Chief Strategy and Impact Officer, TOMS
Amy Smith is the Chief Strategy and Impact Officer at TOMS, overseeing all aspects of the company's corporate strategy and impact, including managing global giving partners, measuring the giving program impact, and leading TOMS Giving Trips. Additionally, she also manages TOMS environmental sustainability efforts, B Corp certification and employee engagement. As the head of the giving team at the original One for One company, Amy knew TOMS was in a position to improve more lives in addition to those who were receiving shoes. In 2019, under Amy's leadership, TOMS giving model evolved beyond One for One to also include impact grants which support local partners around the world who are working to create positive change in the areas of mental health, physical safety, and equal access to opportunity.
What day-to-day operations have been most impacted at TOMS by COVID-19 and how have you creatively overcome those challenges?
Unfortunately, all companies and individuals have been affected by the global pandemic in some way or another. Like others, the entire TOMS organization had to adapt to working remotely once Safer at Home was put into effect. This forced us to build creative solutions with how we reach our employees. Our CEO, Magnus Wedhammar, records and distributes a weekly video series titled "Business Unusual" where he provides business updates from the leadership team. Because the COVID-19 situation is changing in real time, we also created an information hub that provides daily updates and resources for employees – everything from mental health to technology tips for working from home. Our goal is to keep our employees informed and feeling connected to each other.
Has this new way of life/doing business resulted in any unexpected wins for TOMS?
I believe there is some good that will come from these forced changes in the way we work, interact and engage with one another. While the culture at TOMS lends itself to many engaging, informative and fun activities, we are finding ways to create this connection virtually. On my weekly calls with the Giving Team, we go around to check in with each other – both on a business and personal level. Everyone is much more in tune with their colleagues' lives outside of work and we have gotten to know each other on a different level. When we are able to go back into the office I plan to find ways to keep that kind of connection across the team going.
I also appreciate that our video conference calls allow us all to get a bit of a peek into our lives at home. I've personally had a few instances where my kids, my cat or my husband have made an appearance on video calls and I've seen the same from many of my other colleagues. It is a good reminder that we're all in this unique situation together and we are doing our best to manage professional and personal at the same time.
Do you expect that any changes you've made to your way of doing business due to COVID-19 will remain in your company's normal practices moving forward?
The pandemic has made it clear that we have an opportunity to lean further into technology because this is one of the few ways we can reach our customers while many of our retail stores and wholesale partners are closed. We are leveraging our social media channels and website to push out the latest from TOMS to our customers.
We are also leveraging technology for our impact efforts. One of our Giving Partners, Crisis Text Line offers free, confidential, 24/7 text message support to people experiencing any type of mental health crisis. As we know mental health is a growing concern during these unprecedented times so we have developed a partnership with Crisis Text Line that supports people who might be feeling anxious or isolated or just in need of support. Anyone can text the word TOMS to 741741 to be connected with a trained Crisis Counselor and access support whenever, wherever. TOMS aims to support mental health not just during the initial weeks of anxiety and isolation due to COVID-19, but as people continue to work through the challenges associated with job loss, insecurity, and health issues of family and friends.
We will continue to innovate and build upon our use of technology in order to connect and engage with our consumers on a deeper level.
What will be the lasting impact of COVID-19 on TOMS — your most optimistic answer and most pessimistic?
I'll start with my pessimistic answer which will lead into my optimistic answer. Our business, like so many others, has been impacted financially due to the pandemic. It will take some time, but we're hopeful we'll recover. The silver lining though is that regardless of our business taking a hit, we are still very much committed to our giving. As the Original One for One Company, TOMS has always been in business to improve lives, and as part of our response to the worldwide health crisis, we are focused on using business to protect lives. As of April 1st, for every $3 we make, we're donating $1 to the TOMS COVID-19 Global Giving Fund. This is a fund we developed which supports some of our existing Giving Partners that are directly responding to COVID-19 - both at home and abroad - through mental health support, hand washing, and medical supplies. Partners include Americares, Crisis Text Line, International Medical Corps, Partners In Health, The Mix, and WaterAid. I'm proud of the work we are doing, together with our customers, to help as many people as we can through this effort and I am optimistic that by staying true to our mission TOMS will emerge stronger than ever.
2020 has been an interesting year for TOMS from the very beginning. Many watched closely as the company's ownership was taken over by creditors in late January and just two months later the world got dealt a new challenging hand. How much more difficult has the impact of the pandemic been on TOMS given this quick chain of events?
Although TOMS has gone through recent changes this year, I wouldn't say we've had it more difficult. We have great support from our new owners which is a group of investors led by Jeffries, Nexus, and Brookfield. They have expressed a commitment to our company, our brand, and our mission and are investing to support in promising growth areas. Being a rather small organization, it provides us the benefit of moving and adapting swiftly so we've been able to adjust and react in a nimble way to the changing landscape for the business and for our impact.
The financial challenges of COVID-19 impact us all, but what happens to TOMS also impacts the people in need that are built into your business model. How do you ensure they remain a priority with so many channels of sales and distribution shut down?
Giving is in TOMS DNA and it is more important now than ever that we continue to prioritize helping those who need it most. Since giving is built into our business model, every person at the organization touches giving in some way so it is always a priority. In partnership with our customers we are proud to play a small role in the incredible work of our giving partners and I'm proud to say that even in the most trying time our commitment to our model has not waivered.
TOMS has been at the forefront of advocacy with the one-for-one program and gun-violence-prevention movement. What advocacy efforts do you think will be realized by this time in our history, and would TOMS once again be a leader in those efforts?
We are very proud that many organizations (hundreds!) have built giving into their business model. The more of an ecosystem we can create with companies and non-profit organizations tackling big social issues together, the more positive change we will create. Over the past 14 years we have learned a lot. With all that learning and with the world around us changing - we have evolved our giving model to create a more flexible and sustainable way of giving so we can create the most meaningful impact possible. Today, we give 1/3 of our net profits to organizations around the world that are working to create positive change — we do this through shoe giving and grants. The End Gun Violence Together campaign in 2018 was our first impact grant giving and the TOMS COVID-19 Global Giving Fund is another example of this grant based giving. We are still supporting organizations who are tackling the issue of gun violence in America today and have a commitment to do so for at least over the next 4 years.
We are constantly listening to our customers, Giving Partners, and employees in order to address the most pressing issues of our time. Over the next three months, we are donating $100,000 to organizations that are working to create racial justice and equality, starting with a $5,000 donation to Black Lives Matter. We will continue to support longtime Giving Partners that are experts in this space and will share updates on the organizations these funds will be going to in real time. We are not the first organization to speak up in this space and donate to this cause but we committed to lending our support. We know we have a lot of work to do both internally and externally and we are committed to putting in the work and supporting marginalized communities.
In times of great change, businesses tend to tighten their belts and act more conservatively, leaving advocacy for people in need behind. Why should other companies facing their own hardships continue their philanthropy during these uncertain times, as well as the aftermath?
Across all organizations and industries it is more important than ever to be transparent and engage authentically with your audience. Our customers want to know that we are listening to them, responding to their feedback, and doing what we can to help the community by sharing resources to help get further involved. We aim to practice this transparency at all times, not just during a global pandemic.
Although many companies have felt the negative financial effects of COVID-19, TOMS included, I believe now is the time to stay committed to our giving and the organizations and communities we partner with. Consumers are savvier than ever. They are voting their value with their wallets. What and how an organization gives is not what's critical - it can't just be that you give you also need to share your values.
At TOMS, our customers are directly tied to the impact. They are part of the movement. And when the community needs us, we are here to support.
What effect do you think COVID-19 will have on opportunities for near term college graduates, has it changed your views of this generation?
I think we are at a turning point for how businesses will operate. It is such an interesting time for young people to enter the workforce because organizations are finding their new normal. Like TOMS, I imagine most organizations are now leading with technology, and because this generation has grown up with technology I think it presents an opportunity to help shape the future of businesses. New college graduates will be part of these changes where everyone is working together to figure it out.
What advice do you have for young people?
My advice for young people is to find mentors. Young people do not need to have their career path sorted out at this point. Find people in different positions or industries you want to learn from and ask questions, watch them in action, and soak up the knowledge they have to offer. Mentors are a vital resource throughout your entire career! My other advice is to listen to your heart, pay attention when you feel passionate or excited, ask yourself why and how you can create more of those moments in your life. Driving your career and your life from a place of passion is always good advice but not always easy to remember.
How do you navigate the question of when and how to re-open your office?
The leadership team has addressed this question to our employees in a virtual all-staff meeting just a couple weeks ago. We shared that our plans for reopening are very much focused on the safety of our employees. We are following recommendations from local authorities, the CDC and WHO. While our office is still closed, we have a task force in place led by HR in building a strategy for how we can safely return to the office, but again we are not rushing to make this happen and will do so when the timing is right and every safety precaution is put in place.
How does your team balance personal life with professional life while working from home?
Each member of my team has found something different that works for them to find a work/life balance while working remotely. Some are practicing meditation while others are finding a balance between work and caring for their children. I encourage them all to take days off, step away from their computer for either a walk or while eating lunch, or in general just taking a break and physically removing themselves from the screen. We are all finding our new normal and making the best of the current situation.
Once the Safer at Home order is lifted and we get our city back, what's the first thing you're going to do?
Take my kids out for ice cream and get back to my cycling studio. I miss doing both so much!