Headshot of Phil Clement
Phil Clement

Phil Clement, AM/MBA’93, has a penchant for growing things — global brands, social movements, even the plants and trees in his garden. That passion to grow is what first drew him to the Harris School of Public Policy.

“They said, ‘We need people who are going to build the school.’ I liked that idea,’’ said Clement, whose career spans technology startups and multinational corporations. 

Thirty years later, Clement sees an institution that’s changed dramatically in stature, size, and infrastructure while staying true to the original vision.

“The world needs more fact-based conversation about policy, and Harris is one of the few places that is 100 percent focused on making that happen,’’ Clement said. “I can’t tell you how impressed I am with what’s been built.”

An avid Harris volunteer and advocate, Clement has agreed to match up to $10,000 in scholarships gifts in honor of Giving Tuesday, November 30.

Clement is Global Chief Marketing Officer at Johnson Controls, a company with 105,000 employees in 120+ countries and $24 billion in annual revenue. Previously he spent 12 years as Global Chief Marketing Officer for Aon, the London-based insurance giant, and before that launched a number of tech companies and his own consultancy.

His is not the typical Harris resume, and certainly not the one he imagined when he entered the program. Clement thought he’d run a not-for-profit or work in government, focused on issues of poverty, equity, and sustainability.

He hopes his path illustrates that there are many ways to leave your mark on the world.

“I'd like to reduce the contrast a bit between the for-profit sector and other alternatives, because the stuff one works on can have huge positive social impact,’’ Clement said. “I've never felt removed from that core sense of mission.’’

It was Johnson Controls’ leadership in sustainability that drew Clement out of an early retirement two years ago. The company’s smart-building technology is aimed at decarbonizing buildings in a wide range of industries, from healthcare to manufacturing to schools.

As a marketer and lifelong environmentalist, Clement relished the challenge to clarify and articulate the mission, technology, and products, not only for internal benefit and business success but also to drive the international conversation around climate.

Earlier this month, for example, leading into the UN COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, he and his colleagues prepared material for heads of state and President Biden. His team engages Alliances of CEO Climate Leaders and urges governments to work with the private sector to accelerate the race to net-zero.

“There is no way around the urgency of this,’’ Clement said. “Buildings are 40 percent of the world's carbon footprint, and we're introducing technology right now that can reduce that by 50 to 60 percent.

“It is a huge priority. We’re talking with the top 50 CEOs, and 85 percent of them say it’s their number one priority.’’

Big companies like Johnson Controls and Aon often have the ability to make changes that are slow to come in other ways.

“We can work on things like racial inequality in ways that are difficult for others — because we can create programs for historically Black colleges, we can hire people, we can put in practices that make sure that fairness is embraced,’’ Clement said. “We can lead in the LGBTQ community in practical ways, as just pointing to the problem doesn't necessarily solve it — but actually leading and behaving in ways that changes things makes an immediate difference.’’ 

Marketing and policy are directly correlated today, a link that didn’t exist when Clement was at Harris, he observes. Social media and the internet have created transparency, motivating brands to emphasize authenticity.

“Companies now understand that the mission-driven organization is super important, and being mission-oriented is a premise of why they exist,’’ Clement said. “Authenticity is a corporate word now, and it's very genuine. So that means sustainability, that means understanding diversity and inclusion, it's knowing the impact your organization has in these areas.’’

Clement comes by his mission mindset and eclectic interests naturally. His parents were activists. His father is a University of Chicago graduate who worked in a variety of businesses, including film and running the Hard Rock Cafe. His mother, a scientist, and teacher, now is engaged in land preservation and is both spiritual about nature and technical as a botanist.

Clement spent formative years in Seattle, where life was all about the outdoors. The family moved to Chicago when he was in high school. At New Trier High School, he began his “journey of the mind,’’ pursuits ranging from radio and TV shows to British history to student government and activism.

Clement studied anthropology, documentary filmmaking, and journalism as an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California. After college, he spent a year or so in entertainment, writing and illustrating children’s books, even working as a stuntman on the set of the children’s game show Fun House.

“I realized I needed to pick something, and I needed more socially constructive things to do,’’ Clement said.

Harris was “literally transformational… I was pushed into a whole new world of understanding a lot of different topics.’’

One of his first projects was studying rent control in Santa Monica, where he had lived. “I knew a lot about rent control in Santa Monica, but only from the qualitative side, from the stories of people who lived there. As I did the study, I realized that rent control was destroying (a community), and it was a hugely eye-opening experience for me.’’

While a Harris student, he worked part-time as an investigator at the Better Government Association (and later served on the BGA’s board of directors). And, through the Harris Mentor Program, he was fortunate, he says, to be assigned to political consultant David Axelrod, who went on to become President Obama’s chief advisor, and also to esteemed journalist Bill Kurtis. Both had an impact for Clement. 

He met his wife Mary Ann Everlove while he was a student at Harris. They have two sons — P.T., a recent USC grad who is working at the intersection of film and entrepreneurial finance, and Matthew, who studies film at USC.

Clement’s best friend is his brother David, a singer-songwriter who lives in New York and is writing a musical about the Weathermen Underground, the 1960s-70s radical militant organization.

Clement is passionate about gardening and photography, specializing in pictures of trees.  “I am literally a tree hugger, a lifelong member of the Johnny Horizon Club,’’ he says.

“Trees tell a story. Many of them have gone through something in their life, and they grow in a way to adapt around a trauma, that’s what I try to capture, resilience and growth overcoming adversity.”

Clement keeps in touch with a number of Harris classmates, and even more so as the years go on.

“I think there’s a recognition that we had this common experience and still have a common way of thinking,’’ Clement said. “Even though we may have very different end results, we are still thinking about it in the same way and can engage in that conversation.’’

His work with Harris is motivated in part by a determination to maintain the Harris rigor of thought. “I'm just constantly trying to avoid that intuitive safe way of thinking, and I think that my involvement in Harris keeps challenging my thinking.’’

He’s also deeply inspired by the students.

“When you talk to Harris students, you understand that they are the ones who will create a better future.’’