Aerial photo of a Dow Chemical Plant in Wilmington, NC. Photo Credit: Leep.
Aerial photo of a Dow Chemical Plant near Wilmington, NC. Photo Credit: Leep.

By Jim Rossi, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

Max Kushner-Lenhoff is the Center for Responsible Business’s newest Fellow. Max is earning an MBA at Haas after his first Masters – in Chemistry – at Yale. A Southern Californian, Max most recently served as communications manager for the chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical company. A couple other famous industrialists held similar positions early in their careers. Andrew Carnegie served as secretary for Pennsylvania Railroad President Thomas A. Scott, learning the ropes before going on to found his steel empire. And Thomas Edison’s secretary Samuel Insull went on to establish the modern electric utility industry during his decades leading Commonwealth Edison Company in Chicago.

Jim Rossi: Why did you choose Haas?

Max: I come from a chemistry background. There’s power to change the world in chemistry. And renewable energy is my passion. But decisions are based on business criteria… Haas is a top-10 business program, but it’s not just a top-10 business program. It’s a mission-driven program with a broader impact.

The Financial Times ranked Haas #1 globally for corporate social responsibility and ethics, and Bloomberg ranked Haas #3 for sustainability.

Jim Rossi: And the Center for Responsible Business?

Maxwell Kushner-Lenhoff
Maxwell Kushner-Lenhoff

Max: Dow’s CEO did the commencement speech at UC Berkeley College of Chemistry back in 2013. That’s when I came across the CRB. An “action-tank, not a think tank.” That really appealed to me.

Max and I refer to Haas’ 4 Principles: Question the status quo, confidence without attitude, students always, and beyond yourselves.

Jim: What qualities do you bring to Haas and CRB?

Max: Four main ones – advocacy – for renewable energy and sustainability; chemistry expertise; communications skills, and corporate experience in getting things done.

Jim: And your goals at Haas and CRB?

Max: Again, four main ones. Build sustainability culture in business. Master metrics – if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Entrepreneurship, and scalability. All this has to do with waste reduction – from linear to a cycle.

Jim: That reminds me of a quote from management guru Peter Drucker. “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” Both are important. How about your career goals right now?

Max: My five-year goal: deploying new technologies on the ground that fight climate change while improving the bottom line. My ten-year goal: to be running that business. And my career-spanning goal, something like what Elon Musk says when he wants to redefine what people see when they think of transportation. I want to redefine what people see when they think of chemistry and material sciences – not just pollution.

Former Goldman Sachs director Scott Pinkus first got involved with Haas in 2000 through Dean Laura Tyson, with the Masters in Financial Engineering. Since 2015, Pinkus has funded the CRB fellowship. The admission committee selected Max from over forty applicants. “We were looking for a a really extraordinary passion for socially responsible business,” Pinkus says, citing Max’s communication skills, work experience, and “really strong vision” for the future of chemistry in sustainable business. “He will be a strong link between the student body and the center.”

The Center for Responsible Business Fellowship was started in 2011 to encourage the development of leaders who redefine business for a sustainable future.  The fellowship is now led by Executive Director Robert Strand.  The program’s six fellows include Kyle Rudzinski, a Sustainability Innovation Leadership Team member at Levi Strauss & Co., and Chad Reed, part of the Management Leadership Development Program at TerraForm Power.

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