Fab(er) news: Danone’s CEO just got sacked
No, I was not at all happy to read the headlines two weeks ago that the most progressive CEO in the world today, Emmanuel Faber had been forced out of Danone by so-called “activist shareholders”. Faber had been a long time champion of stakeholder capitalism and was a strong proponent of healthy foods and environmental causes in the French food giant. Naturally, this had put him firmly in the sites of activist shareholders who bauk at anything that deviates from short term profit maximization. A dip in sales during the current Covid crisis provided the perfect pretext for these corporate vultures to launch an attack. After my initial profound disappointment however, I’m beginning to believe that this could actually be a net positive for the business world and indeed, the wider world. I’ll explain why, but firstly let me provide a little bit of context.
It strikes me as highly ironic that a tiny minority of investors can have such a significant influence on corporate decision-making. In this case it was Bluebell Capital and Artisan Partners, who between them own less than 6% of the shares, who were able to persuade Danone’s Board to oust Faber from the role of Chairman and CEO and appoint Gilles Schnepp as Chairman who, judging by his record as former CEO of electrical firm Legrand, will be a bit more of a traditional shareholder value first kinda guy. Talk about tails wagging dogs.
Frankly, anyone Danone’s Board could appoint would be a disappointment after Faber, who had become the heir apparent to Unilever’s former CEO Paul Polman, as the darling of the sustainability community. Most CEOs know that it’s far safer to keep their heads down and crank out quarter by quarter earnings with little regard for the impact you’re having on broader stakeholders, than to put one’s head above the “purpose parapet”. Grant Thornton’s inspiring CEO, Sacha Romanovitch, discovered this to her cost. Romanovitch was another high profile casualty in October 2018, who dared to suggest that the firm should place a high priority on its purpose if it wanted to attract top talent. Clearly, the antibodies of the corporate immune system tend to get activated by anyone trying to buck the trend and do the right thing, whether a lowly intrapreneur or even the CEO.
So where is the silver lining in Faber’s departure from Danone?
Well, I sincerely hope he takes a bit of a well-earned rest to decompress and reflect on where he wants to go next. At 57 years old, I doubt that he intends to spend the next 20+ years of his life on the golf course or in the garden. However, I could see him playing a very pivotal role as a different kind of gardener if you allow me to continue with a horticultural metaphor. The Fabers. Romanovitchs and Polmans (is the plural Polmen?) are too often like lone flowers that bloom, wither or get plucked by the activist shareholder brigade. We need to create the right soil in which “one thousand flowers can bloom”, within a fertile and flourishing ecosystem, rather than focusing on individual blooms, however bright and beautiful they may be. When you look at picture of a stunning garden, you would rarely see the gardener feature, yet they have played a crucial, but perhaps lower profile, less celebrated role in bringing it to life.
On that basis, I wish Emmanuel Faber all the very best of luck in his work and personal life post Danone and hope that he might consider spending some time in the garden of purposeful business, fertilizing the minds of his fellow CEOs.
Writing and Speaking
As part of my role as a strategic advisor on corporate intrapreneurship to the Schwab Foundation, I co-authored a blog “Why change making intrapreneurs are a source of renewable energy for business” with their Director, François Bonnici. We argue that corporates need to care deeply about the health and well-being of their internal changemakers and intrapreneurial talent if they are to fully tap into their innovation potential and maximise the benefit to people, planet and importantly, profit for the company.
I was also invited by my friend and fellow intrapreneur turned Author, Sharon Lucas, to present at her Catalyst Constellations Book club. These are monthly events she hosts as part of a broad discussion on the themes emerging from her best-selling book “Move Fast. Break Shit. Burnout.” Great book title and it was an equally enjoyable conversation on this same red thread of wellbeing for intrapreneurs.
We are also getting an increasing number of enquiries to do Decelerator webinars for a variety of different clients. I was joined by Viki Lazar and Mike Dixon from our Cast to do an event for the International Telecoms Union (ITU), one of the lesser-known parts of the United Nations. We talked about the fact that simply by working for a mission driven organisation like the UN doesn’t necessarily guarantee resilience and well-being for employees. We posed the question, “Can you find your purpose without losing your mind?”. Let’s hope the answer to that is yes, but it ain’t easy!
If you’re interested in doing something similar within your own team or organisation then don’t hesitate to ping me a note directly or send an enquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d be happy to tailor an event to your needs. If you’re interested in more of a keynote on purpose, wellbeing, intrapreneurship from yours truly (pardon the self-promotion), I’ve just registered with an interesting Scottish speaker’s bureau called Speaker Buzz who represent “a generation of speakers dedicated to today’s challenges of workplace wellbeing, mental health, diversity, leadership and the environment.”, which seems fairly well aligned with the topics I care about.
Best of the rest……
Speaking of speaking, I joined a fascinating open Keynote online by Ronan Harrigton on “Transforming During Covid”. It was a very powerful and personal talk and I’d commend Ronan’s website to you, where you can register for similar talks he plans to give free of charge in the future.
Over the past couple of months, we’ve been doing a lot of strategic planning as a team for the Business Decelerator and I’m pleased to say that one of the upshots of that is a tentative programme of events for the rest of the year. Hot off the presses we have…..drum roll……another one day free event coming up on Sunday 16th May which will be similar to the RESET 2021 event we ran in early January. Covid willing, we’re also hoping to get back onto the island in early September for some residential co-working programmes and for another Decelerator Lab from 25-29 October with an overlapping CEO / Exec event from 28-31 October just before the CoP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow. To register interest (without commitment) then visit www.craigberoch.org/events
On the personal front…….
In these personal updates I share at the end of The Bullog, I’ve tended to bombard you all with scenes of snowy mountains and long walks with Penny the Dog. Well, there’s not so much else to do during lockdowns and curfews when you’re based in the mountains and yes, I’m again sharing a couple of pics I like. I’m sure we’re all appreciating the extra daylight we benefit from in Spring.
However, in case you think my entire life is just happy hiking, then let me share the fact that late March is always a slightly sadder time of the year for me personally and for my family. Last Friday it was the 5th anniversary of the death of my dear father, Lyn Bulloch, who passed away quite suddenly on the 26th March 2016 aged just 76 – not that old these days. Needless to say he left an enormous void at the heart of our family and we miss him dearly. I’m sharing a link to a beautiful obituary which appeared in The Glasgow Herald, written by his great friend I L MacLeod.
OK, 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,
* The Bullog = Bulloch + BlogMake 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