In 2019 Tom was invited by the Chartered Association of Business Schools to Co-Chair a Taskforce, to look at how UK Business Schools promote the ‘public good’ . It would look at their teaching, research, operations and engagement both with business and the wider world. Although the Taskforce report was due to be published in November 2020 it was delayed until early 2021 due to disruption caused by the coronavirus crisis. Here’s the speech that Tom gave to the November CABS conference…
Every three years or so the Chartered ABS sets up a Taskforce, composed of business school professionals and sympathetic outsiders, to look in depth at an issue concerning the sector.
18 months ago CABS asked Professor Martin Kitchener of Cardiff Business School, my academic co-chair, and myself to work with a handpicked team of interested parties, to look at how Business Schools promote the ‘public good’.
It’s a broad term but one which is found much more in the world of business than it used to be.
We’d hoped to be presenting our final report to you today but our schedule has, inevitably, been disrupted and delayed by the coronavirus and its impact on universities. Martin will say more about that process later.
This is a good time for CABS to be asking how Business Schools contribute to the public good themselves, or help organisations so to do.
The Covid crisis has shown us, in our living rooms and workplaces, so vividly, that we’re all ultimately interconnected and we rely on each other perhaps more than we thought.
In particular, it’s shown us that what goes on inside management can’t be separated from what happens in the community and in society generally – whether that be jobs and financial security, providing the tax revenue to pay for public services, or the practicalities of producing basic personal protective equipment.
The question before us today is: what role do business schools have in identifying and anticipating the challenges confronting organisations of the future?
- Is it to produce another generation of technocrats and accountants, to oil the wheels of industry and preach profit maximisation, or business as usual?
- Is it to provide an income for cash-strapped universities?
- Or is it something a little more adventurous, something that recognises that education, society, the environment and organisations of all kinds, including businesses, are inextricably linked; and supports companies in progressing debate about responsibility and sustainability?
A number of developments in recent years give context to our Taskforce and its discussion of business schools and the public good.
Firstly, levels of General awareness of issues are high.
Our ever more connected world has allowed a 15-year old girl, Greta Thunberg, to lead a global debate not about climate change – but about survival.
Today almost half of business investment globally is sensitive to the need to limit climate change – a massive increase compared to just five years ago.
The production of greenhouse gases is an externality which business has not previously been required to price into its bottom line.
But it does now, hence the strategic decisions of first Shell and more recently BP to quit oil.
Many businesses today are committed to Ellen Macarthur’s circular economy, with zero waste. This is not because it’s a nice thing to do – but because we have a crisis of natural resources.
And Kate Raworth’s doughnut economy talks of respecting the balance between what mankind needs and what the planet can afford to give: business organisations are a bridge between the two.
There’s a growing acceptance that poverty, in Britain and the world, prevents markets from working properly, that workers have a right to a living wage and that companies should pay their taxes with pride.
Business of the future will be guided, perhaps, more by David Attenborough than by Milton Friedman.
Millennial values: who are the customers of business and management schools? And what do they want?
All the evidence suggests that millennials, today’s job seeking undergraduates, want to associate themselves with businesses that are forces for good. They want quality careers and roles that they can discharge with pride.
After searching the ‘situations vacant’ page of a corporate web site graduates look to a company’s values and its engagement with community and environment.
Many in business itself are asking ‘What’s the purpose of our business?’
Is it really all about making profit for someone else? Or are there other, perhaps more meaningful reasons for being in business?
Let me give two examples of what I mean: the move away from traditional CSR, corporate social responsibility, is very positive.
What helps a charity or community more? A bunch of employees waving paintbrushes or collection tins for a day – or building a longer term relationship, increasing skills and capacity in the charity in pursuit of a common mission, with improved employee engagement as a bonus outcome?
And what is this new phenomenon of social value, no longer confined to the world of social enterprise, where profit serves the purpose of the organisation rather than the other way round?
There ’s a Greater scrutiny of business ethics today – society is both more aware and less tolerant of bad business practice than ever before.
It’s only a few years since Volkswagen was fined billions of dollars for cheating on its emissions measures – I do so hope they didn’t get that idea from a business school! Prospective customers were not impressed.
But that’s the tip of the iceberg; most cases of bad faith have less impact than the Volkswagen one.
The irony is that businesses which are responsible and sustainable are, over the long term, actually more profitable than those that focus only on short term returns or cheat, especially when the cheat gets found out!
In Britain we’ve recently seen the civic university movement develop, a movement that says ‘we in universities don’t live in isolated towers, whether of the ivory or dreaming varieties’.
Universities are communities in themselves but we’re also part of a wider community, and we must be responsible in the ways we contribute to and engage with the local economy, culture and environment.
One thing we’ve discovered on the Taskforce is that the Covid crisis has prompted a response from business schools. Whilst the crisis has disrupted our work on the Taskforce – and yours in universities – it’s also created opportunities.
These are opportunities for both business schools and organisations more broadly to demonstrate prompt and effective responses to rapidly changing external stimuli, with public good in mind and, specifically, to help businesses ’build back better’.
Of the world’s 14,000 business schools, a growing number are committed to approaching their teaching and research with the public good in mind, as embodied by the UN’s Principles of Responsible Management.
86 British institutions are accredited by PRME, so not all CABS members have yet signed up!
Six of PRME’s 37 ‘global champions’ are here in the UK. It is PRME’s conviction that
‘…higher education institutions integrating universal values into curriculum and
research can contribute to a more sustainable and inclusive global economy,
and help build more prosperous societies’
…you can’t argue with that!
Similarly, the Athena Swan Charter is a framework to support and transform gender equality within higher education and research. Currently 164 institutions and 798 individual departments across the UK and Ireland – by no means all – are accredited, but mostly at the very basic, bronze, level.
You won’t find a major organisation that isn’t rightly scrutinised today for its practices on gender pay, gender opportunity and the gender mix of its leadership.
Maybe business schools can be doing more to advance the cause of the less advantaged sectors of our society – whichever they happen to be!
Finally, underlying many of these issues are the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs.
Back in 2000 the 8 Millennium Development Goals were what every international aid charity dreamed of. There were programmes to tackle problems in health, education, hunger and poverty in developing countries. But the 17 SDGs of 2015 are so much more – they are global in reach and perhaps a little less soft and cuddly.
That’s because they were written with the engagement of businesses and markets in mind and they form the basis of the PRME principles. Unilever’s Paul Polman, now Board Chair at Said Business School, was one of the authors.
The annual reports of many mega companies today – Unilever itself, IKEA, Mars, Diageo, Nestlé, Boots – measure their activities against whichever SDGs are most material to them.
So that’s the context in which we’ve been doing our research.
(Martin Kitchener went on to describe the process and initial findings of the research)