Reflections

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GEOFFREY BUSH
Chairman, Diageo Foundation

Note: The origin of this meeting lay in conversations between Geoffrey Bush (chairman of the Diageo foundation and former director of Diageo plc) and David Peat. It is unfortunate that Geoffrey was in Australia negotiating a settlement at the same time as our meeting. However, he sent us his good wishes and the following reflections.

The world is experiencing radical change. How fundamental is this?

What is the future role of businesses and how can they, operating through trust, ethics, values and ‘right action’ contribute to a healthy society of the future? How significant is business in a global context compared to religious movements, governments and other international organizations?

Can we develop new languages for business? Can we not rather use and build on the new language of corporate social responsibility already developed—how can it become common parlance?

What is the role of trust and organizational behavior in creating an open, transparent and ethical business culture? How can it become consistent between different cultures and over the long term (i.e. despite short-term and/or protectionist pressures)?

This facilitated interactive roundtable session will explore ethical and legal dilemmas in companies and create a dynamic discussion about future directions that are sustainable and sustaining for the population at large.

This roundtable meeting will be for businesspeople who wish to move to new thinking and explore new territory. It would also include one or two people from the arts, humanities, and sciences to serve as catalysts to thinking …beyond the bottom line.

It is clear that Russia, China, India and Brazil will impact the world economy but there are other forces at work that will influence the future way of doing business. These include

  • International law and regulations and changing corporate culture governing the behavior and policies of multi-national corporations. For example, there is a growing call for transparency but there are differing definitions of what is meant by transparency and, further, how it might be achieved without compromising proprietary information and practices. How is this possible in the context of economic power changing from West to East (i.e. the West will inevitably try to protect its industry and proprietal rights whilst the East will not want to be restricted from past practices under which Western power and proprietal rights were established)?
  • The global dialogue on resource use and availability along with the dialogue on global environment. There are issues of future wealth and well-being here for both the ‘haves and the have-nots.’
  • Building a shared understanding of ‘sustainable’ business in relation to our planet (the ecology of sustainability), taking into consideration the need to balance human commerce with the ecology of the sea, forests, rivers, lakes and land.  What will make human society embrace altruistic/long term enlightened self-interest rather than the ‘selfish-gene’/immediate satisfaction culture of western society?
  • Discussion of the exquisite and complex interactions between the health of employees and ecological practices, including energy use.

Why ‘tone at the top’ is important. Consciousness is the most important factor in how we make decisions in order to go forward. Understanding the need for business leaders to be ‘present’ and ‘practicing presence/awareness’ in their lives and business relationships. True ‘ethical’ business behavior is born of the heart and not by law. We will explore the common threads exhibited by leading companies with ethical leadership success stories. Is ethical behavior confined to leading companies whose main driving force is to be—or be seen to be—to act responsibly? Is the protection of brand reputation and/or license to operate without over-regulation?  Is ‘Enlightened self-interest’ more likely to succeed than relying on altruism? (not least because company law tends to place shareholder interests above all else in Directors’ fiduciary duties).