I’m writing this latest missive having just read not one but two obituaries in the Financial Times weekend edition. The first one was very sad and quite personal to me – namely the untimely death of Pierre Nanterme, the CEO of Accenture who had recently stepped down from his role only a few weeks before. The second was quite the opposite – Al Dunlap the corporate raider of the 1990s who effectively represented everything in business I dislike.
Loss of a Leader
Tributes have been flooding in on social media from Pierre’s colleagues and clients alike, and rightly so. He was a great leader and presided over unprecedented growth and transformation in the company. Accenture has grown to almost half a million employees! He was a supporter of ADP and for those of you who read my book, you’ll remember that Pierre features quite significantly. There were a few funny anecdotes such as “I want you to focus the Accenture Way” with his customary two finger salute and “foc-us” sounding like a rather rude swearword when said with a heavy French accent! But the most unforgettable moment had to be the time I opportunistically interviewed him on a balcony in Davos with Nobel Laureate, Professor Mohammad Yunus of Grameen fame. It was one of these lucky moments that have to be seized and you’ll have to turn to page ??? in The Intrapreneur if you want to find out more. My sympathies are very much with Pierre’s wife and young 19-year-old daughter and know he was devoted to both.
Call me callous, but I can’t say that I share the same sadness at the passing of Mr Dunlap or “Chainsaw Al” as he was dubbed on Wall Street. I’m sure that the many thousands of people who lost their jobs in numerous companies across America during his slash and burn restructuring programmes of the nineties, all in pursuit of shareholder value, will not miss him either. He hated the concept of stakeholder capitalism and famously said “If you want to be liked, get a dog”. He is survived by two German shepherds who I’m sure will be mourning Al’s passing, but I think they’ll be part of a relatively small minority.
The Davos Fringe
My big news of January would have to be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos for a couple of days. I even cringe as I write such a name-dropping phrase. Davos is an emotive word and my annual pilgrimage there tends to bring out my schizophrenic side(s) – yes, both of them. The idea of global elites flying in helicopters to a mountaintop to drink champagne and talk about how to tackle climate change and gross inequality in the world, must appear totally bizarre and hypocritical to many. Yes, including me. But then again it’s a fabulous opportunity to connect with some great people and attend fascinating sessions. Oh, and yes, the parties are pretty good too I’d have to admit. When people ask me what Davos is like, I often describe it in the context of the Edinburgh Festival. The main Festival boasts all the famous, established acts and has super expensive tickets for seats in the best locations. But the vibrancy and energy of up and coming acts tend to be in the so-called Fringe which has grown up around the August festival. It’s become almost cooler more dynamic to be appear in the Fringe as opposed to the Edinburgh Festival itself. That might sound like sour grapes for someone who’s not important enough to get an exclusive White badge, but I do enjoy hanging out as a groupie at the Davos Fringe. Indeed, I was delighted to host a little event about my book in the SDG Tent and was grateful to my friend Raj Kumar, CEO of Devex for agreeing to moderate the session in his own inimitable style. Other sessions I enjoyed included a breakfast on populism and Fake News hosted by the Thomason Reuters Foundation, and a lunch about how to catalyse more social entrepreneurs in the food system.
The Purpose Debate
Regular Bullogers will remember that I talked about an article in the purpose of business that appeared in the Financial Times last month, , Beyond the bottom line: Should business put profit before purpose?. Well, I couldn’t resist writing a letter in response and sent it off. Of course the FT gets thousands of letters every day and mine was not chosen. Or perhaps that was because it wasn’t very good. Well, I retain full editorial rights for The Bullog and so here’s what I wrote and you can decide if you agree or not.
Sir, Your weekend FT article “Beyond the bottom line: should business put purpose before profit?” hits the nail on the head. It challenges the orthodox view that short-term value for shareholders should trump the interests of all other stakeholders in society – accusations of heresy abound in many of the 200+ online comments from the traditional investor community. I’d reassure them by suggesting that a tradeoff between profit and purpose is a false dichotomy. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are simply business opportunities in disguise – but only if we are able to harness the unmatched scale, innovation and entrepreneurship potential of global business to profitably solve these socio-economic and environmental challenges. That will require profound change and, with one or two notable exceptions, today’s crop of CEOs has fallen well short of the challenge. Sustainability was not part of the MBA curriculum of the eighties and nineties. The article shares an alternative view that we must firstly fix the democratic institutions of government in order to transform and better regulate the capitalist economy. We don’t have the luxury of time to do that.
Instead of fixing democracy, might we instead bring “democracy” i.e. decentralised governance to the global corporation – by giving employees, customers, suppliers the general public a greater say in how these organisations are run and for whose benefit.
In an increasingly interconnected world, multinationals have become the de-facto super states and dwarf the economies of most nation states. Chinese, Russian, US and Iranian corporate subsidiaries work harmoniously with one another, while the leaders of increasingly populist governments do not.
Business has the potential to change the world like never before – but first as employee citizens, we must collectively rise to the challenge of changing the business world.
Author, The Intrapreneur: Confessions of a corporate insurgent
In the same vein, it’s interesting that Blackrock’s CEO Larry Fink has once again raised eyebrows amongst his peers by suggesting that within 5 years all investors will “measure a company’s impact on society, government and the environment to determine its worth”. Music to my ears as you can imagine. Leopards and spots etc. But the whole purpose movement is also facing a bit of a backlash from people who are cynical about the motives of businesses claiming to have emarked on this journey, or don’t think they’re going far enough. Two of my friends, Zahid Torres-Rahman and Yasmina Zaidman wrote what I thought was a very balanced response The Purpose Paradigm Solution or Scam to this criticism which is well worth a read.
I gave my own views on this topic and broader views on business in an interview to Scotland’s B Corp initiative that goes by the clever title, Scotland CAN B. The article appeared in their weekly Spotlight section which you can read here.
An innovative engagement
I’ve recently taken on an interesting client to do some strategy work around purpose driven innovation and freely admit that I’m really enjoying it. I don’t intend to do a lot of consulting in my new life, but aim to cherry pick small, targeted interventions where I think there is an opportunity to influence a company’s direction, by working behind the scenes to support a senior executive or an intrapreneur further down the organization. The client is looking to set an innovation ambition for 2025 and my role is to try and help them raise the bar on what’s possible. I was asked to attend a two day workshop at their Scandinavian HQ and tasked with being “Chief Provocateur”. I’m not normally paid to be a pain in the ass – I usually do it for free whether invited or not. So this was a pleasant change to be both invited and paid.
3rd Degree Burns
Speaking gigs this month were limited to celebrating and honouring Robert Burns, the famous Scottish poet. I gave the “Immortal Memory”, which is the main speech at the infamous Rothesay Fire Brigade Burns Supper on The Isle of Bute and also recited a poem “Holy Willie’s Prayer” at a private event just outside of Geneva. Burns was a master of satire and his work often talked about inequality, hypocrisy in the upper echelons of society and even touched on the environment – it was over 200 years ago but still has a lot of relevance to modern-day life.
I’ll finish off as usual with a few updates on the personal front. Penny the dog is growing fast and our efforts at training her seem to be paying off – mostly. I’ve also just begun a short introductory course in Improv Comedy which is great fun. Arianna gave me the idea having done it last year and I think there are lots of great skills that one can take across into the world of business. So look out! The CraigBEroch (yes, the capitals are deliberate) Farm on Bute is continuing to make progress and I’ll give you a fuller update on that next month.
Many thanks for reading and as ever, welcome your comments, challenges and ideas on any aspects of what I’ve covered this month.
Until next month,
* The Bullog = Bulloch + Blog
Make sense? Not bulldog, nor is it bulls**t although I’ll let you be the judge of that! It’s a brief synopsis on recent articles, events and opinions from my world and the things that have caught my attention over the past few weeks.