In Memoriam – Ray C. Anderson

I’m not ashamed to say I had to leave my desk for a moment this afternoon to shed a wee tear or two.

As I read a lovely email from Karen Hall of Interface, congratulating me on my new job, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sting in the tail.

“You know about Ray I presume,” it said at the bottom, followed by a blog link. I clicked through to find that, after a long and courageous battle, my biggest sustainability hero, Ray Anderson, had sadly lost his fight with cancer and passed away on Monday.

They say you should never meet your heroes; that the experience will inevitably end up being a disappointment.

Well, thanks to the relationship between Interface and Ashridge, I did meet my hero a few years back at the launch of a joint consulting venture, and I can say that – at least as far as Ray was concerned – nothing could be further from the truth.

As I wrote immediately after the event, he was immensely inspiring; not only for creating, in Interface, an undeniable example that sustainability and profitability can be perfect bedfellows, but also – having achieved what he and the people of Interface have – his extraordinary generosity and humility in sharing the benefits of his experience.

And that spirit of generosity is something I benefited from directly too.

In hope rather than expectation, when I’d finished writing my book, I fished out Ray’s business card and dropped him a line to see if he might be willing to offer me his feedback and – if I was really lucky – an endorsement.

It was a stone-cold punt, I thought. After all, he was the founder and chairman of a $billion corporation, and I was just some giant, speccy bloke he’d chatted with for 5 minutes over a cup of coffee at Ashridge!

I was wrong.

I got a response back from Ray within the day. He was about to head off on vacation for a couple of weeks, he wrote, but would be taking my manuscript with him and would get back to me as soon as he returned.

And he did – with a lengthy, thorough and thoughtful response – and a lovely quote for the cover to boot.

Ray: you weren’t just a true pioneer of sustainable business, you were a great human being, and I wish you could have been around to see Interface make it all the way to the summit of ‘Mount Sustainability’.

RIP.

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