The Positive Business Conference: Final Recap

I’m back in Boston after spending two great days at the Positive Business Conference at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. To put it simply, the conference was nothing short of inspiring. Keep reading to hear what Intel, Microsoft, PepsiCo and Amazon are doing to develop positive and purpose-driven business practices.

In addition to learning from some of the top academic minds teaching at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, the conference brought in leaders from large and well-known corporations to share their positive business strategies and perspectives.


Danielle Brown, VP of human resources and chief diversity & inclusion officer at Intel gave a great talk on enabling a culture of diversity and inclusion. She started by talking about how Intel has been reporting on the diversity of its workforce for about a decade, however, the numbers were stagnant. Finally, the business realized that they would never accept flat or declining numbers in any other part of their business, and that diversity and inclusion needed to be made a priority.

Now, Intel has set a goal to have full representation of women and underrepresented minorities by 2020 and has made a $300M investment to do so. Intel decided to focus their initial efforts on the Inclusion side of the equation. They needed to create a culture of inclusion and engineer the biases out of the process. Danielle shared her six strategies:

  • Embrace change as a positive thing
  • Lead with abundance and optimism
  • Role model inclusivity in the day-to-day
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable
  • Be courageous
  • Set goals and share progress


Mary Snapp, the corporate vice president at Microsoft Philanthropies spoke about the power of corporate citizenship to create a positive business. She started off the discussion explaining that we’re in the fourth industrial revolution which is marked by three major changes happening:

  • Physical: autonomous vehicles, robots, 3D printing, and new materials
  • Biological: Genomic diagnostics, treatment, and engineering
  • Digital: Internet of things (IoT) blockchain, and disruptive business models

Mary acknowledged that while there is a ton of opportunity in the tech space, Big Tech has to have responsibility and accountability to move technology forward, without leaving people behind.

In her talk, Mary spotlighted two programs that Microsoft has to teach high-tech skills. The first was a program to bring coding into high schools, and the other was a vocational training course for veterans. She also talked about Microsoft’s employee giving program which has a 74-percent participation rate. Whether you give your time, money or products to a cause, Microsoft will match it. She says that we are currently living in an age where employees want to work with purpose, and therefore they consider the giving program to be a real perk to working at Microsoft.


Melissa Eamer, VP of customer experience at Amazon talked about how Amazon’s corporate culture is about pioneering. They encourage all of their employees to think of themselves as pioneers’ and want them to always bring new and exciting ideas to the table.

In order to set employees up for success, they needed to create a culture where it was okay to fail. Amazon does this by categorizing all decisions into two categories:

  • One-way doors are decisions that can’t be re-done. Those decisions must be made slowly and methodically
  • Two-way-doors are decision that can be reversed and/or easily remedied

Amazon makes it a priority to avoid applying one-way-door decision making methodologies to two-way-door decisions. Eamer acknowledged that the hardest part is deciding what is a one-way-door vs. a two-way door decision.


On Day Two, Dr. Mehmood Khan, the vice chairman and chief scientific officer at PepsiCo gave a talk on the power of positive partnerships. He talked about how PepsiCo has partnered with other private sector organizations, higher education institutions and even the United Nations to solve worldwide societal issues. He emphasized that different sectors need to stop pointing fingers about who created the problem, and rather work together to solve it.

One fascinating partnership that Dr. Khan mentioned was about how they’re collaborating with TB Alliance, a non-profit organization focused on developing better cures for tuberculosis (TB). He explained that hundreds of thousands of children die every year from TB, not from lack of access to medication, but rather because the medication is extremely bitter, and young children will reject the medication. PepsiCo has some of the best food scientists in the world, and is using their talent to work with some of the best and brightest in the pharmacy industry to help create a TB medicine that doesn’t activate the bitter taste buds in children.

Overall Impressions

It was incredibly inspiring to learn how some of the world’s leading organizations are working to create positive corporate cultures that benefit employees and society. If you’re interested in learning more about Intel, Microsoft, Amazon and PepsiCo, I suggest visiting the Ross School of Business’ YouTube channel where they have posted recordings of every speaker’s session.