Lucy Mantella

Lucy Mantella

Principal Corporate Advisor

The Need to Lead: how businesses are driving change through leadership and collaboration

Lucy Mantella, Principal Corporate Advisor

Societal leadership is a core function of business. So illustrates the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, which also now puts businesses as the most trusted institution in the world.

The spotlight therefore often falls on CEOs as the face of change, who need to lead where governments fall short in fixing society’s problems. In fact, a recent McKinsey report cites that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for CEOs to evolve the very nature and impact of their roles. While expectations have risen, so too have opportunities for doing good, with the pandemic in particular showing what businesses can achieve.

Both leadership and collaboration are huge concepts for businesses to take on when it comes to addressing society’s pressing issues, especially considering crises are increasingly becoming the norm. So, I was really pleased to hold our first in-person event post-pandemic to explore how businesses are approaching these two topics.

We were joined by two of our clients: Kate Rodgers, Global Head of Sustainability at Schroders Wealth Management; and Paul Naish, Director of UK Policy and Patient Advocacy at AstraZeneca, who shared their experiences with us.

I’m grateful for our speakers for sharing their experiences with us and for those of who joined us to take part. If you missed it, we hope to see you at a future event – watch this space!


Leading through collaboration 

For both businesses, it seems they have reached a level of maturity in their corporate responsibility activities to enable them to go that step further. They see the importance of not just leading their own businesses to do the right thing, but finding ways to convene others to accelerate change. “Leadership isn’t about feeling proud of how far ahead you are, but about carrying people with you and convening them,” says Paul.

For AstraZeneca, it was during the initial stages of the pandemic, having carried out an initial response, that they realised they needed to do something different to save small patient organisations from collapse. With dozens of pharmaceutical companies operating in the UK, small charities had little chance in finding the right one to approach for support. 

So with CAF’s help, AstraZeneca led in creating the Patient Organisations Recovery Fund, bringing together multiple pharmaceutical industry leaders all contributing to the same fund to provide unrestricted funding for small patient charities. Paul believes that it has genuinely saved many of the grantee organisations but recognises there are areas for improvement and that gained huge learnings about collaboration for the future. 

Schroders too have been able to convene others for good; building on their hugely successful employee-led fundraising appeal (#CollectiveAction) in response to the pandemic, they have launched an appeal for Ukraine, not just for employees, but using catalytic fundraising to encourage their clients to give too. It’s been incredibly well received, with their matched funding budget disbursed within a week and a half. This has led them to consider doing more catalytic funding and test new ideas.

What does good leadership look like?

We heard from both our speakers about their CEOs and senior leaders displaying real leadership from the top; from sacrificing portions of their salaries and bonuses during the pandemic, to being vocal about important issues and always asking what more can they do. But it was clear that leadership does not just come from the top at both AstraZeneca and Schroders; it’s been integrated across the organisations. 

Leadership isn’t hierarchical – claims Kate – it can come from anywhere. It’s about involving and listening to other people; it’s a product of collaboration. For social purpose and inclusive organisations, Paul added, it’s particularly about bringing people in and ensuring that there’s a focus on making change happen rather than just being the first to do something.

How to integrate leadership into the corporate culture

While it was fantastic to hear they’ve both managed to integrate that sense of leadership into the culture of their organisations, one of the questions we had from the audience was on how this can be done in reality. 

Paul advised fighting the urge to want all of your employees to agree with what the senior leadership think and do – it’s simply unrealistic. But being clear in informing people about why you’re doing things and how it will positively affect what they care about is the most important thing. Not everyone will like everything you do and that’s ok – trying to please or retain everyone will sacrifice your culture.

Kate added that it’s not just about being explicit about your organisational beliefs but following it up with actions and having them reflected in the authenticity of the people who make up the organisation. Of course, there will be challenges, but it’s about the way that individuals feel supported and able to commit to being authentic.

Should businesses or regulators lead the change?

One question I was particularly interested to cover was the role of regulation in creating societal change. Finance and pharmaceuticals are both heavily regulated sectors, and there was consensus that businesses should lead and pave the way for regulation. 

“Companies should absolutely lead. Social change is coming through into business, and while the forward-thinking CEOs were already on that train, we’re now seeing social change pushed through into regulatory change, which brings up the people who weren’t leading,” explained Kate. “This leads to sustainability moving from a ‘nice-to-have’ for businesses, to an essential. But businesses can’t tackle these huge systemic issues like climate change, inequality or biodiversity loss alone, they need collaboration.”

While Paul agreed, he sees a challenge arising in the situation where both businesses and regulators think they’re leading, creating a race to set the standard. The decision-making process for which direction to go down needs to be done together, rather than a lead-follow dynamic, and for that there needs to be constant open dialogue.

Building a business case for doing good

An issue that often arises among our clients is around the business case for doing good and how to convince stakeholders.

Alongside the multiple competitive advantages to doing the right thing, at AstraZeneca they view the real competitive advantage as investing in and shaping the society and environment they want to do business in. Their not-for-profit Covid-19 vaccine, for example, helped ease a crisis to enable them to keep doing business in the long-term. 

At Schroders, it’s all about long-term thinking. As shareholders themselves, they consider the responsible practices of the businesses they invest in and aim to support long-term decision making for things that may be a competitive advantage later down the line. In turn, their own stakeholders also take a long-term view. They are fortunate that 46% of their business is owned by a family, which provides a level of stability and longevity. But additionally, all staff were recently made shareholders, which brings people together with a sense of purpose and collaboration, and encourages more long-term thinking.

Paul added that even considering long-term horizons, it’s important to be clear about any interim benefits or milestones, not just to deliver for shareholders but to ensure you know you’re on the right path. Identify the short and medium-term wins within a long-term horizon. This is critical within AstraZeneca UK’s: 'purpose led partnership' approach which focuses on absolute clarity on a shared mission and the prospect of evidencing benefit and scaling solutions.

Another key point raised was the need to focus your areas of impact and not respond to every crisis or societal issue. Identify the core issues in the markets where your business is present or those that your people truly care about. You’ll be far more likely to get senior leadership buy-in if you choose your cause areas in line with your corporate purpose and not overstretch your resources or stakeholder attention.

We’ve witnessed some truly innovative and bold actions from our clients in recent years and this discussion demonstrated the depth of thinking, creativity and bravery that is required to really lead in tackling societal issues. 

If you would like to attend our events in future, sign up to our newsletter for the latest updates.