Photo: GlaxoSmithKline, Sir Andrew Witty, CEO.

How Doing Good is Good for Business

By Breanne Svehla, Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Saïd Business School, Oxford University

Sir Andrew Witty, CEO GlaxoSmithKline: Doing Good is Good for Business

Last month, we got to hear from Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline. The talk was part of the Pears Business Schools Partnership lecture, which promotes sustainable and responsible business through inspiring future leaders. What does one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have to say about how doing good is good for business?

Sir Witty’s talk was deeply insightful and provocative, and I walked away with a few important messages:

Align with individuals

Sir Witty reminded us that behind the mask of every giant institution or system, there lies people. He emphasized businesses should not be seen as singular entities, but as entities composed of individuals—who, when given the chance to cultivate their personal values at work, help align the company with overarching societal values. And when companies are more aligned with societal values, they generally have products and services more aligned with customers. And hence, they generally sell more.

Sustainable thinking is needed for the long haul

Companies that focus on long-term planning are inherently more likely to be around for a long time. If you are thinking ahead, you have to make sound choices today in order to reach your long-term goals tomorrow. Fostering long-term credibility and encapsulating the broader social dynamic staves off failures and creates a financially successful company. In the end (a long time from now), everybody’s happy.

Say what you do, mean what you say

Accountability. Sir Witty said it’s a must. Accountability to employees, customers, stakeholders, society, the company and ourselves results in good behaviour and returns. Business leaders should hold themselves accountable for setting the tone and leading by example. He said, “we must stand in front of the mirror and ask ourselves – what’s the most we can do to make a positive difference, to do better, be responsible, to keep challenging and demanding better?”

In short, the night for me was a lot about bringing common sense back to business. Not only did Sir Witty inspire us with optimistic views on how we can do good for our companies and the world, but he also shared pragmatic advice for driving intrapreneurial change and for leading responsibly.

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