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Nick Stace, CEO, RCVS asks: how much do we care?

The 19th Century author and humourist Mark Twain once said that “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Little did he know then that his simple but painfully exposing challenge would force some of Britain’s top leaders to contemplate the meaning of their lives, the importance of their work and the human values that drive them.

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Not so long ago if you wanted meaning in your work, then an application to Oxfam seemed the most logical thing to do, but graduates now face a more nuanced challenge. As Geoff McDonald at Unilever asserted, capitalism 2.0 means ‘doing well by doing good’ and results at Unilever are now quantified in terms of people reached on health and hygiene indicators as much as on enhancing shareholder value.

For many years IKEA has measured its success through its vision of ‘a better everyday life for the many people’, which means that at the end of his decade as CEO Anders Dhalvig claims his greatest achievement was reducing prices by 20 per cent, to help achieve that vision.

And then there are the disrupters of conventional businesses with their social and environmental impacts achieving much more change than the often predictable and unactionable responses of politicians and NGOs. New player airbnb.com is now the largest hotel in the world with 10 million stays last year in 192 countries; bike sharing worldwide is the fastest growing form of transport; and for every car shared, 32 cars are not produced, which means that 500,000 fewer cars were sold in the US last year alone.

According sharing guru Lisa Gansky the culture of generosity is sweeping conventional ways of doing business from their comfort zones. Take outdoor retailer Patagonia, which now measures its success by a metric called Adventures Per Jacket (APJ), rather than GDP, and has led to a practical change in the name-tags for each jacket, with multiple name entries available to encourage multiple usage of the product.

And that was before we heard from social enterprises which of course put social purpose around turning around lives and reaching the most disadvantaged on a par, but interestingly not ahead of commercial success. At Fair Finance, Faisel Rahman offers loans in a very caring and supportive way to some of the most disadvantaged consumers in London, and takes great pleasure in putting loan sharks out of business every day. And three year old Kickstarter has so far raised $1bn for arts funding in the US from crowd sourced funding, more than the US Government has offered up over the same timeframe.

From what we heard at Wavelength’s Connect event, there seems to be a growing movement of businesses with a social purpose, underpinned by basic human values of generosity, human decency and plain honesty, and a confidence and a desire to change the world for the better.

It is quite obviously compelling but it is no less challenging to work out what that really means for all of us and it goes to the heart of whether we see our working lives in that way. Lars Kolind, president of Scouting worldwide and author of Unboss challenged everyone at Wavelength to decide whether they are leaders or caretakers, whether they have the ambition to be more than they are to see the higher purpose in what they do.

I think there are few times probably since the days we were all at school contemplating becoming a rocket scientist or working to alleviate poverty and suffering in Ethiopia, that we have thought about the impact our lives can have. Wavelength challenges us to think those thoughts again and to become clearer about our ambitions, our values and the control we have over our lives.

For leaders to be leaders and not caretakers it’s important to come to terms you’re your moral compass and your purpose in life. In many ways the last few days clarified my mind that this is what differentiates leaders from managers.

And as if to confirm that message, there was barely a dry eye in the house when we heard from our final speaker Baroness Sue Campbell, formerly Chair of UK Sport, and the memory of a nation that was made so proud by sporting achievement. As Lord Coe once said ‘leaders are people who have an unswerving belief in the power of the individual and the collective power of people on a common mission.’

This is the start of the journey for 120 people on Wavelength’s Connect programme and it is a mission that will help create even better leaders of the future.

By Nick Stace, CEO,  Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons


Some of the speakers mentioned in this article are part of the Wavelength Speakers Bureau. To view full biographies and to book them for your own event, click below:

Faisel Rahman, Founder, Fair Finance

Baroness Sue Campbell, Chair, Youth Sports Trust

Lisa Gansky, Founder, Mesh Directory

Lars Kolind, Chair, Jacob Jensen Holding

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