“How much does a polar bear weigh?”
“Enough to break the ice…..nice to meet you.”
This was one of my favourite but least successful chat up lines during my University years. Indeed, any relationships I had tended to be more the result of a slow war of attrition than any slick one liner. Here’s a different question:
How much do 15,000 blue whales weigh?
The answer is approximately 3,000 tonnes – exactly the same amount as Coca Cola produced in plastic bottles last year according to a fascinating article I read on the BBC. It’s all about a powerful new initiative by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to bring transparency to how much FMCG companies create in terms of plastic packaging in an effort to reduce ocean pollution. They’ve already got over 150 companies onboard and recently managed to coax (or should that be Cokes?) Coca Cola to sign up to the initiative. They’re clearly the biggie with second place going to Nestle, a long way back at a mere 1.7m tonnes. The geeks amongst you can tell me how many blue whales or indeed polar bears that equates to.
I’m a firm believer that measurement and transparency are the first steps in driving change. Yes, we can as consumers, all do our bit to recycle the plastic we buy. However, for all you aspiring intrapreneurs out there who might work for coke or indeed, for one of the other large companies who are at last disclosing their plastic usage, a bit of innovation in the packaging department could go a very long way.
So, what’s been going on closer to home this month?
My big news of March was a trip I made to the US taking in LA, San Francisco and New York. There were a variety of reasons for making the trip, including attempts to woo some US agents/publishers out there to take on the US rights for The Intrapreneur, with a view to launching the book on the other side of the pond later this year. I was spectacularly unsuccessful in this endeavor and got more rejections than I had when job-hunting in the early nineties. That said, the trip wasn’t all bad. Far from it. After meetings in LA, I drove up the stunning Pacific Highway 1 and stopped off at The Esalen Institute, one of my favourite places in the world. It’s an iconic retreat centre perched on the cliffs along the Big Sur and overlooks the ocean. On a good day you can even see whales (clearly a recurring theme this month). It was set up in the 1960s by two men who had just returned from spiritual quests to India and it seeks to promote discussion around wisdom traditions, wellbeing and generally nurture the human spirit. It’s been visited by none other than Maslow and Aldous Huxley and now hosts a diverse variety of delegates ranging from leading thinkers on yoga, mindfulness and consciousness development through to Silicon Valley billionaires seeking to detox. I was invited courtesy of my good friend Jeronimo Calderon (yes, that’s his real name) co-founder of Euphoria, who is currently doing a residency at Esalen. He helped to arrange an interactive session on the Saturday night and to get my books into the bookstore, which I was pretty chuffed about.
On route to San Francisco I stopped off at Stanford Business School and did an interactive session with some MBA students there, kindly organised by Panos Madamopoulous who’s currently studying there. It was a fun discussion and I was surprised and delighted to reconnect with former ADP participant Karen Wu, who spoke of her experience working on a project in Kenya to help train community health workers using mobile phones. A nice surprise.
I then flew overnight to New York and gave a presentation to a lively gathering at Pearson on the Hudson River. As you can see from the photo, their office has spectacular views of the New York skyline. Grateful to my friends Amanda Gardener and Teodora Berkova who lead Pearson’s Social Innovation team for arranging the session. They’ve created an amazing initiative within Pearson which is effectively an incubator for intrapreneurship.
Doing the Business (Schools)
Come to think of it, Business Schools have been a recurring feature this month – even more than whales! Why do I bother to speak at business schools? Well, the average age of an MBA student is late twenties to early thirties – exactly the target demographic for my core messages around business purpose and the power of intrapreneurship. For too long, business school curricula have peddled the standard dogma around the imperative for business to focus on short term profit maximization, process efficiency, the growth imperative etc, with the odd sprinkling of CSR or Shared Value for good measure. I believe that has to change and that Business Schools are an important acupuncture point if the whole system has to change. There are many encouraging signs of change and I’m in discussions with some forward thinking faculty (try saying that after a glass or two of wine) about how the concept of intrapreneurship can be taught.
With this rationale in mind, I spoke at an alumni event at Exeter Business School which took place in London and a few weeks later to the Centre for Social Innovation at Judge Business School in Cambridge. Professors Neil Stott and Paul Tracey were hosting a residential course for innovators from across the sectors and are leading thinkers in this space globally.
Come to think of it, there was even a fourth Business School presentation in March – this time it took place in Milan and at an alumni event of the HEC Business School in Paris. A Scotsman speaking at a French Business School in Italy – how international (I’ll resist any comments on BREXIT)! Ari and I were invited by friends for a long weekend and managed to do a couple of book related events while there, including presenting to a crowd at Lactalis, a dairy product subsidiary of Neslte. The trip wasn’t all work and we spent a lovely weekend in Piedmont. Our hosts arranged a Frito Misto for Sunday lunch – vegetarians may prefer to skip this bit, but it’s basically an Italian specialty of deep fried bits of animal – no less than 32 different courses and lasting four and a half hours! I could certainly recommend it for the experience, but make sure the restaurant has a defibrillator at hand.
Best of the Rest
Other highlights? Well, I had the pleasure of spending some time with one of my great business heroes, Sir Mark Moody Stuart and his equally impressive wife, Judy, at their London home. Mark was the CEO of Shell in the late nineties and then moved on to head up Anglo American. I’d say he was the precursor to Paul Polman in terms of icon of responsible business leadership. He played a huge role in the creation of the UN Global Compact and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and served on the Board of Accenture for 10 years. He is the epitome of stewardship at its best and was willing to give of his time and wisdom periodically during my ADP years. Indeed, I’ve got him to thank for the Board presentation I gave in 2013 on the first 10 years of ADP (Chapter 14 in the book). It was a fascinating chat and as I left Mark and Judy’s flat, I asked if he had a busy day ahead.
“Off to China this afternoon,” he said. I sincerely hope that I might still be as active as this inspiring pair when and if I approach four score years. It does leave me with the thought: who is heir apparent to the Moody-Stuarts and Polmans(men?) in todays group of business leaders? I fear that the answer is not many – but I did have an inspiring meeting with the young CEO of consulting start-up Kinandco, Rosie Waren. She’s created an organization with a very different kind of culture – you work 9-6pm and take weekends off. They even pioneered a policy of a half day to recharge mid week – their Wednesday “Offternoon”. Rosie believes you get much better results out of employees who aren’t completely burnout out or exhausted. It’s not rocket science, but a refreshing change.
I thought I’d also include a thought-provoking photo I took when walking through Mayfair en route to Green Park station. This Bentley owner clearly didn’t see parking fines as a major deterrent when on his/her shopping trip in one of the poshest streets of London. It does beg the question, what do you do when elites have so much money that the old rules order doesn’t apply to them. When you’re spending £50k on a necklace, I suppose a further £500 in parking fines can be viewed as a minor transaction cost!
On the social front, we made a quick visit to Scotland ostensibly to see my dear old mum, aka “Wee Marj”, on the Isle of Bute. The fact the visit coincided with the Scotland v Wales Rugby 6 Nations clash at Murrayfield is pure coincidence and am grateful for the generosity of a good friend for allowing Ari and I to go to the match with my sister Loobs and her husband Pascal. Scotland lost of course but had a decent second half. However, it wasn’t quite as spectacular a second half as the come back against England two weeks later. 31-0 at one point for England, only to finish 38-38. So near and yet so far – it’s the motto of every Scottish person’s life.
Until next month,
|P.S. If anyone is in London next week on evening of 4-6th April then I would strongly recommend you go and see BOREALIS (, the innovative laser enabled version of the northern lights, conceived by a great buddy of mine in Geneva, Dan Acher.|