The biosphere crisis requires changes to existing business practices. We ask how corporations can become sustainability leaders, when constrained by multiple barriers to collaboration for biosphere stewardship. We describe how scientists motivated, inspired and engaged with ten of the world’s largest seafood companies, in a collaborative process aimed to enable science-based and systemic transformations (2015–2021). CEOs faced multiple industry crises in 2015 that incentivized novel approaches. New scientific insights, an invitation to collaborate, and a bold vision of transformative change towards ocean stewardship, created new opportunities and direction. Co-creation of solutions resulted in new knowledge and trust, a joint agenda for action, new capacities, international recognition, formalization of an organization, increased policy influence, time-bound goals, and convergence of corporate change. Independently funded scientists helped remove barriers to cooperation, provided means for reflection, and guided corporate strategies and actions toward ocean stewardship. By 2021, multiple individuals exercised leadership and the initiative had transitioned from preliminary and uncomfortable conversations, to a dynamic, operational organization, with capacity to perform global leadership in the seafood industry. Mobilizing transformational agency through learning, collaboration, and innovation represents a cultural evolution with potential to redirect and accelerate corporate action, to the benefit of business, people and the planet.