Alumna champions the idea that business can elevate humanity
by Carlos Anchondo ’14
“A company’s culture should be defined from Day One. An organization that is wired for the future has a values system, is purpose driven, and should create value for every stakeholder.”
Thea Polancic ’90 believes that at the core of every successful, sustainable company is a distinct set of guiding principles. As the founder and managing partner of ClearSpace, Polancic works to instill a culture of accountability and meaning in burgeoning startups and mid-market companies. Polancic maintains that business might be the most powerful force for good in the world, a belief which asserts that getting results is about more than just the bottom line.
Starting with CEOs and leadership teams, ClearSpace coaches companies at moments of growth and creates organizational structures designed for every employee to achieve. By teaching top executives to work effectively together, Polancic and her team allow organizations to perform at the highest levels of success.
“We feel that by helping leaders evolve and be the kind of people to steer healthy organizations, that’s the kind of tide that raises all ships,” Polancic says.
As an undergraduate at Trinity, Polancic majored in art history and Russian studies. To pursue a career in the Russian art market, Polancic enrolled in doctoral work at the University of Southern California. A scholarly exchange brought her to St. Petersburg’s Russian Museum, located on the banks of the Moyka River. After her research ended that summer, Polancic was determined to stay in St. Petersburg, landing a job with Caterpillar, the construction machinery manufacturer. It was 1994 and the market was ripe for expats like Polancic. Five years later, the Ph.D. art student had transformed into the chief administrative officer at Caterpillar’s Moscow office. A business executive was born.
Moving back to her home state of Illinois, Polancic founded ClearSpace in 2002. As she grew her business, the former National Merit Scholar from Peoria thought deeply about her purpose. She envisioned a world of beauty, prosperity, and happiness that was fueled by business. To realize this dream, Polancic convened a group of like-minded business people in Chicago who also saw business as a source for good. The group that emerged would later become the Chicago chapter of Conscious Capitalism, a global movement dedicated to elevating humanity through business.
This year, Polancic is the organization’s co-chair at the national conference in Chicago. She is responsible for helping to bring in the keynote lecturers and vetting the practicums that make up four different tracks. Daniel Lubetzky ’90, CEO and founder of KIND snacks, is among the keynote speakers and is a personal friend of Polancic, having served together on Freshman Council while at Trinity.
“I would like for conference participants to be inspired by what is possible, by the difference they can make, and to ask what the next step is in their businesses,” Polancic says. “Each person will go back to their business ready to unleash an awesome force for good.”
In addition to chairing the 2016 Conscious Capitalism conference, Polancic continues to lead as founder and chair of the organization’s Chicago chapter. Each year Polancic organizes more than 20 events that include panels, socials, field trips to area companies, and networking events for CEOs. As she continues to “innovate on the idea of business itself,” Polancic reflects back to her days at Trinity when she learned that critical thinking skills are one of the most important traits a business leader can possess. Polancic says that taking courses ranging from economics to Eastern European history to the Italian Renaissance taught her to connect subjects that do not appear to naturally fit together. Today, as she teaches Fortune 1000 companies to blend ideas like purpose and profit, Polancic says she draws daily on the analytical skills she learned at Trinity.
Twenty-six years after trading the banks of the San Antonio River for the Windy City, Polancic says it is time for the Conscious Capitalism movement. She looks forward to the day when people cannot remember business without a higher purpose, when each company’s culture truly is a force for good.
Carlos Anchondo is a writer and editor for University Marketing and Communication. He is a 2014 graduate of Trinity and can be found at @cjanchondo or at canchond [at] trinity.edu.