Don’t ask business to save the world

I always look forward to Michael Maccoby’s visits to London. He is a wise and insightful observer of the world. I reviewed his most recent book The Leaders We Need for the FT a couple of years ago.

Last week he was in town, and he told me about the senior corporate executive who had once said to him: “Don’t ask business to save the world.” What the executive meant was that all the talk of do-gooding, of CSR, of ethical business, was all very well. But in the end private sector businesses have to make a proft to survive, and nothing can get in the way of that.

The kicker to the comment was the acceptance that better regulation – government intervention – very well may be necessary to save the world, and business would have to realise this too. “Give us a better game to play,” this executive had said.

Michael Maccoby explained it like this: if the game of soccer (football) was getting too dangerous, if people were regularly breaking their legs, you might want to change the rules. But you would still want the game to remain essentially the same. Maybe some of the rules of business will have to change if we want to save the world – on carbon, on water, on waste. But it will still be business. Governments and business will just have to work together on this.

About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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