Should companies change how they do business? – Luc-Olivier Marquet

Luc-Olivier Marquet, the CEO of Unilever South Africa, on leaving a legacy.

He who cannot be named

This past week, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, addressed Parliament for the first time since the Christchurch mosque shooting that left 50 people dead. Since the attack, Ardern has showed tremendous compassion for the victims, and even pledged to ban military-style, semi-automatic weapons. In her address, she bluntly labelled the alleged assailant as a terrorist, an extremist and a criminal. She also vowed to never mention his name, and to leave the man nameless. Germany took a similar approach with the site of Hitler’s death, turning the Führerbunker into a parking lot, declaring that there was nothing worth commemorating. 

In the midst of atrocities and times of darkness, there is a yearning for leaders to guide us back to our humanity. In some instances, like these, removing the face off the perpetrators can minimise any glorification of their acts. Sometimes, casting an offender into oblivion may be for the best, but often those that play in the moral grey area actually prefer for their acts to remain anonymous. It seems as though we are no longer able to call a spade a spade. In my opening paragraph I still had to refer to Christchurch gunman as “alleged.” Leaders who act without consideration or care for employees, customers, or the community are appalled when they are called out for their selfish choices, and when we can, we still choose to not draw any attention.

We obviously cannot compare the murder of 50 people or genocide of millions to just losing R45bn off a company’s valuation, but the result is same. Anonymity. Whether it is covering the face for evil to avoid a twisted worship, or covering our mouths to avoid the wrath of corporations – the result is the same. 

On the other side of the scale, we do have the whistle-blowers and the few brave men and women who take a stand to shine a spotlight on instances of moral and ethical degradation. But do their efforts actually make a difference? After all, it has taken years for the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture to manifest from when the first rat was sniffed out, and yet we still sit with zero consequences for any perpetrators of recent state capture. 

Perhaps we aren’t as far along as we would like to be, consciously. Perhaps managing public perception still takes priority over authentic accountability. Perhaps our attempt to shift the way of being for leaders from shareholder focus towards societal focus is near impossible. But I’ve always liked the underdog, and perhaps every David needs a Goliath. 

The consciousness of most of our current leaders is undoubtedly questionable. Ethics and values only need to be ‘regulated’ and ‘governed’ in a system where the consciousness of the organisation allows for ethical irregularity. This is the current system, and those that choose to carry a flame of virtues as they walk through grey corridors and sit in swanky boardrooms are not fighting against the current system, they are the system fighting for itself.

What makes a Conscious Company? – Prof. Mervyn King

Individuals are the conscience of the organisation. The organisation itself is inanimate says, Prof. Mervyn King.