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Change Masters 

Whole systems thinking and the new world of biz


I'm no businessperson. Driven more by creativity and social justice values than profit-making urges, I have never been observed anywhere near the corporate ladder, and have no desire to attain rungs thereupon. My work, mostly in nonprofits, has allowed me to remain encamped among my own kind on the cultural fringes. So if I haven't moved, why is the distance between the business world and me getting so much more narrow?

Tiburon business consultant Jennifer Marks explains it as a shift in the prevailing business model. "I did my MBA in 1992," Marks says. "And the business model I learned was the traditional one. In manufacturing businesses, for example, we solved business problems in a mechanical way, based on efficiency. The new model solves problems within a whole systems context. It's a difficult vision but you can feel it in your DNA in a way you couldn't feel the traditional model."

Marks, whose graduate studies in business were conducted both at Canterbury College in New Zealand and at Stanford University, has been a Bay Area business consultant for 17 years and a resident of Tiburon for six. She recently completed a pilot program at Dominican University of California, which earned her an executive certificate in green business administration. As a student in this new program, she claims she got a good grounding in systems thinking and became more convinced that to manage businesses sustainably one has to be "a re-designer of systems and a master of change."

 "Being a change master is critical," Marks explains. "Because so many systems are up for redesign. What the course does is it grounds you in how to change the system."

I ponder her statement with some surprise. I would more expect those words from the mouth of someone who just finished a social organizing training rather than a business course. Dominican's Green MBA was begun at the now-defunct New College in Santa Rosa, and is the first accredited green MBA program in the nation. The certificate program launched in fall of 2008, and is designed to meet the needs of those who already have their MBA or who have enough business experience to go right to the core of sustainable management systems. Marks is the perfect candidate. "As you get to a more senior role in business, you want to work where you are involved with all of your values," she says.

All of my values, I've long presumed, would not be addressed by any business in the world. I care too much about things one cannot purchase for cash. But after a brief chat with Domincan faculty member Ed Quevedo, I am willing to reanalyze my presumption.

The Green MBA faulty chair, Quevedo is an attorney who specializes in sustainable practice at Paldin Law Group in Walnut Creek. Quevedo teaches the capstone course in the executive certificate program, along with a course called "Thriving, Regenerative Enterprise." He claims that the triple bottom line of sustainability is a worn-out concept that needs to be replaced with the triple top line of regeneration. "Every business in the world has a responsibility to maximize benefits—to measurably return to investors, to nature and to society more than the business takes," Quevedo says. "And until it can do that, it does not deserve to make a profit." Wow. Did he really say that? If that's the guiding philosophy in the new world of business, count me in.

The fall session of the executive certificate program launches Aug. 8. Those interested in the program are invited to attend a free half-day immersion session on the Dominican campus on Saturday, July 18. Most of the program faculty will be available to offer a hands-on learning experience giving participants a taste of what the program is like. Program manager Ryn Longmaid says the ideal candidate for the program might be "someone who is poised for positive change, but not sure where to start." The place to start, she says, is learning "the language, strategies, systems, history, future and forecasts of sustainable management. And this program offers them all of that."

For further information on being a master of change, go to or call Ryn Longmaid at 415.482.1950.


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