Is corporate America facing something of a mid-life crisis? That was my initial reaction when I heard the news that the US Roundtable, one of the most influential bodies in business comprising almost 200 CEOs, has decided at long last to drop it’s obsession of shareholder value primacy. For the past three or four decades, profit for investors has been the North Star and frankly, scant regard was given to any other consideration. A bit like a businessman approaching middle age, who starts to question whether he made the right choices in life, in love and in his career, this powerful group of CEOs now believe that factors such as climate change, suppliers and workers rights demand some of their attention.
Hallelujah! Sure, they’re a bit late to the party, but it seems like a step in the right direction, right? Well, it is of course a long awaited and very welcome epiphany, but my only concern is that words are easy – the proof of the pudding will be in how these laudable intentions are acted upon. I’m a natural optimist to my core. Yet I do have a concern that without a fundamental change in the rules of the game and a rethink of the traditional metrics of business success, these bold statements will remain just that – bold statements. Empty rhetoric. For example, can we really expect any of these newly enlightened CEOs to pivot their business strategies towards addressing the climate crisis, especially if it’s at the expense of short-term profit, when Wall Street, their share price, bonuses and jobs are all linked to the latter?
Only time will tell and they should be held to account on this promise.
Moving on, one would normally expect things to slow down a bit during the holiday month of August, but there was still plenty going on. #
Rocking the boat
I’ve given talks in many different venues in quite a few different countries over the years, but a huge sailing clipper in Rotterdam must rank as one of the most exotic. I’d been asked to speak at a major event that was to celebrate the 15-year partnership between VSO and Ranstad, the world’s second largest recruitment consultancy. Over that time, Ranstad has sent about 250 people to almost 40 countries around the world – certainly something worth celebrating. It was through a similar partnership Accenture has with VSO that allowed me to volunteer in Northern Macedonia way back in 2000. Ranstad asked me to come and share my thoughts on the profound impact that experience had on my career and my life in general. It was a fun day cruising in bright sunshine and my main message was around the catalytic power of volunteering on purpose driven innovation in companies. I told them “If you want to get people to think out of the box, then first give them the opportunity to live out of the box.” I love that quote and use it a lot – but sadly it’s not original, I’ve no idea who I’m stealing it from.
The odd one out
Still on the public speaking theme, I was really honoured to be invited to give a talk at Google’s magnificent European HQ in Dublin as part of their employee driven “Talks at Google” initiative. I was invited to join the team for lunch in their staff restaurant where a wide selection of amazing looking food is on offer – free of charge of course – to a diverse range of employees, mostly in their twenties and thirties, casually dressed and from a wide range of nationalities. Many even had their partners and young kids in tow (assuming Google doesn’t hire 5 year olds of course). Pinball machines, comfy sofas and table tennis tables abound and I’m sure there were even people working at desks somewhere in the building but I didn’t see that. The real benefit of this opportunity is in fact that talks go up on their global platform so look out for that in the next couple of weeks if you’re interested.
I was riffing on my usual themes from my book, about breaking from the herd, daring to be different, driving change bottom up in companies – all the usual stuff.
“I know what it’s like to feel like the odd one out,” I told them plaintively, “Try being over 50 and visit the Google canteen wearing a business suit and you’ll know what I mean.”
Speaking of the book (did you see that subtle link), I know that despite all my best efforts, some of you have not managed to take time out of your busy lives to read my rambling epistle. Or I just have to accept you think it’s a highly unappealing read. Well, fear not. An audio version is on its way. That’s right, I did my first recording session for the audio book when passing through London last week and it was actually a lot of fun. As a Scotsman, I’m a bit too tight to pay for some faceless voiceover artist to narrate my book and imitate my Scottish accent. So I’ve gone for the DIY approach. It was a little like going back to school as I had to prepare the text in advance with a sound engineer getting me to re-record bits where I stumbled over words – quite tiring in fact. I’ll probably have another five long sessions like that before its ready. Watch, (or should that be listen?) this space for more info.
Best of the rest
I was really chuffed for my former colleagues at ADP to see Accenture recognised in the Fortune Magazine Change the World programme for their work with AMREF on community health worker training using mobile phones. It was one of ADP’s coolest projects of the last few years and I’m delighted that their ongoing efforts are being recognised. It should also be indirect recognition for all the thousands of other unsung heroes and heroines out there who have done amazing work on countless ADP projects over the years.
I’ve continued to be busy with the Craigberoch Business Decelerator on Bute have had a number of discussions with potential funders such as Scottish Enterprise, Creative Scotland, The National Lottery Community Fund and Historic Environment Scotland. Fingers crossed some co-funding comes in soon as I don’t have anything like the money to do this alone. I’ll be exploring crowd-funding later in the year and perhaps an investor round for all you so called “High Net Worths” out there who are looking for something a bit different to spend your money on.
During a visit to Bute, I had an enjoyable lunch with Colin Boag, the CEO of The Mounstuart Trust, the charity that’s the custodian of all the assets of the Bute family estate. I was delighted at how supportive he was of what we’re trying to achieve with the decelerator and how aligned it is with their own strategy.
The team and I are continuing to promote our exciting pilot event on 18-22 November – now less than 3 months away. I’ve been pushing mostly on corporates with the view to them funding small groups of employees, but I also know that some of you might be interested in attending in a personal capacity, but are struggling to cover the cost. If that’s the case, then do get in touch with us anyway at firstname.lastname@example.org as I am open to offering generous discounts to individuals to make this first pilot and experimental event a great success. So speak to us and spread the word please!
…. And on the personal front
My visit to the Isle of Bute was combined with a 40-year school reunion (crumbs I’m getting old) and the annual Bute Highland Games on the Saturday. Both great fun events and the island was basking in the sunshine for the whole weekend as you can see from the photos.
I’ll finish on a very uplifting note – a dinner I had with a former client who has become a good friend over many years and is currently recovering from having donated one of his kidneys to his brother. In a world that seems a little bit crazy and too often lacking in love and compassion, this was I think, one of the kindest gestures I’ve heard of in a long time. To save any embarrassment I’ll not mention him by name, but wish him a full and speedy recovery. Moreover, I’m delighted to hear that his brother is enjoying this gift of life to the full and is evidently looking 10 years younger.
That’s more than enough for now folks. If you enjoy this monthly ramble then do feel free to suggest others sign up here. Until next month,
PS – Penny the dog returns but popular demand