Look a mile beyond your business

May 21, 2020
Darryl Cooke

Executive Chairman

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Do you want to be remembered for making money or for the legacy that you have left behind? Do you want your employees to know you for your business efficiencies or for how you changed the world? Do you want your children to remember you because you became the leader of a business or because you used the influence that you had to change the world?  Do your employees want to be proud of making better or cheaper widgets or do they want to know that you are improving the world?  

We live in an unequal society and we aren’t going to change it soon. Much as we should and as much as we know it is the right thing to do, there is far too much self-interest at stake. The pandemic has only exposed further the harsh truth of societal inequalities, and while businesses consider how to survive, there’s a bigger issue too.

As embarrassed as we are to acknowledge it, we are not going to give up our privileges. We send our children to better schools because we can pay for the privilege. We go to private health hospitals for non-emergency operations because we can pay for the privilege. We live in leafy attractive areas with large houses because we can pay for the privilege. There are very few of us going to give up those privileges. So we will continue to live in an unequal society because we perpetuate it. Rightly or wrongly we perpetuate it. When we talk about creating an equal society, we mean so long as I don’t have to give up my privileges.

So perhaps the task is just too difficult. And perhaps the real task that we should focus on is creating opportunities, real opportunities. Opportunities that may help to level the playing field. No longer pretending that we do so by our nice talk about equality but really doing it. Making it really happen. It is within the gift of every leader – that ability to make it happen.

SME’s account for 99.9% of the business population, 5.9 million businesses. That is a very powerful part of the economy.

It is of no value to preside over an organisation where a few people raise money for good causes by running marathons or digging gardens or painting  walls that in many cases will have been painted three or four times in the last two years. Who are we fooling? Why do we convince ourselves that we are doing good? It may briefly improve morale for our staff and so be self- aggrandising. It does little real good.

Leadership is everything. It all comes from the top. So creating opportunity shouldn’t be delegated to a CSR team in the bowels of the building. If we really mean to make a difference, their office should be next to the office of the CEO or the chairman, and even more than that the CEO or chairman should dedicate at least half their week to creating and focusing on social opportunities. It should be integral to the business and everyone should know it is integral.

Everyone should want their leader to ensure that it is that important. Half their week. Who does that? But if you want to create a legacy it is every bit as important as your business and this years’ profit. But strangely if you get the behaviours in the business right, the desire to work for you and the business, then you will be amazed just how good your numbers will become. Being a CEO is about conducting the orchestra. It is often said that a really good CEO can do their job on 2 to 3 days a week by carefully conducting how the business is run. The real job therefore is recognising how important it is and directing the business.

It is about leading from the front. Focusing on real social change will have an amazingly positive effect on your business. Vision is about where you are heading, and values are the glue that binds the company to make the right decisions. Culture, buzz and wanting to go to work every day is all about creating excitement about why you are there and the positive good that you are doing by being there. Who would want to leave a business that makes them feel that good?

The historian, Michael Schuman, when writing about Confucius wrote that Confucius expected people to do the right thing because it was the right thing to do not because they would get paid off at some point in the future. It is the right thing to do but it will also improve your business your legacy and your own life.

Globalisation may have its benefits, but it also has its downsides. Working with suppliers from overseas and selling to customers from countries in different hemispheres while obtaining finance from far and wide may have brought about innovation and efficiencies, but it has damaged our local communities, as much as anything by the lack of thought that we give to them. Interestingly social media, and the loss of bookshops and pubs has led to more and more distant, colder and less caring local communities. Globalisation has a role but not if we lose our compassion along the way.

Within a square mile of every business there is every challenge possible. It is a microcosm of every inequality that we face throughout the country, disability, a lack of opportunity, old age, mental health, loneliness, poverty. Am I going to sit there and ignore it and tell myself it is the problem of government with its bureaucracy, its conflict and ineptitude, its short term approach and its waste of public funds? Or am I going to do something about it? A CEO does not rely on a public vote and can simply do the right thing without fear of creating a storm. A business leader has a much better chance of making changes for the better than most governments. She must grasp it with both hands.

This is my community where my staff, my employees live and work and their families. Should they expect more from me? Do I want to leave a legacy of change in our community, or am I happy to earn more money for my efforts and take my pension and head to the golf course? Which do I feel the most comfortable with?  It may be uncomfortable to think about but it should be more uncomfortable not to act. And yes, at the same time we are global citizens and when we work in global markets, we have a responsibility in addition to our local communities to help the even greater inequalities in developing countries.

It is no longer sufficient not to act. There is no longer an excuse not to act. It isn’t about judgment. It is about what your people want and what your family would be proud of. But it is also about you. About what gets you up in the morning, and what you can do to help those less fortunate, less equal. About the pleasure that you will feel when you have made the world that little bit more equal because of the opportunities that you have created.

We all have a responsibility. If you are a leader you have an ability to influence. If you are not a leader you have an opportunity to influence a leader. Talk to one, influence him or her.

We can all make a difference. We can all change the debate. Share this article wherever you can. Send it to 3 or 4 people. If you have access to your firm’s website, put it on there. If you are on Facebook or LinkedIn, put it on there. If you have access to a magazine or newsletter, put it on there. We must work together. We must begin a movement. We must improve the dialogue. We must demand more. If you want to talk to me, get in touch. We live in an unfair world but there is no reason to accept it. No reason at all. We all have a part to play.

We may not be able to solve inequality at this moment. But we can address opportunity, together, all of us together.

No one deserves to be unequal.