Gerald Hassell

CEO Gerald Hassell Reflects on CSR’s Growth and Maturation

June 2016

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“The employees arriving on our doorstep today…expect us to take seriously our responsibility to create a better world.” – Gerald Hassell, Chairman and CEO

I walked up to the doorstep of what was then the headquarters of The Bank of New York at 48 Wall Street, a new arrival to the “Big Apple.” It was 1973 and I was fresh out of college. The Watergate scandal was breaking, the Vietnam conflict was winding down, a patent for the first ATM was granted and tennis star Billie Jean King was prepping to strike a blow for the women’s movement in the Battle of the Sexes match against Bobby Riggs. The world was changing.

I discovered a company built on trust and client relationships; my managers drilled that into me on day one. That foundation remains the same today. But our company was a long way away from establishing itself as the Investments Company for the World, and from realizing its potential impact on the world at large.

The evolution of our company in the intervening years has been fascinating to behold and a real honor to help drive. The maturation of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in our firm and around the world has been equally astounding and encouraging.

When I joined the company, CSR existed across the corporate world in a more nascent form. CSR activities were undefined and more about community philanthropy.

Various developments made us all more aware of the social and not just economic responsibilities of businesses, including the rise of environmental conservation efforts, the advance of the civil rights movement and the influence of world leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, who advocated for businesses to support society’s progress.

Over the past 15 years, BNY Mellon’s efforts have matured substantially. We set a goal of being a leader in corporate social responsibility, leveraging our unique position in the financial marketplace to improve the lives of countless people globally. We embraced commitments that help guide our behaviors ― from what we do, to how we invest. We identified the most material issues for our business. We subsequently streamlined our strategy, increased impact by focusing on business growth and supporting the stability of global financial markets, and enhanced our efforts to improve the lives of people in the communities we serve around the world.

Today:

  • our industry is more broadly recognizing its responsibility for creating a resilient, accessible financial system that people trust; and
  • the public and private sector are working together through innovative, collaborative partnerships to solve societal challenges.

We and our corporate peers are helping to address some of society’s largest challenges through our businesses. We were honored to sign the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge in 2015 to commit to strong, achievable and verifiable goals in reducing our carbon footprint. We joined more than 1,000 businesses, cities, investors and other signatories in committing to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change. Through our partnership with the United Nations Foundation, we were one of the leading private-sector voices for advancing rule of law — the legal principles that should govern a nation —in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Here’s what is really exciting to me. The employees arriving on our doorstep today expect more from their company. They expect us to take seriously our responsibility to create a better world. In fact, they thrive on being able to personally make a positive impact and we endorse and applaud those expectations.

Maybe they are aware of growing evidence that CSR leaders outperform their peers on shareholder returns.1 Or maybe they just believe it’s the right thing to do. Regardless of the reason, BNY Mellon offers these employees the opportunity to help companies raise and invest capital to create jobs, drive economic growth and raise living standards; help governments raise and invest capital to serve citizens; and help institutions and individuals invest to achieve their financial and life goals.

The heightened expectations of this new generation of employees should propel corporations to further increase their commitment to responsible behavior and to more than just their business interests. It is the right thing to do!

Gerald L. Hassell
Chairman and CEO, BNY Mellon


1 Serafeim, George. “The Type of Socially Responsible Investments That Make Firms More Profitable,” Harvard Business Review, 14 April 2015.