Company boards of directors need to take decisions today to deliver outcomes the world needs long into the future including on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, said Bina Mehta, chair of KPMG in the UK.
“Boards really do set the tone for these long-term decisions,” she said in a video interview with Professor Mauro Guillén, Dean of Cambridge Judge Business School, as part of the series CJBS Perspectives: Leadership in Unprecedented Times, organised by the Alumni & External Engagement team at Cambridge Judge.
Business has shifted from ‘why’ to ‘how’
“We are moving from not just the ‘why’ we do business but also to the ‘how’ we do business, and I think the how is just as important as the why,” said Mehta, who is a Fellow in Entrepreneurship at Cambridge Judge and was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to Trade and Investments in the UK and Female Entrepreneurs in the New Year’s Honours 2022.
“It is a balancing act – to deliver sustainable growth which is responsible, inclusive and ethical,” she said. “So for boards the challenge is to make decisions today that will deliver the outcomes we need in the future.
“We’re making decisions today where we’re not going to see the outcomes in our times in these roles. These outcomes will be delivered years out. Ensuring decisions are made and align with all the organisation’s values and purpose is, I think, the key here.”
Innovative entrepreneurs are the engines of growth
Mehta said in the webinar that she was fortunate to work early in her KPMG career in India, the US and Canada. It was in Canada that “I really developed this incredible passion for supporting entrepreneurship”, and after returning to the UK she chaired the professional services firm’s “emerging giants” business – “those fast-growing businesses that are really the engine for growth in the UK for the next 10 years or so”.
“Our entrepreneurs are absolutely vital to our economy,” she added. “Our army of innovators are going to be the drivers of growth in the future, and the reason I say that is, let’s be clear, a lot of large organisations are depending on these innovators to innovate themselves. There’s an ecosystem that is inextricably linked.”
Among her other comments in the interview (partial edited transcript):
A focus on sustainability, responsibility and inclusivity
“My focus now is very broad. It’s about 3 big things: rebuilding trust in our profession, growing as a sustainable, responsible business, and building an inclusive culture in our firm. And actually, what I’m seeing outside as well, these are the sorts of things that businesses are focusing on.”
Business focus has shifted from shareholders to wider stakeholders
“Over the 30 years I’ve been in business I’ve definitely seen the role of business change. Expectations have changed: it’s not just about shareholders anymore, it’s about broader stakeholders too. If I take our business as an example, when I look across our stakeholder group, whether it’s customers or suppliers and our colleagues, the expectations have broadened as our business has grown.”
Boosting female entrepreneurship
“We know that female entrepreneurs don’t attract a proportionate level of investment. But what I have seen, and not just for female entrepreneurs, is that peer-to-peer activity where people help each other is really important, because entrepreneurs get such strength and support from these networks rather than trying to work it on your own.”
Lifelong learning to enable pivoting
“We’re going to have to retrain and pivot as our colleagues go through their careers. Lifelong learning is, I think, going to be the norm of the future… being open and being tenacious about learning and wanting to acquire knowledge.”
To which Dean Mauro Guillén replied: “I’m so happy to hear about your emphasis on skills and continuing education and lifelong learning, wonderful initiatives that in fact we’re setting into motion here at Cambridge Judge Business School.”
Launched in April 2020 in response to the tumult of the global pandemic, CJBS Perspectives: Leadership in Unprecedented Times is a video series organised by the Alumni & External Engagement team at Cambridge Judge. The series features globally prominent business leaders discussing timely and interesting business topics and themes, as well as a view on how they and their organisations have coped, and even thrived, in challenging times.