Sub-Warden and Professorial Fellow in Management Studies, Colin Mayer, was speaking at the Wadham Circles’ Debate, The Future of the Corporation.
Colin argued that corporate preoccupation with profit in order to please shareholders was undermining trust in business. “The purpose of business is not to produce profits but to benefit customers with goods and services,” he said, adding that businesses seem to have lost sight of this. “Business in the twenty first century should recognise trust as well as reward,” he added, highlighting the importance of “telling it like it is”, rather than what clients want to hear.
Warren East CBE (Engineering, 1980), CEO of Rolls-Royce, highlighted the fundamental benefits that business brings to society, allowing individuals to concentrate on what they are good at in the workplace, paying for the society we know today through wages and taxes, and providing us with the benefits that we enjoy in modern society. He highlighted the important role of business in funding universities and research as well as the innovation and technological breakthroughs that have resulted from corporate competition.
“Business happens because of trust…. it is a myth that all business is bad,” he said adding that business has a shared responsibility for better communication of what it achieves in terms of such things as employment, support for art and science, investment in cleaner technology, education and services.
The “massive contribution for good” of small and medium size enterprises should be stressed said James Gibson (Chemistry, 1979), Chief Executive and co-founder of Big Yellow Group PLC. Commenting on his experience he said: “Big Yellow is a business that puts culture first and we are not alone.” He outlined the company’s three pillars of sustainability: Profit, with a number one priority of keeping the business secure; Planet and environment, using recyclable materials and renewable energies; People, involving employees at all levels in committees. James also highlighted the need for good regulation as well as the importance of communication: “We are doing a lot of good stuff – we need to shout about it more.”
The importance of corporate culture was the focus of comments by Susan Bright (Law, Somerville 1984), Regional Managing Partner, Hogan Lovells LLP. Susan spoke of the need to maintain a working environment where individuals feel proud and can grow. “I take huge comfort in the next generation,” she said, adding that for this generation the purpose of the organisation is what really matters. “Business is a force for good” she commented, adding that the global nature of many businesses allows us to learn and be inspired by different cultures.
Audience questions introduced discussion of the differences between businesses and big corporations, the role of family-run businesses and the role of regulation. Wadham College Warden Ken Macdonald QC brought formal discussion to a close so that guests could continue to debate over drinks and canapés at Hogan Lovells’ impressive office in Holborn. The event was generously co-hosted by Neil Mirchandani (Law, 1983) and Hogan Lovells LLP.
The annual Circles’ Debate provides an opportunity for Fellows and students to thank regular and significant donors to Wadham. Read more about Circle membership here.