The long view

Today, Vince Cable, the business secretary, will address the annual conference of the CBI, the UK business lobby group. In a speech that has been widely leaked ahead of the time, he will talk about the dangers of “corporate short-termism”.

In our real-time, information-swamped environment it raises an interesting point – not about the need to bring Cable’s “chancers and spivs” to heel, but about perspective.

Andrea Jung, chief executive of Avon, is Canadian-born, but was brought up in the US by Chinese parents. She is rare among Fortune 500 chief executives (where average tenure is 3.4 years) to have occupied the corner office for 11 years. “In the US business environment, it’s all about the next 90 days,” she says. “The Asian view is that you run the gauntlet for the long term and that’s how you effect change.”

Cheung Yan, chair and founder of Nine Dragons Paper in China, shares Jung’s “Asian” view. She may have built what by 2011 will be the world’s biggest paper recycling business, but her focus has not been on size but on longevity. She told me her ambition is “to build a company of 100 years”.

Güler Sabanci is the third generation of her family to steer one of Turkey’s largest conglomerates, spanning energy, cement, tyres and retailing. “Being a family firm helps us have a long-term strategy to implement huge investments in energy,” Sabanci says about her company’s commitment to greenfield projects that are helping to develop Turkey’s hydropower. She is committed to her company’s $1bn philanthropy activities, including Sabanci University. “We cannot claim to be successful if we are only doing business to satisfy our shareholders,” she says.

DuPont is a company founded in 1802 on the banks of Delaware’s Brandywine River by Eleuthère Irenée du Pont, a French royalist sympathiser who was fleeing the Revolution. He was friends with Thomas Jefferson, and the French chemist’s powder mill supplied roughly half of the gunpowder used by the Union side in the US Civil War. Eighty years later, DuPont’s innovations with polymers would revolutionise the cost of parachutes in the second world war. When Neil Armstrong took his “giant leap for mankind”, he was wearing a space suit partly made from DuPont-patented Teflon. The company now produces bullet-proof glass used in conflict zones across the world. I asked Ellen Kullman, chief executive, how it felt to have this weight of history on her shoulders. “Humbling”, she replied simply.

This is the big advantage of long-termism: whether through culture, heritage or history, it introduces a healthy dose of humility into the boardroom.

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen.

For more Women at the Top news, video interviews and other features, visit


About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.