It is perfectly possible to create solid financial value and growth while taking care of people and the earth at the same time. Of course, we have a long way to go before every business leader, every leader of government, and every investor is able to keep more than one thought in his head at a time, but fortunately quite a few great leaders are showing the way.
Look to the stars
Look to Richard Branson. Without doubt, a lot of things can be said about him and his adventures, but one thing is for sure: since his early days of success, he has always been able to use his influential powers to do good, and he has created so many opportunities for young entrepreneurs and African children, to name a few.
There are many other examples, like Bill & Melinda Gates and Lars Rebien Sørensen. These are seasoned leaders that have created financial value as well as have been doing good for the world. Lars Rieben Sørensen of Novo Nordisk is ranked The Best-Performing CEOs in the World by HBR in 2015. Novo Nordisk measure results using a triple bottom line, and his philosophy goes like this:
Corporate social responsibility is nothing but maximizing the value of your company over a long period of time, because in the long term, social and environmental issues become financial issues.
Look to the Millennials
Look to the young entrepreneurs. A growing number of start-ups are founded on the idea of fixing a problem for the environment and/or for people. If their business idea in itself is not fulfilling for this goal entirely, they will make sure that they do other things on the side. They pick causes like helping homeless people or help solve refugees problems, etc. "Doing well by doing good" is ingrained in their DNA. They pursue a purpose, alongside pursuing profit.
Well-known examples are Green and Zimmer of Lyft and Chesky, Gebbia, and Blecharczyk of AirBnb. These young entrepreneurs and leaders have a burning desire to make a positive difference. And money follows.
Millennials want to work for companies with a clear purpose that they can connect with. There has been a lot of studies and talks about this age group and their views on the workplace these past years. Especially now that they are taking a seat with the Big Brass. The millennials are not just after money. Certainly, all of the applicants to EGGS Design have this common. Some come from workplaces with toxic work environments, some come from industries that they really don’t believe in anymore (typically advertising).
Taking their career to the next level, they want to do something meaningful with people they connect with emotionally.
Look to women
Look to those women that refuse to live by the rules of male-dominated, fear driven big corporations today. So many wise women across the globe choose values that are good for the people, good for the world. And fortunately for people and the world, more and more of the world’s wealth belongs to women because:
Women tend to save more than men do
Women inherit more and live longer
There are more and more women on top of the hierarchies, both in companies and as entrepreneurs. Women take higher education than men
Some women are leading the way and are great role models for the rest of us. Of course, gender is no guarantee for one behavior or the other. I would say that all my male colleagues at EGGS are concerned with the environment, equality, refugees, gay rights, global health, and world peace. Some of the best, most authentic and empathic leaders I have known have been men, and some of the worst have been women.
Look to China
Look to Jack Ma, the founder and leader of Alibaba, the “Google of China”. These clips from an interview in Davos last year says it all:
Jack Ma is a genius. He has so many brilliant, and yet so simple recipes to his tremendous success. None of them are about creating shareholder value or financial results.
Look to the times we live in. And to the future.
It is not just the stars, women, millennials, and Chinese. It is the times we live in. When the baby boomers were young, the hippie movement saw the light of day. There was a huge gap between business leaders and the young in those days.
If you tried to bring up the subjects of say environmental issues, you would be taken for a leftist and therefore untrustworthy for the business.
When I worked for IBM back in the 80’ies, I remember that their mission statement was to “create shareholder value”. Ol' Big Blue was a wonderful company to work for back then. Great company culture, great values. But creating shareholder value didn't exactly get me flying out of bed in the morning. Being part of the dawning hi-tech industry, and helping my customers get more out of their technology investments did. IBM doesn’t have that mission statement any more…
Today, you don’t have to be a radical to be concerned with the environment, equality, or the poor. You don’t have to choose between a lucrative career and a meaningful job. You can do both. It just seems more natural to the younger generation to demand more from an employer than it did for their parents.
Exit short-sighted investors
It is time for the financial world to realize that times are changing. Short-term financial goals are standing in the way of creating long-term value. It takes time to build a culture, it takes time to build sustainability. And it definitely takes time to save the world that we have messed up so badly.
The times are changing, and so are positions of power. Normally, investors can choose between a vast number of start-ups to invest in; my prediction is that soon, very soon, the tables will turn. The best start-ups can choose their investors, and many will choose investors that share their values. And those values will not be purely financial. In fact, this is already happening. Great talent wants to work in companies that create value at more than one level, so the investors need to follow the talent, because that is where the growth will be.
Leaders of yesterday get a kick out of making money. Leaders of tomorrow get a kick out of building profitable businesses that make a positive difference.
And that kick is a driving force towards the world that we want to live in.
I don’t think we need to wait until millennials take over every leader and board position in the world. What do you think? I would love it, if you shared your reflections and insights.