The title is a play on words. Yes, I am completely closing down my nearly 30-year-old company, AtKisson, Inc., and English uses the phrase “for good” to mean “permanently.”
But I also want to celebrate that company’s history, because it truly aimed to be a force for good: aiming to do good things, and to be a good business in the ethical sense.
I started it as a one-man enterprise, “AtKisson & Associates”, founded in late 1992 as a vehicle for the consulting, innovation and change work for sustainability that had become my guiding passion. At that point, the “Associates” were imaginary. But they came.
My dear friends Lawrence Molloy and Lee Hatcher (Lee is now deceased) helped me build the business by offering free rent. Other friends invested time, sweat, ideas and money. Lee ultimately joined as a managing director and worked with me for many years.
By 1997 the business was incorported as AtKisson, Inc., and by 2001 we had offices in both Seattle and Stockholm. In 2009, in partnership with my friend Axel Klimek, we branched into Germany as well (Axel now owns and runs a spinoff from the firm called the Center for Sustainability Transformation, building further on his own extensive experience and client base). At its peak the AtKisson Group never employed more than a handful of people, but we managed a very dedicated network of other firms, university-based programs, and individuals — stretching from the US and Europe to Thailand, Australia and Japan — who could join together for team projects at a global scale.
The “AtKisson Group”, as we called the network, often out-competed much larger firms to win truly amazing clients, ranging from leading nonprofits like WWF to global iconic companies like Levi Strauss. We had a very broad client base: for many years we advised the US Army on how to make its US and European bases greener, while at the same time helping UN agencies to train media people and activist groups on how to spread the word on sustainability.
Our client relationships were very long-lasting. We worked with Levi’s for over a decade. We supported the multi-nation “Baltic 21” initiative off and on, through many changes in its leadership and its structure, for over 17 years.
The workshop and planning tools we developed have been used by communities of indigenous Australians, university sustainability programs, corporate CSR initiatives, and many more — ultimately including hundreds of teachers and schools around the world. (The tools are now owned and managed by Compass Education, a non-profit spinoff from the AtKisson Group.)
I am particularly proud of the reputation we had for doing very high quality work, and for holding high standards of integrity. We never compromised our principles. If I felt another firm’s methods were better suited for the job, I said so to the client. Everyone who joined our network signed our Code of Ethics. If something went wrong with a project, or the client was not 100% happy, we fixed it, at no extra charge.
Of course we had our ups and downs as a business. But we survived 9/11 (half our contracts were canceled overnight), hurricane Katrina (New Orleans was a major client at the time), and the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, among other challenges. We were never a huge success economically. But we were efficient, effective, resilient, competitive, and long-lasting.
And we were extremely mission-driven. Corporate and government work was valuable in itself, but I also used it to help subsidize UN and international development work, some of which was partly voluntary.
Some of my favorite work under the banner of the AtKisson Group involved advising and supporting the United Nations Secretariat over nearly a decade (I did that work as an individual), and also teaching officials in international training programs funded by Sida, where I now work. These were not the most lucrative clients, to say the least, but they were very satisfying to work with because the results were so tangible, and sometimes global in their impact. (In an odd twist of fate, I am now leading the department at Sida that funded some of those programs.)
In 2018, when I joined Sida, I put the company on ice. Colleagues in my network continued on, of course, and they still do; and it was hard to say goodbye to something I had built up over decades. But I felt called to follow the evolution of sustainable development work — which I and my company had helped to pioneer — into the mainstream of government decision-making. Because mainstreaming sustainability had always been the whole purpose of the enterprise, from the beginning.
The Swedish subsidiary was dissolved in 2019, in 2021 I donated most of the company’s assets to Compass Education, and as of 2022, the US company will formally cease to exist.
So, now it is time to say a final goodbye to my wonderful little company, which allowed me to both pursue personal dreams and to work for global goals, and to make that my job. I also want send out a huge thanks to the friends, sponsors and investors who helped build the company, the professionals who worked with me as employees or associates, the advisors who kept us on track legally and financially, and the many clients (285 different organizations) who engaged our services.
THANK YOU. All of you made AtKisson, Inc. — and all the impacts it made, over three decades — possible. I am, and will always be, deeply grateful.
Note: The website of the company will remain online (AtKisson.com) for a while as an archive and as a memory. The website also provides links to organizations in the network, some of whom continue to work as professional consultants, trainers and advisers.