In this section:

Take time to stop and smell the roses, part 1 … here you will find articles on a wide range of topics, probably nothing to do with business or economics, but items that tickle the interest.

November 7, 2018

§2. The Business Case

In this series of three brief articles, Ron Ainsbury, Visiting Fellow at the Cranfield School of Management and Senior Fellow at the Research Centre Business Innovation at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, sets out why and how New Zealand directors should be directing efforts to ensure that their businesses have a clear purpose and have the governance systems in place to ensure that the purpose is followed. In this second article we look at the evidence that businesses that do embrace responsibility and sustainability outperform competitors.

The Business Case

Business leaders, seduced by the lure of shareholder value maximisation, often proffer multiple excuses for not taking more positive action on ESG[1]issues, that they can’t afford it. Costs will go up. We are too small. Yes, we understand the triple bottom line – but for now it needs to be profit first, people and planet can come later, when we can afford it.

Yet, the evidence reveals these to be false arguments. Businesses that are embedding responsible and sustainable business practices show, lower costs, higher employee engagement and productivity and improved returns.

It may seem strange to have to set out a business case for being responsible and sustainable. Keith Weed, Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer, has said “I’d love to see the business case for being unsustainable!”

The evidence is now conclusive. As the late Ray Anderson said – it is a better business model.[2]

In 2010 Britain’s Business in the Community recognized a divide between those that “embrace sustainability-driven strategy and management, and those that don’t. These ‘embracers’ are the businesses that will survive and thrive”. BITC commissioned the Cranfield School of Managementto compile the business benefits for being a responsible business, “to help those currently at an earlier stage of the journey”. The study[3]demonstrated seven ways in which business benefits:

  1. Brand value and reputation
  2. Employees and future workforce
  3. Operational effectiveness
  4. Risk reduction and management
  5. Direct financial impact
  6. Organisational growth
  7. Business opportunity.

Since that study, several further research papers have highlighted the benefits.  In 2011 a Harvard study[4]provided “evidence that High Sustainability companies significantly outperform their counterparts over the long-term, both in terms of stock market as well as accounting performance.”

In 2014 a study by the Smith School at Oxford Universityand Arabesque Asset Managementshowed that Companies with strong sustainability scores show better operational performance and are less riskyand that Investment strategies that incorporate ESG issues outperform comparable non-ESG strategies.[5]

In 2015 Project ROI[6]built on the 2010 BITC findings cited above and provided detailed economic analyses on business benefits:

  • Share price and market value
  • Sales and revenue
  • Reputation and brand
  • Human resources
  • Risk and license to operate.

The report concluded that a “more productive approach will be to develop business-aligned and integrated CR strategies.”

In January 2016 the Financial Times highlighted a report[7]by HBR Analytica and EY’s Beacon Institute that found “companies with a purpose beyond profit tend to make more money.”

In 2017 in a HBS Whiteboard session Andrew Winston[8]neatly summarises the arguments in “The Business Case for Sustainability.” No wonder then that so many leading global businesses are not just dabbling with ESG issues but going “All In”[9].

When Larry Fink, the CEO of the world’s largest investor, Blackrock, writes to the CEOs of companies he invests in and urges them to find their purpose and that the “board is essential to helping a company articulate and pursue its purpose” purpose – it is time for NZ Boards to sit up and take action.[10]

[1]Environmental, Social, and Governance issues.

[2]https://www.ted.com/talks/ray_anderson_on_the_business_logic_of_sustainability

[3]The Business Case for being a responsible business” 2011 available on www.bitc.org.uk

[4]The Impact of Corporate Sustainability on Organizational Processes and Performance by Robert G. Eccles, Ioannis Ioannou, and George Serafeim HBR Working Paper 2011

[5]From the stockholder to the stakeholder:How sustainability can drive financial outperformance”by Smith School, Oxford Universityand Arabesque Asset Management 2014

[6]Project ROI Defining the Competitive and Financial Advantages of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability by IO Sustainability and Babson College 2015

[7]https://www.ft.com/content/b22933e0-b618-11e5-b147-e5e5bba42e51

[8]https://hbr.org/video/5415413929001/whiteboard-session-the-business-case-for-sustainability

[9]“All In: The Future of Business Leadership” by David Grayson,‎ Chris Coulter,‎ Mark Lee Greenfield Publishing 2018

[10]https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-ceo-letter

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November 6, 2018

§1. Profit Is not the purpose of business!

In this series of three brief articles, Ron Ainsbury, Visiting Fellow at the Cranfield School of Management and Senior Fellow at the Research Centre Business Innovation at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, sets out why and how New Zealand directors should be directing efforts to ensure that their businesses have a clear purpose and have the governance systems in place to ensure that the purpose is followed.

Perhaps, by focusing on purpose and embedding the culture and values to support that purpose, much of the unethical behaviour of corporations could be reduced and so much of the focus on the plethora of compliance rules, regulations and procedures minimised.

The Purpose of Business

The IOD’s Four Pillars of Governance Best Practice, states that ‘Corporate governance exists to help organisations achieve their fundamental purpose … typically to maximise shareholder value.’ Why?

This focus on short-term profit and maximising quarterly shareholder value has grown since the US Economist Milton Friedman first stated “there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”

As a result, since then, most business schools, business commentators and analysts have developed and used various profitability measures such as quarterly earnings per share, to gauge the success of businesses, and stock market investors narrow their focus even further, sometimes to daily profit expectations.

But shareholder value is not a legal requirement. The NZ Companies Act 1993, 131 (1) states that ‘A director of a company, when exercising powers or performing duties, must act in good faith and in what the director believes to be the best interests of the company.’ Australian, US, and UK laws reiterate this, using ‘best interests of the shareholders’ as the guideline for a director’s decision-making.

In recent years the wisdom of focusing a businesses’ purpose on shareholder value has come into question. Martin Wolf writing in the Financial Times wrote: “Almost nothing in economics is more important than thinking through how companies should be managed and for what ends. Unfortunately, we have made a mess of this. That mess has a name: it is “shareholder value maximisation”. Operating companies in line with this belief not only leads to misbehaviour but may also militate against their true social aim, which is to generate greater prosperity.”

This view has been repeated in several articles, for example, James Montier of the global investment firm GMO wrote a well-researched article in which he demonstrated that
shareholder value maximization is “The World’s Dumbest Idea”.

It is time business went back to basics. With a few exceptions, businesses start when an entrepreneur sees a situation where a group of people can have a problem solved. As Peter Drucker once put it, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”

Creating and keeping customers could mean offering a new product or service that is cheaper, or of higher quality, longer-lasting, is disposable, offers superior performance, offers faster performance, and so on. In each case there is a group of people who are willing to pay for this innovation. If we look at the successful companies of today and trace back to how they first started, we see this clearly:

  • Nike, founded by an athletics coach, who wanted his athletes to have better performing running shoes
  • Google founded by students who wanted to be able to find academic papers on the internet more easily
  • Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wanted to help individuals share experiences with friends
  • Henri Nestlé wanted to help mothers who couldn’t breastfeed
  • Steve Jobs wanted everyone to be able to have computer power in their hands
  • Quakers offered to provide safe custody of gold for 17th century London goldsmiths and founded Barclays!

Each of these companies ventured into unethical behaviour, I assert because as they grew their governance focus shifted from purpose, values, and culture to short-term profitability, most probably as a result of stock market pressures.

Of course, there are many people who start a business simply dreaming they will become rich, but unless they find a market and provide an innovative solution, they won’t. If the entrepreneur manages the new businesses efficiently, then she or he earns a profit on the investment.

Drucker sets out three purposes of profit:

  • validation of the soundness of an enterprise’s efforts (the right purpose)
  • compensation for the risks that the business is incurring (dividends for investors
  • the generation of resources needed to fund future growth (sustainability).

The way to ensure the sustainability of the enterprise is to reinvest in innovation and meeting consumer needs.

Some continually argued against this profit-centred approach. Charles Handy, in the Michael Shanks Memorial Lecture in 1990 argued “To say that profit is a means to other ends and is not an end in itself is not a semantic quibble, it is a serious moral point.” And went on to address the purpose of business.

In recent years there has been a move away from Friedman’s profit-centred focus as business leaders have rediscovered the power of purpose. While John Elkington’s “People Planet Profit” may have started a trend towards businesses taking a lead in being socially responsible (CSR ) this new focus on purpose is not CSR it is central to the business. As David Grayson and others argue in their recently-published book, it is about companies going All In” (“All In: The Future of Business Leadership” by David Grayson, Chris Coulter and Mark Lee. Routledge 2018).

In October 2014 Coca-Cola Enterprise sponsored a “Future for Sustainability” Summit and commissioned a Cranfield School of Management and the Financial Times study, entitled ‘Combining Profit and Purpose’.

In a recent article, the strategy guru, Michael Porter wrote: “A big part of the problem lies with companies themselves, which remain trapped in an outdated approach to value creation that has emerged over the past few decades. They continue to view value creation narrowly, optimizing short-term financial performance in a bubble while missing the most important customer needs and ignoring the broader influences that determine their longer-term success. How else could companies overlook the wellbeing of their customers, the depletion of natural resources vital to their businesses, the viability of key suppliers, or the economic distress of the communities in which they produce and sell? How else could companies think that simply shifting activities to locations with ever lower wages was a sustainable “solution” to competitive challenges?

The role of Purpose is thoroughly set out in a seminal book “The Power of Purpose” by John O’Brien and Andrew Cave, required reading for every CEO and Director, indeed, for anyone interested in starting or running a successful enterprise, whether for profit or not.

Even in the world of investment finance, where the purpose of investing is purely for profit, we see a realisation of the importance of Purpose. Earlier this year Blackrock’s Larry Fink encouraged CEOs to reconsider their purpose writing “Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential.”

“The bottom line result is that purpose-driven, people-centric, values-driven companies outperform. Not just because they do better sustainably over time, but because they avoid the risk. They avoid the Volkswagen and the Tesco problems, and they avoid the thing that wipes 30% off their share prices.” Ann Francke, CEO, CMI

Instead of criticising those who have signed up to the New Zealand Climate Leaders’ Coalition we should all be encouraging all business leaders to go further and focus on the wide range of ESG risks and ensure that their individual businesses have a clear purpose. NZ directors may find that they will need to spend less time on compliance.

Next

In the second article in the series Ron will present the evidence that businesses that focus on purpose and manage responsibly and sustainably, taking into account their potential impact on a wide range of stakeholders, generate superior returns for their investors.

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October 5, 2017

Trust and Business Leadership

Can much of the current political unrest be explained by the decline in trust of our leading institutions by the majority of citizens? A brief read of Edelman’s Trust Barometer might cause one to agree.

https://www.edelman.com/trust2017/

In answer to the question: ‘How much do you trust?’ in a survey of 33,000 respondents aged 18 and over in 25 markets 53% said they trusted NGOs, 52% trusted business, 43% trusted the media, and 41% trusted government. The level of distrust varies across countries but in almost every country there has been a steady decline in trust over the past the past few years.

Table: Distrust figures for selected countries

Reading behind these global figures are some interesting details.

In a crisis government official are only rated as very or extremely credible by 29% of the population, CEOs fared a little better at 37%. Most people are skeptical about what they are told by leader in a crisis.

Edelman sets out the path of a downward spiral as concerns turn into fears. Edelman focuses on five major concerns: corruption, globalization, eroding social values, immigration, and the pace of innovation. As concerns among the population grow to fears their belief in the system is eroded. Trust declines. The risk of population action rises.

Figure: Edelman’s Downward Spiral

    Implications for Business

If CEOs, NGOs. And government are not credible – then who are credible?

A person like me 60%

Technical expert 60%

Academic expert 60%.

Even these figures are not encouraging, 2 out of 5 people do NOT find these people credible!

‘Business plays a role in stoking societal fears’ says Edelman as people worry about losing their jobs because of lack of training ,or to foreign competitors, or to immigrants willing to work for lower wages, or because jobs are moved to offshore. Little surprise then that protectionism is on the rise.

The advice for business is clearly set out. Citizens expect that businesses should stop:

a. Paying bribes
b. Paying senior executives hundreds of times more than workers
c. Moving profits offshore
d. Overcharge for products that are necessities of life
e. Reducing costs by lowering quality …

and instead:

a. Adopt ethical business practices
b. Treat employees well
c. Pay fair share of taxes
d. Listen to customers
e. Offer high quality products / services.

There is a wealth of detail behind these statistics and while details vary from country to country what seems to be clear from Edelman’s report (which has been conducted annually since 2001) is that across the world people are crying out for leadership. And business leaders have the opportunity to provide responsible leadership. But they need to put the interests of consumers and their employees above their own personal desires.

This message is amplified by Simon Sinek in his talk “Why leaders eat last”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReRcHdeUG9Y

September 24, 2017

Will you find a job when you graduate?

I wrote this note primarily for my students at Rotterdam Business School …

One of the major concerns of students and employees is – will the Digital Economy mean less jobs to go around? This fear is compounded in the west by the export of many jobs to lower-wage countries – globalization.

This is a natural concern when looking at recent headlines:

“RBS moves 443 jobs to Mumbai from the UK”
“Mothercare looks to halve the number of stores”
“Will the rise of AI terminate our jobs?”

Even in some of the lower-wage cost countries, jobs are being lost. IBM India recently announced that at least 5,000 jobs might go – and an IBM spokesperson explained: “re-skilling and rebalancing is an ongoing process as we accelerate the benefits of cognitive and cloud technologies for clients around the world”.

The optimist suggests that (as predicted by John Maynard Keynes) that our problem is going to be how to fill the leisure time that is going to be created by day-today jobs being filled by robots of one kind or another. Indeed, Warren Buffett praises companies that reduce staffing levels: “They have followed the standard capitalist formula … of trying to do the same business with fewer people. People live better when there is more output per capita.” But are we living better? The pessimist points out that despite the rise in digitalization and use of robots most people are still working as hard as ever. The realist in me suggests that if everyone is going to benefit from digitalization, artificial intelligence, robotization, etc. – then we are going to need a radical change in how society functions

In the meantime, what are we (and you) going to do? One point of view suggest that in the future we will all be entrepreneurs – that will require new skills and capabilities, particularly creativity.

Perhaps the news from Infosys in India shows the way for those of you who don’t have an entrepreneurial bent. While annual hiring of full-time staff in Infosys India will be lowered to around 6,000 new employees in 2016-17. At the same time 11,000 employees had been moved from manual repetitive tasks and redeveloped them to positions requiring creativity and imagination. Infosys further claims it has retrained 140,000 of its 200,000 staff since 2014 – resulting in higher productivity, more creative positions. So clearly being able to develop new skills helps those at Infosys keep their jobs.

Have business schools kept up with changes? In a 2014 blog, “Business Schools have lost a staggering amount of credibility in the business community” two London School of Economics lecturers assert that many business schools have failed to develop curricula that satisfy the needs of employers who require a workforce that can evolve alongside a continuously changing world.” They point out that what businesses seek is: problem-solving, the ability to connect different aspects of business and think in a holistic way, and the courage to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity.

So – what skills and capabilities are you going to learn while you study for your business degree – that will prepare you for the world of tomorrow? Do you know how to learn and keep learning?

In the RBS Graduate Department we are evolving to help you with courses such as Critical Thinking (creative problem-solving) and giving you assignments such as those in International Project and Managing Corporate Sustainability that take you out of your comfort zone forcing you to work with people of different cultures with different ways of thinking and working.

We live in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous). To survive we are going to need to be creative and imaginative. Is your degree helping you prepare?

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April 28, 2016

EMBEDDING SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS PRACTICE : A BETTER BUSINESS MODEL

This is a paper I wrote that has just been published in the Journal Of Positive Management. In this paper I set out the basis for a new research programme designed to demonstrate that by encouraging managers of small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to take a positive approach to social and environmental risks, embedding and operationalising their responses into their business strategy, they may enjoy a range of positive business benefits, as has been demonstrated by larger companies.

JPM Article

April 23, 2016

Inspiring TED Talk: Failure and success

Fear of failure is one of the factors that inhibit young people from becoming entrepreneurs. And inhibiting employees of larger companies from trying new ways of working.

This story is inspiring, not just because of the innovative solutions they are exploring – and developing – and rejecting! but the way they are encouraging trial and failure.

http://www.ted.com/talks/astro_teller_the_unexpected_benefit_of_celebrating_failure

“Enthusiastic skepticism is not the enemy of boundless optimism. It’s optimism’s perfect partner. It unlocks the potential in every idea.”

December 17, 2013

Nelson Mandela, a personal memory

On July 17, 1997 the South African-Thai Chamber of Commerce hosted a lunch for the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce at the Napalai Ballroom of the Dusit Thani hotel, Bangkok – guest of honour, HE President Nelson Mandela.

President Mandela had had a busy schedule. Arriving in the early afternoon of Wednesday 16 he had met the Prime Minister and was then guest of honour at a State Dinner at Government House. On the Thursday morning he was granted an audience with HM the King of Thailand, an audience that went on much longer than planned – by all accounts the two had much to share. Then to Chulalongkorn University where the University conferred on him an Honorary Doctorate and finally he arrived at the Dusit Thani to address an audience of over 1,000. Then a brief press conference and off to the airport. Within less than 24 hours of arriving in the Kingdom – he had gone.

But this brief story starts several years earlier. In one of the many conversations that I had with Ambassador HE Roel Goris and the tireless Economic Counsellor, Gustav Meyer, about South African–Thailand business and trade, we discussed how we could arrange for President Nelson Mandela to visit Thailand. It seemed that he was visiting many Asian countries; China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia – why could he not at least just stop over in Bangkok? Ambassador Goris plied Pretoria with his requests but with no result. Or so it seemed. He had clearly planted a seed.

By early July 1997 both HE Roel Goris and Gustav Meyer had returned to Pretoria when I found myself leading a Trade Mission to Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Cape Town. We had arranged a Thai stand at an exhibition and we had quite a high-level group visiting, including the Deputy Minister of Commerce. On Monday evening, July 7, at a cocktail party hosted by ABSA, Roel Goris invited me to meet him at his office in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the next afternoon.

As soon as I arrived he announced, “It’s on! It has just been confirmed that the President has agreed to stopover in Bangkok on the night of Wednesday July 17. There are a few other meetings being arranged but he will be happy to attend a function hosted by the South Africa Thai Chamber of Commerce before he returns to South Africa. He can’t stay longer as the next day is his birthday and he needs to be home Thursday night.”

So, it is Tuesday afternoon in Pretoria, and we have less than nine days to prepare for what would be a landmark event for the South African Thai Chamber of Commerce!

I immediately called Khun Sivaporn Meadows, who was our very able Executive Director. First things first, we need to book a ballroom. Everything else can wait. For an occasion such as this we won’t have to worry about people not turning up – we just need to have a place they can come to!

The rest of the afternoon Roel and I polished the draft of the speech that had been prepared for him to deliver.

I continued on with the delegation and only arrived back in Bangkok at the end of the week to find Khun Sivaporn already well advanced with preparations. She had reserved the Dusit Thani’s Napalai Ballroom – the largest available in Bangkok as the lunch venue. I am not sure if any other function had previously been booked and I rather suspect that if there had been the Dusit Thani had discretely arranged for those functions to be moved so as to accommodate the President!

We then found ourselves in something of a protocol storm! Quite extraordinary just how many people felt that the South African Thai Chamber of Commerce should not be the host of a visit by the President of South Africa to Thailand! Others, who shall remain nameless, thought that they should at least be on the ‘masthead’ and allowed to sit at the ‘high table’.

But with the help of the South African Embassy and the new Ambassador, HE John Janse van Rensbug and his Counsellor, Johan Kellerman, we were advised of the proper protocol and the function was ‘jointly’ hosted by the SATCC with the Thai Chamber of Commerce and the Thailand Board of Trade (note, the President of the SATCC is automatically a Director of the Board of Trade of Thailand).

Around noon on the day, the President arrived and was duly met by the official greeting party shaking hands with each person in turn. As he turned to walk into the hotel he spied three youngsters and asked – who are they? I replied that they were my children. I had arranged for my three young children to be escorted by their nanny and to stand in a place where they could see him arrive – but be out of the way. Clearly my ‘out of the way’ was not out of Mandela’s eyesight! He walked over to them, much to the consternation of his security detachment! Shaking each by the hand the President asked their names, were they in school, and advised them to study hard – each remembers that day, the occasion etched in their memories.

Then we walked into the hotel. Every hotel employee along the walk was greeted. Security. Cleaners. All received the same smile and personal hello. Finally, into the hall where over 1,000 people, seated at tables for lunch, rose to applaud his entry. He greeted each VIP guest seated at the high table in turn.

During the lunch, despite the strenuous efforts of security to keep them away, there seemed to be a constant stream of people sneaking up to the high table to say hello or to ask for his autograph on his book or their menu. Each was graciously received and walked away clutching his signature.

In conversation over lunch President Mandela inquired about the origins of the SATCC, who our members were, what we were trying to achieve and he gave a brief but glowing description of his meeting with HM The King.

I rose to give a brief speech of introduction – one could not but provide some sort of introduction, as I was sure that many Thais would not really know much about his history. So brief and to the point my speech was – speaking over the background noise of plates were being cleared and coffee being served.

The great man rose to give his address. But before he opened the leather cover that contained the beautifully-typed speech, he turned towards the high table to thank me for the words of introduction and commenced speaking in direct response to something I had said – including that well-known story about being given his own coffee cup when he turned up for work – and then finding out why!

He must have spoken for about 10 minutes.

The room was silent.

Even the waiters and waitresses, who surely could not understand a word, not just because their English might not be up to scratch but even for the best of English speakers Mandela’s accent required us to listen carefully. Not a plate was moved. Not a cup placed on its saucer. Nor a coffee poured. Everyone was listening to the great man speak.

Finally, he turned to the prepared address and started to read .

At that point I noticed that the wait staff started to move once more. The great man was no longer speaking from the heart. No longer need they show respect. He was now just reading someone else’s words. They could now continue their job.

At last the occasion was over and we rose to leave. He had one more duty to attend to before leaving to return to Pretoria, a press conference in another room in the hotel. He was a little unsteady on his feet, still recovering from that knee operation, so he used my arm to brace himself as we walked from the lunch table through the ballroom and out to the press conference room.

Almost at once his security officers were struggling to clear a path. People were leaning over just to touch him, to greet him. To thank him.

Two young Thai women stepped into the pathway, camera in hand, to take his picture – but were gently pushed back by security. But as we neared them I felt my arm being pulled sideways. The great man stopped in front of them and put his hand out … “How are you?” I could see the consternation on the faces of the two; do we shake the hand or take the pictures? A handshake was accepted and we were again on our way.

I left him with his aides and the waiting media. Two hours with Mandela. A privilege. An honour. A memory. Will the world see his like again? Not soon enough, methinks.

Khun Sivaporn Meadows, Executive Director SATCC and Ronald Endley AInsbury, President SATCC, share a bit of humour with HE President Nelson Mandela.

Khun Sivaporn Meadows, Executive Director SATCC and Ronald Endley Ainsbury, President SATCC, share a bit of humour with HE President Nelson Mandela.