This excerpt from The Solutions Factory throws light on how business goals could be leaning more toward human and environmental good than profitability
The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the tallest twin towers in the world, are connected by a double-decker skybridge 170 metres above ground, which is the highest two-storey bridge in the world. It enables people at the uppermost levels of the towers to cross over without bothering to come down to the ground at all.
In the world of wealth, one tower is the education tower with business schools on top. The other is the corporate tower with C-suites of the largest multinational firms at its apex. The best students from the best schools in business are picked by marquee international consulting companies, such as McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company. They cross the skybridge to advise CEOs and CXOs in offices at the top of the other tower. Business schools provide a fast elevator for students who want to earn high salaries quickly. Many join management consulting companies. Management consulting provides a bridge between the world of education and the world of business, high up in the sky.
In the new millennium many young persons, who have reached the top of the education tower by the fast elevator through management schools, are looking for another bridge to connect with the world. They are not inclined to work in the world of business.
In 2006, before the global financial crisis, when the Dow Jones was reaching heights it had never reached before, an important meeting was convened in Cleveland. The subject of the meeting was ‘Business as an Agent of World Benefit’. The provocation for the meeting was the increasing evidence from several multi-country surveys of the declining trust in business corporations. Evidently, as consumers, people seemed satisfied with the products and services provided by corporations, and as investors delighted by their stocks’ performance, but as citizens they expected much more from corporations.
The meeting was convened by the Academy of Management and the UN Global Compact. The Academy of Management is the largest organization of business management teachers in the world with more than 18,000 members. As one of its members said, it is the ‘Teamsters Union’ of business teachers. The UN Global Compact, founded in 2000, is an international organization of business corporations that volunteered to conduct their businesses in ways that would accelerate achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Beginning with forty members in 2000, the compact had more than 3000 members in six continents by 2006.
The backdrop of the meeting was the conditions of people and the environment, neither of which seemed to be improving as rapidly as was required to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Meanwhile, businesses were reporting sterling financial performance. Therefore, a lurking suspicion (contributing to the widespread mistrust of business corporations) was that not only are the philanthropic and CSR undertakings of the corporations inadequate, but that the core operations of businesses may be, somehow, contributing to the unsatisfactory conditions of people and the environment.
The meeting was attended by 450 persons from forty countries—management students, business school teachers, administrators and corporate executives—and another 1000 people attended via webcast. Over three days, several thought leaders in the corporate and education worlds discussed more than a hundred papers and carried on a lively dialogue facilitated by David Cooperrider of Case Western University, using the principles of ‘appreciative inquiry’ that he had developed, whereby the intelligence of many participants can be combined in large meetings.
The views of the students were revealing. A survey of 2100 students in eighty-seven business schools found that 87 per cent of them believed that corporations should work towards broader societal goals, but only 18 per cent believed they were actually doing so. While 36 per cent felt business schools were preparing business managers to work for the betterment of society, 70 per cent wanted business schools to change their curriculum to develop socially and environmentally responsible individuals, and 79 per cent said they wanted socially responsible jobs. What is also revealing is that while 63 per cent of the respondents said they would work for a medium and large company after graduation, only 33 per cent said they would continue to work there after five to ten years. The reason was since they had to repay the loans they had taken for their education, they needed the salaries the big companies paid, but after repaying the loans they would rather do more socially responsible work.
The young teacher who presented the survey had selected two statements she thought expressed the students’ feelings overall. One was: ‘The key business role is to develop society, not profits.’ The other: ‘Profitability is easy; changing the world is hard.’
Excerpted with permission from Penguin Random House
The Solutions Factory
Penguin Random House
Pp 288, Rs 599