what the problems or opportunities are, then you can address them both.
MS: Although you are no longer part of the executive management of the agency, can you give me an example of a CSR Agency corporate social responsibility project?
First of all, we provide 3 types of services:
- We do training;
- We make sustainability reports – we help companies identify their current level of sustainability, following a very well developed methodology, using international standards of Global Responsibility Initiative (GRI);
- We offer consulting services.
A successful project initiated by us is the removal of disposable plastic in Kaufland’s locations. It’s an approach that has echo throughout the entire industry, not just at the supermarkets level.
Our consultants role is to go with the team of our client company from the first moment they approach us to the point where they want to reach. If we look at companies from the today’s economic environment, they don’t know so much about sustainability. They are almost like in 2011 (when we started the agency), but the difference is that now they are interested in discovering and learning about sustainability.
There are many things that cannot be seen, are projects that don’t end in public, where we may not have come up with the idea, but we have come with the mandatory know-how, we have trained people and we have given them a new way of looking at the management process. A new way of making decisions in order to achieve their objectives.
For example, Kaufland is the only company in Romania that declared clearly: we want to hire people with disabilities. They even have a communication campaign to attract such employees, while 99% of the Romanian companies don’t want to hire these people. It was their idea and we helped the human resources department by giving training, by helping them to identify the relevant indicators in measuring the responsibility level and by offering advice in all 4 years of collaboration. All happened because they’re open and because they can make decisions that other companies sees as risky. Kaufland is a transparent company.
It’s a long-term effort because engaging in a responsible social behavior change the organizational culture, the way decisions are taken. And the most import thing: everyone is involved in this process, not just the CEO. He can give the signal, he can encourage, but the work must be done by the people who take every day decisions.
MS: If you meet a person who doesn’t want to make a sustainable business, how do you change his attitude?
There are several types of managers. The profoundly immoral ones, who want to make lots of money quickly and with any risk, they are impossible to influence. I have seen that such people change their business approach (some of them, not all) after a very strong shock, whether it is a bankruptcy, a strong media crisis, a quality check and a penalty.
Our priority now is to identify managers who are genuinely concerned about transparency, who are brave and who can recognize that they are part of the problem, saying:
“Yes, my industry has a problem with the disposable plastic I put on the market. I do not run, I do not blame someone else. I do not accuse the customer because he buys anyway. No, it’s also my fault, I’m also responsible for it and I’m looking for solutions. And when I find them or when I try to apply a certain solution, I am transparent and I say what I do and why I do these things.”
This is our priority: to identify and support them.
Let’s assume that the moral managers are on the right side, the immoral ones on the left and between them the amoral ones. In this context, depending on how the extremes move, the amoral goes either to the left, after the immoral ones, or to the right, following the morals. When we see an economic agent who is transparent, who recognizes some problems and presents the plan, while the public, the media and the parties involved don’t understand his effort and, on the contrary, they react negatively, we will see that the amorals runs towards immorality. They say: “Look, that one tried and failed. Why should I pass through the same experience?”
On the other hand, when we talk about profoundly immoral businesses, which are exposed and in a communication crisis (e.g. – Hexifarma), its competitors can hardly practice the same management style, because they have seen how low they can get.
Photo: Dragoș Tuță beside his guests during CSR Think Thank meetings related to „Climate changes: the impact and effects on the economy” 2019, credits to Embassy of Sustainability in Romania.
MS: If we analyze your actions so far, we can say that you are an entrepreneur, right?
Yes, I would say that I am a social entrepreneur because I cannot find a better equivalent to define my work.
I realized that I was never interested in the profit story. In addition, I remained with that habit, from the first years to reinvest the profit. Please, don’t think that I’m not interested in money, but I set an income that I’m happy to earn. I don’t feel the constant need to have more and more.
I think my entrepreneurial traits are reflected in the way I make decisions, in the way those who say “You can’t do it!” challenge me, in the way I manage to attract resources and people in my team.
But, truly, I am passionate about the idea of changing and improving the standard of living in Romania from any point of view. I think that when companies will be more responsible, the living standards of Romanians will increase.
MS: I am intrigued by the profile of the one who works in the field of social responsibility. How is he/she supposed to be?
First of all, you need a lot of patience. You have to understand the big picture, because this topic is not yet one of maximum interest to us, it is not yet seen like in Western Europe, as the “new business paradigm”. It’s hard to get praise for business sustainability projects, it’s hard to implement such projects and to change organizational cultures.
In addition to patience and understanding of the context, you also need the passion to learn what sustainability really means – the desire to keep a balance and to help private companies, because it is very easy to slip in and find a lot of reasons for that you don’t want to work with certain brands. You look back and when you see what they have done, you want to give up, but in the field of responsible business, the idea is that starting by TODAY that company will have less negative impact. What it has already done cannot be changed anymore.
Indeed, there is a limit that you have to find and that talks about these profoundly immoral companies, who want to reach the subject of sustainability, but rather from the desire to hide something or give the (false) impression that the products / the services of the respective company are friendly with the environment (green-washing). And so, not all companies need to be treated with the utmost confidence.
However, you can find the clearest evidence of morality – transparency. The safest thing is transparency – when a company is willing to publish non-financial information (for example: number of accidents recorded during the last 5 years, number of employees holidays, the ratio of salary between a female employee and a male employee, the carbon footprint of the organization, etc.), you can trust it.
MS: What does a sustainability report include?
The most important information is the levels of financial indicators. A priority for any company.
You have to identify together with all the shareholders the themes of importance for the industry in cause. This is called “the materiality process”. The next step is to analyze in depth each element. Take, for example, polluting emissions from Bucharest with particles of 2.5. For a cement factory it is a vital factor because of it’s daily activity. However, for a bank it has no relevance. And then, it is important to know where the biggest impact is having place inside your business.
We don’t want to simply be the editors of a document. We want to help companies in building a powerful management tool for later use.
A sustainability report is proof of transparency. Its main benefit is that it is a tool with which the CEO and other directors work in the medium and long term. Even the annual strategy is shaped by this report.
Photo: Dragoș Tuță beside his guests during CSR Think Thank meetings related to „Climate changes: the impact and effects on the economy” 2019, credits to Embassy of Sustainability in Romania.
MS: You said that Romania is behind Western Europe in terms of social responsibility. How do you think our country will look in the coming years?
We have a gap that remains relatively constant. Five, six years.
There is a chance to advance faster, but it depends on government – administrative interactions, as well as on the interaction between the private environment and the administrative bodies. There are many administrative and legislative initiatives that can either block such a path or they are missing and, therefore, not encouraging. The best example is the Non-Financial Reporting Directive, where is stated that companies with over 500 employees are required to publish a sustainability report. In Romania are available maximum 20 professional reports from approximately 1000 such companies.
MS: What’s the problem?
There are no tools to verify that these companies do so. And anyway, until we get to control level, there is a problem in the lack of information. Nobody from government has ever talked to companies about the importance of responsible actions. Nobody has told them that benefits will raise also for companies, not just for society. An essential thing the government can do is to invest in training. We need to understand that this is a new topic, and people in companies don’t necessarily understand the benefits, the need or the urgency. And then, at such times it is good to provide financial resources so as to provide know-how to the people in the market. Before having a dialogue with them, they have to understand your language. Some directors have misunderstood this directive and they write down statements on their own responsibility. On the internet you can find texts of the managers, written by hand or using keyboard, where they are stating: “My company is responsible, with the employees, with the consumers, with the suppliers, etc.” Period. And after they sign it.
But, it’s not about that.
These kind of reports don’t have a conclusion. They don’t decide whether a company is sustainable or not, but they present information and show the level of transparency. That’s why the EU has pursued this directive – to give the public access to information. Because not the Government should be, from my point of view, the one who checks whether a company has reached a certain sustainability target in a year and presented its results in a report. No. The Government must ensure that transparency has been shown, that all impact indicators have been included in that report, as well as the values of the indicators.
We cannot discuss diversity, for example, until it is specified how many employees you have, how they are divided by salary, gender, age categories, training hours, etc. The sustainability report is the same as the financial one; there is an international extremely clear methodology to be used.
I met Dragoș again, for short a time, twice, after the interview took place. It happened to see him in a conversation with one of the GRI Standards course participants. He was asked for some additional information and he replied: “Yes, I will send some useful documents via email, but I would like to talk to you for a few minutes – to explain more.”
He just could have send them, but he didn’t. He made time for the discussion next day.
I think that by paying attention to details you can read people. You can notice a lot by how they behave with other people, by what they say and, especially, by what they do.