BQ Newsletter

Sir Stuart Rose addresses changing roles in business

Tuesday 13 March 2012

New research from global sustainability organisation the International Business Leaders Forum and leading business school the Ashridge Business School reveals that top executives are increasingly aligning their core business to serve not just direct customers, but also the interests of wider society.

Based on in-depth interviews with senior executives, this new report on the changing role of business leaders will be launched by Sir Stuart Rose, former Executive Chairman and CEO, Marks & Spencer on 29 March 2012 at The Institute of Directors, London. It will be open to invited members of the press (please see details below).

‘Leadership in a Rapidly Changing World: How Business Leaders are Reframing Success' highlights that more and more business leaders are connecting company success with social progress, and paying attention to social and environmental issues that have conventionally been the territory of political leaders and NGO activists.

No longer is business leaders’ engagement with social issues largely ‘defensive’ and relegated to an annual philanthropic gesture, or a token recycling programme. This is in sharp contrast to a generation ago.

The report outlines what we can learn from current and former Chairs, CEOs and senior executives about the shifting demands of business leadership.

Based on in-depth interviews with top executives, the research reveals that growing numbers see a pursuit of business growth that is 'smart', 'inclusive' and 'responsible' as fundamental to the creation of long-term value.

Mark Foster, Chairman of the International Business Leaders Forum (and former Group CEO, Accenture) said: “Trust in business leaders is at an all-time low, coupled with a lack of confidence to take the lead. However, there is a cadre of CEOs in many organisations who ‘get it’. These are people who are already confident enough to step away from the shorter term rhythms of their traditional stakeholders, and paint longer term visions for how they intend to grow their company responsibly.”

The research identifies a range of examples where helping address major societal challenges goes hand-in-hand with successful business practice.

The authors believe that this trend is indicative of a new generation of leaders. Could these examples become the norm for the majority tomorrow?

Sir Stuart stated: “There are chief executives who are ahead of the game.

There are chief executives who are more visionary. There are chief executives who recognise that the world is not the place it was 10 years ago and that they have to find different routes and listen to different inputs.

They are necessarily in the minority. The tail end will never catch up and the rest are in the middle. The middle's a comfortable place to be, and everybody else seems to be doing the same thing until you suddenly find, ’Oops! They’re not doing that any more. Oh dear!’, and you realise you’ve been left behind.”

Yet not all top executives are recognising the need to lead differently. The report also highlights the many hurdles faced by those who do decide to challenge the status quo.

Co-author of the report, Matt Gitsham, Director, Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability, said: “You might think, that as a business leader, you cannot afford to waste time and resources on these challenges, that it is not your job. But as your peers at the top of a growing proportion of the world’s most influential businesses reshape and redefine tomorrow’s business landscape and what it means to succeed as a leader in it, the evidence suggests that in today’s world, you cannot afford not to.”

This new way of seeing their role has led a growing number of influential business leaders to pursue a new style of leadership. Not only do business leaders need to lead significant cultural change within their businesses, but they now increasingly work with others to play a leadership role beyond conventional business boundaries. The report calls for senior executives to develop skills in areas that have not been a conventional part of the business leader’s repertoire.

The report also has acute implications for talent management and leadership development. HR professionals and business schools must embrace this opportunity to accelerate this new kind of business leadership.


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