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Aligning your actions with great intentions is critical to leadership

Pete Gombert started Balihoo in 2009, and quickly learned about how his good intentions on equal pay were not translating to good results.
Pete Gombert started Balihoo in 2009, and quickly learned about how his good intentions on equal pay were not translating to good results. Statesman file

Back in 2009, when Pete Gombert was building his third startup company, Balihoo, in Boise, Congress passed the Lillie Ledbetter Act requiring equal pay for equal work. Pete said to himself, “That’s exactly what we do.” Nevertheless, he decided to check whether his company was, in fact, paying women the same as men. “The reality was we had problems everywhere!” he recalls.

“This rattled my foundations. I thought I was a good employer with a good culture, but my actions were not aligned with my intentions.”

Gombert then looked for ways consumers could determine which companies aligned with their values – a certification of good practices. He didn’t find much. So after successfully selling Balihoo in 2016, Gombert decided to do it himself. In 2017 he created GoodWell, a Boise-based public benefits corporation that certifies companies as “fair, equitable and humane.”

Two books inspired him. One was “Let My People go Surfing,” by the legendary environmentalist and Patagonia CEO Yvon Chouinard, about conducting business on behalf of all society’s stakeholders, not just its shareholders. The other was “Conscious Capitalism,” by John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods.

Big capital is also behind principled capitalism, Pete notes. Recently Larry Fink of BlackRock – which manages the investment largest fund in the world – wrote, “Society is demanding that both public and private companies serve social purposes. Managing for short-term shareholder profit is not an acceptable management strategy.”

Today, GoodWell certifies governments, nonprofits and businesses using 11 standards. They measure employee satisfaction and retention; average compensation vs. CEO and management pay; gender and racial pay equity; paying living wages; safety; benefits; and full-time vs. part-time staff. (The city of Boise is certified, for example.)

While GoodWell is ramping up, Gombert is also taking on the modest challenge of disrupting the housing industry. You’ve probably heard of a new company using shipping containers to build homes that are “sustainable, energy-efficient, healthy, durable and affordable.” That would be IndieDwell. Gombert is its co-founder, with builder Scott Flynn, and serves as executive chairman.

By 2019 Gombert expects hundreds of $70,000 homes to be rolling off a Boise assembly line every year, a potential godsend for working families in an exploding housing market. So there he goes again: Gombert living out his values.

Jerry Brady is a member of Compassionate Boise, and is a lawyer who practiced international trade law.