Larry J. Blanford was visiting a community in Guatemala when he had what he describes as a transformational experience. The community was one of his company’s suppliers in the coffee business, and as president and CEO of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Blanford wanted to meet some of the people his company relied on for its success as one of the most popular coffee suppliers in America.
It was a visit he’d never forget because of a chance encounter with a student at a Catholic high school. He toured the school and even played basketball with some of the students.
Then a young woman approached him.
“Her mother had passed away three months prior, and she was a senior. She wanted to let me know how grateful she was of Green Mountain Coffee’s support and that she was going to be a nurse and return to the community to provide health care. I could feel the tears well up inside me as she spoke.”
Now retired, Blanford told the story to the audience gathered for the 2014 Distinguished Speaker Series luncheon held at the Cintas Center on Tuesday, March 18. He also told them he’s proud of the company’s commitment to social justice that percolated from corporate officials down to the average employee.
As keynote speaker whose topic was “Business as a Vocation, a Positive Force for Changing the World,” Blanford said that business is a social force that has the power to improve lives and communities. For example, Green Mountain provides funding for schools in some of the communities, like the one in Guatemala, that supply them with coffee.
"You have the opportunity to live out your faith and make business an enlightening force that can raise communities out of poverty," he said.
Blanford spent six years at the helm of Green Mountain, from 2007-2012, during which he was recognized as the Responsible CEO of the Year by Corporate Responsibility Magazine in 2009 and 2010. He referred to himself as “Head Coach” rather than his formal title, reflecting a style of leadership where he was more of a colleague than a boss.
The MBA he earned from Xavier in 1984 complemented his degree in chemical engineering and launched him on a 35-year career at various companies including as an engineer at Procter & Gamble and in corporate leadership at Maytag and Philips.
During his tenure, Green Mountain developed the popular single-serve Keurig coffee brewing system and became one of the country’s fastest-growing public companies. Blanford is credited with growing the company from regional roaster to a national leader in single-serve beverages.
The Distinguished Speaker Series is an annual series of presentations and lectures presented by the Williams College of Business featuring prominent top-level business, academic and political leaders designed to educate, enlighten and inspire. Recent speakers include Bruce Weinstein, “The Ethics Guy,” Olympus whistleblower Michael Woodford, Economist editor Greg Ip, author Amity Shlaes, Federal Reserve Bank officer LaVaughn Henry, Cincinnati Bell CEO Jack Cassidy, Procter & Gamble CEO Bob McDonald, and McDonald’s vice president Karen Wells.