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Encouraging companies to be better corporate citizens

James Temple is director of corporate responsibility at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

What is your full name and title? And how long have you been in this role?

James Temple, director of corporate responsibility, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and leader, PwC Canada Foundation. I've been in the job three years.

What exactly do you do?

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I make sure PwC is being socially, environmentally, and economically responsible. I also help people build a career with purpose.

I work behind the scenes and provide oversight to the firm's community engagement programs and the efforts of our Canadian charitable foundation. I also engage employees in environmental sustainability initiatives, create our annual Corporate Responsibility report, and speak to people about how our business is going beyond the bottom line to make a difference in the world.

Describe what you do on any given day.

Most of my days are spent working with PwC's stakeholders – like our employees, clients, new recruits, NGOs [non-government organizations] or even the media – to understand how our firm can use its skills, voice and relationships to become a catalyst for change.

This could involve anything from providing coaching to a not-for-profit executive, hosting a round table dialogue with industry CEOs about emerging business issues, or even presenting a TED talk on how to embrace your inner change maker.

What's your background and education?

I have a BA in Geographic Analysis from Ryerson University, a certificate in Advertising and Media from the Canadian Marketing Association, and I am a certified sustainability practitioner through the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence.

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Some of my previous jobs have included grant making with the RBC Foundation, community relations work at Direct Energy, and conservation planning for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

How did you get to your position?

I grew up watching the globalization movement unfold, the Internet develop, and the dot-com bubble burst. I was disappointed in the lack of leadership that was being shown by corporations, and the need for them to develop a social conscience. I started my career in the not-for-profit sector, learning about the ways that organizations can be successful by having a social purpose.

Once I made the switch over to corporations, I took on roles that allowed me to learn as much as I could about the business and the impact it had on the world around us. I applied this knowledge to my day-to-day work, building the business case for roles related to corporate social responsibility (CSR). I started my career just when these sorts of roles started to become mainstream.

What's the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is having the opportunity to meet everyday people who have extraordinary stories to tell. I get to listen, learn and help empower them to think about how to make a difference in the world while building their career at (or with) our firm. I can connect with people based on our shared values. That's pretty amazing, if you ask me.

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What's the worst part of your job?

Everyone has a charitable cause that they are passionate about or a strategy that they feel will help an organization become a better corporate citizen. At times you've got to deliver a difficult message to people when the strategic fit isn't clear, and finding a creative way to say 'no' is the most challenging aspect of my job.

What are your strengths in this role?

Being a skilled communicator and someone who can juggle multiple deadlines and competing priorities is critical. The role is a lot like air traffic control. You've got to stay focused on the end result while adapting to changing situations that might require your immediate attention. For a job in CSR [corporate social responsibility] you need to go broad with your knowledge, be patient and know how to have fun. You're a face of your organization and people will look up to you as an example of how to exemplify great leadership capabilities.

What are your weaknesses?

I'm still trying to master the art of good work-life balance and make sure that I'm taking enough time for me. My role requires me to be 'on' 24/7 – at work events, speaking engagements, personal volunteering commitments – and it's important not to overextend. I'm still on this journey, but I'm getting better.

What has been your best career move?

Three years ago, I took over as chair for the Association of Corporate Grantmakers, an external networking group that helps to connect people working within the corporate responsibility space. I've been able to meet hundreds of new contacts, lead conversations about where my industry is going and make new friends along the way – including one who forwarded me the job posting at PwC and recommended that I apply. The rest is history.

What has been your worst career move?

I once took on a job because it was easy and I was good at it. I thought it would help me get ahead and I had a vision of dollar signs guiding my actions. It took me over a year to figure out that I was all wrong.

You grow the most when you're uncomfortable and you should harness the feeling and let it energize you. The rest will fall into place.

What's your next big job goal?

As much as I'd like to say I'll be leading a company in five years, I'd rather take the winding road that's full of new adventures and spend some time enjoying the scenery. My goal is to let my career happen, not to force it or let a planning process hinder my creativity.

What's your best advice to others who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Be bold and curious. Make sure to engage unusual suspects in conversations that inspire you to think differently. You must never compromise your values and make sure you work for an organization that embraces those values.

This kind of thinking helps define what corporate responsibility is all about and guides my work every day.

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