CSR with a Side of Fries

CSR with a Side of Fries

By Joe Verrengia

Joe Verrengia, Global Director, Corporate Social Responsibility at Arrow Electronics

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The value of CSR observed by @JVerrengia through @ArrowGlobal's SAM Car project http://3bl.me/7kxn6d
Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 8:20am

CONTENT: Article

“Want fries with that?”

This is how snarky friends say that working in a drive-through window will be the apex of my career.

But now when I hear that question, it suggests something far more optimistic - that Corporate Social Responsibility may super-size a company’s brand and, possibly, its future revenues.

Let me explain.

Two years ago, I launched the CSR program for Arrow Electronics, a Fortune 131 corporation. Arrow has grown with every exciting wave of the global electronics revolution, from the early days of radio to the Cloud and the Internet of Things.

But you might not have heard of Arrow because our work is embedded within the myriad devices and systems that make your life smarter, safer and more precise.

Arrow wanted show that it’s a powerful technology solutions provider. This has been beautifully realized in a brand platform called “Five Years Out.” Five Years Out is the horizon where we work – not in the science fiction world of time machines and cold fusion, but towards the tangible future of electronics.

CSR is essential to the Five Years Out brand. We quickly recognized that traditional corporate philanthropy doesn’t necessarily reflect innovation. Instead, we started humanitarian technology partnerships that demonstrate Arrow’s capabilities while helping people and our planet. It’s trickier than writing a donation check. But the ROI can be much higher.

No project in our CSR portfolio better illustrates this innovative approach than the SAM car. SAM stands for Semi-Autonomous Motorcar. We have uniquely modified a 2014 Corvette so a quadriplegic former race car driver can drive safely and fast again – using only his head to control the vehicle. It is a dramatic example of human-to-machine interface. http://www.arrow.com/sam/

With our driver Sam Schmidt, we have been on an amazing ride. In just a year’s time, we have topped 100 mph – first on the iconic oval Indy 500 racetrack and now on more complex road courses.

But the SAM project is more than a car.

The fact that Sam Schmidt can drive again 15 years after he was injured is astonishing. But our greater achievement may be demonstrating to disabled and able-bodied people alike that while all of us face obstacles, the barrier in front of you may not be as formidable as you believe - especially with a little help from technology.

No matter how inspiring, however, every CSR project has to demonstrate a return on investment. In the year since the SAM car first broke the 100 mph barrier, we have generated the kind of brand extension normally reserved for top consumer product companies:

  • 1.2 billion earned media impressions
  • $8 million+ comparative ad value
  • “I am a Race Car Driver” drawing 70 million viewers during NFL televised games
  • A featured segment on the NBC Nightly News
  • A display at the Smithsonian Institution
  • Four prominent awards, including 2014 IET Innovation Prize in London.

Now the program is beginning to create business value as well. Since Fall 2014, the SAM car has been featured at industry trade shows from Munich to San Diego. It has been the subject of keynote speeches at industry conferences in Boston, San Jose, Austin, Minneapolis and Atlanta and Indianapolis. All this generates business possibilities in the transportation, telecommunications and medical technology sectors.

As the CSR director, I can’t seal deals for Arrow. But with programs like SAM that demonstrate both technology expertise and shared values, I can start a lot promising conversations. I expect the SAM car project to be associated with new revenues by the end of 2015, to go along with our powerful brand results.

So what does quadriplegic driving have to do with French fries?

Recently, a colleague emerged from a daylong business development meeting. He couldn’t wait to find me.  The prospective customer is a familiar restaurant chain that wants to introduce new technology into its thousands of locations worldwide. The innovation possibilities range from customer interface to automating the kitchen to supply chain logistics.

When asked what brought them to Arrow, among the things the restaurant team said was: “We know about the SAM car."

Want fries with that? I sure do.

 Joe Verrengia directs Arrow’s CSR program, combining targeted charitable investing, sustainability and government relations into a strategic initiative that uniquely establishes Arrow as an innovation catalyst. He also co-directs the SAM project. Arrow is the 2015 Fortune Most Admired Company in its category, including #1 in CSR.