As spring has finally begun to make its presence felt I have had a fascinating and busy month of global travel and experiences. The highlight was a week spent between Delhi and Mumbai interviewing Indian business leaders for the IBLF and gaining some great insights into building sustainable business in a rapidly developing market. While in Mumbai I also had a chance to spend time with the local team of an NGO which Sandy and I have recently started to support, which deals in a very pragmatic and effective way with the challenges of child trafficking.
This has been a very busy time for the Independent Commission too, with almost a full week of Board meetings, reviews and follow-up sessions including a personal appearance in front of the International Development Select Committee in parliament which coincided with a particularly debilitating bout of flu – the only good news was that the MPs took pity on my miserable state and kept the questioning relatively gentle. That same week I croaked my way through the latest Leaders Council webinar for the IBLF – a fascinating discussion on the role of the Board in driving sustainability. This was a theme which also arose in a special workshop I attended at Unilever in London to mark the second anniversary checkpoint of their Sustainable Living Plan. I was asked to facilitate the table headed by Paul Polman, the CEO who has inspired the plan for the company and been a leading global proponent for the value of positive business engagement in society.
Meanwhile on more mundane matters this has been a big month for the development at 12 Cowley Street. We have had our planning permission come through and have had some fun sessions with the structural engineers staring at holes in the foundations and with the interior designers envisioning the home that will (eventually) fill these holes! The boys have returned to school after the Easter holidays ready to plunge into the final term of GCSE’s and ‘A’ Levels. They have had the first (freezing) cricket games which were characterised by hail storms and very limited success with the bat!
On a more positive front Alex played his final game for Horsley Under 18 football club in the final of the Surrey Primary League Cup. Not only did they win 2-0, but Alex actually scored the first goal and was named Man of the Match! Matt and I went to watch Manchester City beat Chelsea at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final. Meanwhile my own soccer activities have been somewhat curtailed by travel and illness, though the team has still managed to ridicule the new boots I bought in India which are inscribed with name “Messi” on the side – I think they believe the “i’ should be a “y’ in my case!
The trip to India was the second I have made this year in my role as Chair of the IBLF as part of a research project we are performing into “CEO Perspectives on the Role of Business and Society in 21st Century India.” We have managed to connect up with over 25 CEO’s and Chairmen of major Indian national and multinational companies and they have all been very generous with their time and insights. I was keen to engage with a good selection of the group to help form my own opinions as well develop the networks for the organisation. In Delhi I met with Ravi Kant, the Vice Chair of Tata Motors, Ramakrishnan Mukundan, the MD of Tata Chemicals, Anand Burman, the Chairman of Dabur India Ltd, one of the biggest consumer goods and pharmaceutical groups in the country as well as Harsh Pati Singhania Chairman of JK Paper. I also enjoyed a lively discussion with the head of the Indian Institute for Corporate Affairs who has been driving much of the recent legislative action surrounding CSR reporting and the 2% CSR target for use of corporate profits in this space. While in Delhi it was fun as ever to get together with former Accenture colleagues Sanjay Jain and Anish Gupta for a good catch-up in the bar overlooking the Delhi Golf Club.
Meanwhile in Mumbai I spoke with Harsh Mariwala, Chairman of the consumer goods company Marico and also a very influential leader and thinker in the area of social responsibility in the country, and I had a fascinating hour and half with Nitin Paranjpe, the CEO of Unilever in India. I reconnected with my old friend Subodh Bhargava, Chairman of Tata Communications for dinner and met the newly appointed Brand Champion of the whole Tata Group, Dr. Mukund Rajan. We are now synthesising the output of these and the other interviews for a report whose publication has been sponsored in part by Tata and Infosys. Key themes which are emerging include the deep personal connection which the leaders have with the development agenda in the country which arises from growing up in its midst.
There is an interesting spectrum of perspectives from the older, more traditional, players who see this through the lens of the evolving family firms and the newer generation of professional business leaders who are increasingly coming to the fore. There was a common focus on the growing gap between the rich and the poor which has resulted from rapid and uneven economic development and some genuine concern that the newly rich were displaying more acquisitive and consumerist behaviours than sustainable and responsible attitudes to growth. The role of business leaders as role models of good practice and ethics was seen as very important and attempts to “mandate” CSR by the government was generally seen as being counter-productive – even though it is an area where the Indian government has been a global innovator. I did hear some great examples of innovation being led out of the Indian leaders however, from the passionate nurturing of greenhouses of rare ingredient plants described by Anand at Dabur, through the personal championing of community-factory relationships by younger leaders such as Ramkrishnan and the imaginative shaping of the role that Mukund has at Tata, combining Brand, Ethics and CSR in a single integrated and senior role reporting to the Group CEO & Chairman.
The visit with the Mumbai team of the anti-trafficking NGO was as eye-opening as I expected it to be. Their offices are in a backstreet in a run-down area and deliberately do not call attention to themselves, due to the sensitivity of their activities. I met with the local leadership team and many of the working groups in a very engaged Q&A session. I heard the stories of the investigative specialists who patrol the red-light and slum factory districts of the city infiltrating the local gangs and networks to identify potential target properties where underage workers and sex-workers are hidden. They organise the police raids and whisk the victims away to safe houses and shelters across the city. There a dedicated team of social workers help the mainly girls to begin the rehabilitation process, provide statements for the police, and liaise with their home villages across the country. Many of the girls come from as far away as West Bengal and Bangladesh and there are often cases where members of their famiies are party to the trafficking scheme and, as a result, new long term homes have to be found. The charity works to train the girls and provide them with skills to be self-sufficient. I saw first hand some of the great home-made cards that some are taught to make. I also met with the legal team who take up the prosecution process with the authorities and bring the cases to court. The group has been having a high degree of conviction success given the inherent difficulties of the environment, including the corruption which pervades much of the police and justice system. They are also making good progress in linking with sex-crime forces in the UK to help break the networks which flow back to the UK. There was a tentative plan to take me to the red-light district to see close-up the environment that they operate in. In the end the lead investigator, who was one of the few they felt could safely escort me, was involved in a raid and so I was spared that experience. I did commit to visit some of the shelters on a future trip and all in all I came way even more impressed with the work of this small but very effective NGO.
The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan session was compelling in a very different way. The meeting began with a progress report on the key goals and initiatives which the company set out two years ago and in particular the growing list of examples where the sustainable business strategy was behind measurable growth in the business. Examples were drawn from the water, health and sanitation focus behind the success of Lifebouy in developing markets and the growth of Knorr attributable to its green raw material supplier management and labelling. It was a privilege to spend a couple of hours with Paul Polman, other members of the senior team at the company and a group of very distinguished academic and NGO leaders to review the progress that is being made to mobilise business effectively to create social value and identify gaps for more progress. I facilitated the group through questions on why more companies have not integrated business and society in their explicit business strategies, what the impact of short term thinking and measurement was, and how much the necessary changes in activity and behaviour would be consumer-led.
It was clear from the participants that personal leadership and courageous advocacy from the business leaders was a prerequisite, as well as longer term commitment from investors and Boards, alongside better platforms for businesses to engage at scale. We roved across the scenarios we have been discussing at IMD in Lausanne on government-led, business-led or consumer-led change and agreed that while the alignment of all three to a greater extent was a key enabler, the pull from society at large, especially an informed and socially-networked young world would be the biggest catalyst for change. Paul concluded the session with his key takeaways and he focused specifically on the drive to create 20-30 clear issue-focused vehicles for collections of businesses, NGOs and other organisations to come together around, to help make progress on the next set of MDG targets. This is a theme we have been championing in the IBLF and, while difficult to pull off, it does seem one of the few ways that we are going to get more businesses to make a difference at scale.
The trip to New York could not have been more different or more frivolous than these weighty dialogues. As a member of the Board of the Royal Shakespeare Company I have watched the success of the musical Matilda which we created with great pride. I was also pleased to be one of the underwriters of the move from Stratford to London, where the show has been playing now to packed houses for well over a year. The next stage of the journey was to take the show to New York. This was a major undertaking, which the Commercial Board of the RSC on which I sit has overseen, and involved the marshalling of very substantial investment from the US artistic community. New casts have had to be rehearsed and the show reset for a US audience and a New York theatre. Finally the previews were over and the formal Opening Night was upon us. Sandy and I flew over to join the pre-show event, see the performance and take part in the huge after-show party. For all the confidence that we had in the show, we were unprepared for the superb production and the even more outstanding reviews which it garnered, even from the fiercest of New York critics.
From the opening notes it was special to see the story of the young girl who triumphs over adversity by being “a little bit naughty” brought to life by a stupendous cast of children and adults, led by the incomparable Bertie Carvel as Mrs. Trunchbull. The buzz at the over 1,000 strong party that night in the vast ballroom of a local hotel was amazing as the reviews came over the wire and were shared in astonishment on iPhones and Blackberries. We had the joy of watching the cast of Matildas and the other children dancing late into the night as we all devoured an even bigger cake than that which features in the show. We attended a special RSC party the next night to celebrate both Matilda and the opening of our production of Julius Caesar in the city and it was fun to rub shoulders with the comedian Tim Minchin who wrote the songs for Matilda and his cowriter Denis Kelly, as well as other great and good such as Sir Anthony Sher. It was also good to see former Accenture colleague David Gartside and his wife who have become big supporters of the RSC in the US. The rest of the trip was characterised by shopping in Soho and a great visit to the Museum of Modern Art.
Speaking of winning by being naughty, the perpetrators of the dramatic gold bullion heist on the A9 autostrade in Italy seem to have got away with it. I was surprised to find the motorway which I routinely take from the airport to our home on Lake Como blocked by a phalanx of police cars and burning flares and I switched on the radio to try to work out what was going on. My rudimentary Italian picked out phrases such as “kalashnikov” and “fugitivi” and the next day I was amazed to read in the local paper how a gang had used a truck to block the highway in front of a van carrying huge quantities of gold over the border from Italy to Switzerland. They had used automatic weapons to hold up the vehicle and make their getaway pursued by the Italian police.
This is certainly more exciting and action-packed than the recent political activity in Italy which has seen a coalition of the usual old suspects come together, despite the victory two months ago of a comedian in the elections. Italy has been without leadership for a couple of months and I must admit it is not clear that it is much different from normal. The natural spirit of the place is however being sapped by the austerity measures and successive failed political interventions. Bureaucracy is everywhere.
I was out in Italy to try to understand the latest attempt to fine us for not having the right sewage pipes in our villa and also to extricate a “denuncio” from the local police in make up for the complete absence of paperwork for my beloved Riva motorboat. From the micro issues to the macro economic situation in the country there is little hope of improvement in the near term and this is bad news for the whole region. It is still a lovely place to spend time however and the pizza is exceptional.
The sun shone on our trip to Devon though it was bitterly cold. I did manage to go into the water once in a thick wet-suit. The water is still unseasonably cold due to the non-movement of the Gulf Stream, a symptom of global warming which has combined with the non-movement of the Jet stream to leave the UK and northern Europe suffering from a very late spring. The buds are finally pushing out at Winterfold, the daffodils are in flower and the forest is alive with the sound of cuckoos cuckooing, woodpeckers wood-pecking and Duke of Edinburgh backpackers back-packing. This is my favourite time of the year and I am looking forward to the next month with excitement and anticipation.