Businesses today exist in a landscape of continuous and rapid change, where new technologies emerge, social media's influence grows and information is increasingly accessible. This presents challenges—addressing increased complexity, confronting trust deficits and securing greater visibility across operations, to name a few.
But there are also great opportunities to build trust, demonstrate resilience, heighten security and instill stakeholder confidence in the organisation as a responsible business: one that can navigate through crises and shield people and the planet from harm. To explore today's markers and behaviours of success—and how to develop them—Deloitte hosts the "Insights on responsible business" podcast. Interviews with business leaders and industry luminaries highlight key experiences, challenges and trends related to all facets of responsible business.
We were excited to recently speak with podcast host Sir Rob Wainwright, a senior partner at Deloitte, former executive director of Europol and specialist on making business and society safer (knighted in 2018 for his services to policing and security). Below are conversation highlights, including insights gleaned from dozens of episodes.
Please tell us about your background and role at Deloitte. Why are you passionate about responsible business?
Sir Rob Wainwright: At Deloitte, I work with and advise senior clients at the board and C-suite levels, in banking and many other sectors, on issues such as cyber, financial crime, risk and data security. This gives me the opportunity to hear from leadership and the broader business community about what's occupying their minds. This is one window I have into why responsible business has become such a prominent topic.
Before joining Deloitte in 2018, I worked in government for 27 years, addressing terrorism, national security, cybercrime, financial crime and modern slavery, among other areas. My career has been defined by the work I've been involved in to stop bad things from happening to society and people. If I can help make good things happen, in business especially, then that comes back to making a difference. I'm passionate about contributing, where I can, to make positive outcomes in society.
What is "responsible business" anyway? And why is it important to have a podcast series about it?
Sir Rob Wainwright: I've consciously tried not to define responsible business because it'll mean different things to different people. But if you were to group it under a certain notion, it's about purpose-led business strategy. And key to that notion is that making a contribution to society is no longer just the right thing to do; it's the smart business thing to do. There no longer has to be a choice between pursuing profit or purpose. It's about pursuing profit through purpose.
Many of the topics we talk about on the podcast—climate, inclusion and diversity and so on—centre on the change toward more purpose-led behaviour and strategy in the business world. If you're interested in what's behind that, why it matters and what opportunities are available, that's what the series is about.
It's worth noting, too, that those who are pursuing profit through purpose, such as by putting Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) at the heart of their agenda, are able to win the race for talent. This notion of purpose also leads to a positive uptick in brand recognition and improved investor relations. So, again, it's very good for business.
What was the impetus for the podcast?
Sir Rob Wainwright: We started it in March 2020. The timing was connected to the pandemic and the events surrounding it, both in practical and purposeful terms. People were spending more time at home, so they had more time on their hands to listen. At the same time, the subject was important because we began seeing a responsible business community that wanted to bring about change during this crisis to society. Companies were changing their product lines, for example, to produce more soap; they were doing more work in their communities that wasn't at all connected to profit. It was interesting and heartening to see what inspired so many business leaders to do that.
So really, the timing of the pandemic was consequential to the start of the podcast. Once we got started, we've spoken about much more than just that; it represents a lot more now. We're recording a couple of episodes per month. Listeners can tune in through Deloitte's website, as well as on traditional podcast forums (Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify – links can be found below).
What have been some of the most inspiring stories and lessons?
Sir Rob Wainwright: We've gotten great insights into:
What themes seem to come up frequently?
Sir Rob Wainwright: Leadership is a big one, followed by ethics and trust. Responsible business is also about running businesses in a more responsible way, not just pursuing more responsible objectives. For example, one episode discusses the need to be trustworthy with users' data. Overall, the idea to become more responsible, to cultivate a more responsible image, is important.
What have you learned from your role as host?
Sir Rob Wainwright: I'm actually still learning to be a host! In my former world, I had a lot of media experience, but I was always on the other side of the table [as the interviewee].
Hosting this podcast occurred at a time in my career where I'm being asked more to be a moderator, rather than a speaker, at events. I'm starting to shift more into that and learning how to be a better host, a better interviewer. It's quite a craft—to be able to give people the confidence to speak in an interesting way and to have the timing and politeness to interject and push further. It's really been a great people-listening experience, learning about the character of people.
All of that I've learned alongside the evolving concept of responsible business itself.
How has the pandemic impacted businesses’ efforts and initiatives to act responsibly?
Sir Rob Wainwright: In particular, the pandemic has affected leadership; it's been a leadership test.
In one episode, we learn about the pressure on CEOs to slash costs, cut down on operations, and look after the core business. The executive's point is if you stay true to your conviction that the future belongs in being more purpose-led, then there will be positive outcomes down the road.
Another guest (episode #36) discusses the corrosive effects of short-term culture or "short-termism” in business—how it drives an agenda of natural inclinations to deliver on the priority of today and worry less about long-term, sustainable growth. His theory is that if you don't pivot from short-termism to longer, more strategic issues around purpose, you will not have a business in ten years.
What are some pitfalls organisations encounter as they look to adopt more responsible business practices?
Sir Rob Wainwright: Again, it starts with leadership. Sometimes there isn't the right CEO in place to drive change, or the board isn't doing their job. (I discuss this with a board member and chairman in episode #14.)
Businesses can also falter when leaders show a lack of conviction or courage to drive change. One leader I spoke to drove change abruptly by stopping quarterly shareholder reporting. He wasn't going to pursue short-termism; he was interested in what his company was going to look like in two years. There are some big decisions leadership can make that they're not, because they don't have the courage or confidence to do that.
Another pitfall is failing to make a strong and clear strategic vision that's right for your business and that's inspiring enough for others to follow you down that path.
When it comes to responsible business, where do you see the biggest opportunities for businesses in the future?
Sir Rob Wainwright: Sustainability and climate. We're seeing an alignment of priority-setting between government, big business and society, and that's a special moment. It's already leading to fundamental impacts on the motor car industry, as well as all industries. Those who see the change early and jump on it will have a rosier future. To be ahead of the curve on electric cars, recycling, producing greener products, and so on, is where the opportunity lies.
Late last year, your podcast hosted a virtual (podcast-to-podium) event. Can you tell us more about it?
Sir Rob Wainwright: We came up with this idea because of the success and positive feedback the podcast was receiving. The purpose was to bring the podcast series to life in a live, visual setting and discuss the concepts and evolution of responsible business. We're looking at making this an annual event. We're publishing content so people can watch the panel discussions and speakers, and will share more event content in the future.
What are some "quick wins" that business leaders can consider to help their organisations become more responsible and make a positive impact on society?
Sir Rob Wainwright: In short, stop doing bad things. Global supply chains are full of many challenges and difficulties for digital trust, modern slavery, etc. Fixing your supply chain and fixing the level of integrity around that are key. Stop producing products that aren't sustainable. Just recast the strategy around things that are inspiring.
How can companies make being responsible a "win-win”?
Sir Rob Wainwright: As one of our guests explains, it's no longer an opportunity; it's a no-brainer choice. It's not just about putting purpose at the heart of your strategy to pursue more successful enterprises in the future and be more commercially successful; it's about how to survive in the future.
This involves examining all aspects of your business: What are your strategic priorities? What's in your supply chain? What products are you producing? What's the business brand that you're reaching out to? etc. It all hinges on the core strategic narrative of purpose and doing something in a way that's good for society.
Who's on your wish list to talk to for future episodes?
Sir Rob Wainwright: Annika Sponselee, my co-host for the recent podcast-to-podium event (who also provided inspiration for the podcast series), talks frequently about having a Hollywood actor on the show. It would be interesting and inspirational to speak with somebody who is choosing to use their fame and maybe their fortune to run a mission around some of the ideas we've been talking about.
Back in the business world, it would be great to speak with a senior executive at an oil and gas company. These are really challenging times for them, and I'd like to understand more about how they're managing that. It would also be interesting to hear from senior government officials, discussing the intersection of business and government during the pandemic.
Find all episodes of the Insights on Responsible Business podcast series on our website or enjoy listening via your favorite podcast app: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts.
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Listen to Deloitte's "Insights on responsible business" podcast series
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Learn more about how businesses can thrive post-COVID-19 at: Connecting for a Resilient World