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Leading Business on Purpose

June 18, 2019

This week, corporate leaders have gone from being icons of aspiration to targets of intense scrutiny; particularly as citizens look to business to drive social change.

In this way, strong leadership; founded in authenticity, courage and genuine action, is more important than ever. And certainly, it is essential for shared value to thrive.

This was the consensus of the Leading Business on Purpose panel at SVP’s 2019 Shared Value Summit Asia Pacific yesterday. Panellists included Unreasonable Group CEO Daniel Epstein, Carnival Australia Chair Ann Sherry AO and PwC Australia CEO and PwC Asia Pac Vice Chair Luke Sayers.

The panel discussed the skills required from leaders as the shared value movement continues to take hold.

Mr Sayers suggested: “It’s hard to deliver on good leadership in a fulsome way if you’re not courageous. As a leader, you have to stand for something; something that is meaningful, purposeful and right.”

He added: “You also need to be adaptable – you need to be able to serve with a forehand, a backhand and a smash.”

Ms Sherry believed that leading with purpose came down to three key qualities.

“It’s about being bold, collaborative and impatient,” she said. “You can’t afford to wait until you’re older to be impatient – social change takes time.”

Meanwhile, Mr Epstein emphasised that purpose-led leadership is about tempering confidence with humility. However, he pointed out that commitment to the cause is vital.

“You can’t learn how to ride a bike by talking or reading about it,” he said. “If you want to create a better world, you need to go out and do it.”

He added: “You can’t be worried about failure either. Failure is only failure if you don’t start, you stop, or you do something against your ethical fibre.”

With many traditional business sectors receiving negative attention as part of consumer activism and government reviews, clear communication of a company’s purpose was noted as critical moving forward.

“The art of authentic communications over marketing spin is becoming more and more important,” Mr Sayers said. “With the decline in trust, corporate leaders need to put their shoulders to the wheel to assist in solving societal issues.”

Successfully communicating purpose was positioned as an effective way for leaders to regain credibility among a dubious public, with Ms Sherry explaining: “Ultimately, businesses are now on a path to rebuild trust and reputation.”

Discussing the link between purpose and leadership, Mr Epstein – who works with socially-minded entrepreneurs – said that for them; “purpose is everything”.

“Most of us accept the status quo, but they refuse to,” he said. “That’s because they see profit as a tool. They don’t want to be profiteers, they want to solve a problem. The tougher the problem, and their the motivation goes through the roof.”

Collectively, the panel impressed that business leaders of the future must evolve to take full advantage of Business on Purpose. To succeed in doing this is to significantly advance shared value across the Asia Pacific.