DISCUSSION Tomorrow’s Company: Our Purpose, Strategy and Priorities

by Mark Goyder _______3rd March 2021
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Purpose

24 years on from our foundation, the purpose of Tomorrow’s Company remains:

to inspire and enable business to be a force for good in society.

Since then there has been a notable shift in the attitude of business leaders, investors, influencers and the public in the UK and beyond. There is wider recognition that no part of the system wins if we only focus on short-term financial value. Long-term wealth creation is the goal, and wealth is measured in much more than money. This change has been helped by changes in law and regulation, and huge amounts of guidance given to practitioners and to business. ‘Purpose-led’ has even become a fashionable label.

We believe that intent matters. There are many businesses and leaders who run organisations with a purpose beyond profit, and are determined to be good stewards. We see just as many who pay lip service to ‘purpose-led business’ and don’t reflect this commitment in what they do and how they do it. Too often their heads disappear beneath the parapet at the first sound of shots from extractive investors or owners. Companies have frequently been confronted with the choice between maximising profit in the short term and doing the right thing for the long term.

The best boards and the best owners see themselves as stewards – custodians of the company and its relationships and impacts, now and into the future; these instincts become embedded and people who work with or for the organisation flourish because of it. It is these observations which inform our priorities as Tomorrow’s Company emerges from its transition and seeks to inspire and enable an emerging generation of leaders and businesses.

How business is owned

The approach taken by those who own companies is pivotal. The current corporate form – in terms of ownership, governance, legal status and employee and stakeholder accountability may have made sense ten years ago but is it fit for the future?

A change of ownership can be positive. Yet on other occasions it may sacrifice a company’s purpose, values and intangible assets on the altar of short-term shareholder value, as happened, for example, to many companies which demutualised. Every form of ownership has its strengths and weaknesses: boards need to take the initiative. This means identifying the appropriate owners or shareholders and the corporate form that best fits with that company’s purpose and values.

The individual company is but one tree in the forest. In a robust corporate ecology, the whole of the chain linking savers to investment institutions to companies needs to reflect the spirit of stewardship. Tomorrow’s Company works to influence boards, owners, shareholders and intermediate institutions and governments to ensure that the whole system reflects the principles of stewardship for long-term wealth creation.

How business is learned

The understanding of the drivers of business success and importance of wellbeing, natural capital and the circular economy are not optional separate subjects within a curriculum: they are cornerstones of a twenty-first century business education. If we want to change the future of business, we can start with how it is taught and learned, influencing a new generation of leaders.

In the UK the current curriculum for those studying business is wide open for improvement. From GCSE A-level, through degree, postgraduate teaching and management education, we need to challenge students to work out for themselves, from first principles, how business and investment works; how and why it is important for society, government and future generations. The younger generation are the business leaders of the future: students cannot understand business and its potential unless they are offered some direct contact with entrepreneurship and a clear understanding of the wider system of which business is a part.

Conclusion

Over its 25-year life Tomorrow’s Company has shown abundant evidence for the importance of what it originally called an inclusive approach to sustainable success. Looking ahead with its two chosen areas of focus, it will continue to act as a focal point and catalyst. At the same time, it will champion its earlier work on leadership, governance and stewardship and use this as a resource from which to provide advice, guidance and experience to those who look for it. It will cross the boundaries between academic research, practical experience, and emerging policy issues. Through this work we hope and expect to attract the new generation of leaders who will shape our future impact.

To find out more about the renewed agenda of Tomorrow’s Company, please contact Claire Dobson (Claire@tomorrowscompany.com)

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