David Grayson, Emeritus Professor of Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield School of Management: “There are lots of different opportunities and ways to promote sustainable development”

David Grayson will speak at Sustainable Brands Madrid 2018 about his book ‘All In: The Future of Business Leadership’, co-authored with Chris Coulter from GlobeScan and Mark Lee from SustainAbility. He is passionate about social entrepreneurship and The Guardian has identified him as one of the ten top tweeters on sustainable leadership, alongside Al Gore and Apple’s Tim Cook.

You have written ‘All In: The future of Business Leadership’ with Chris Coulter, CEO of GlobeScan, and Mark Lee, Executive Director of SustainAbility. What are the keys to a sustainable and responsible leadership?


In our book, we have concluded that there are five critical, interlinking attributes that businesses need in order to go All In: Purpose, Plan, Culture, Collaboration and Advocacy.

Going All In means having a clear Purpose, which is authentic and inspiring, and explains why the business exists and how it creates value for itself and for society. It is about having a comprehensive Plan which minimises negative social, environmental and economic (SEE) impacts and maximises positive SEE impacts; covers all aspects of the business, and extends into the supply chain. Going All In means having a sustainable Culture which is innovative, empowering and engaging, open and transparent, and with a core sense of ethics and responsibility. “All In” businesses have the skill and will to engage extensively in Collaboration with a range of business, civil society and public sector partners; and they undertake Advocacy, speaking out and speaking up for social justice and sustainable development.


Do you consider that Sustainability is a critical mainstream business issue for companies?

Absolutely! Issues that some people once thought of as “soft” issues – like diversity, human rights, Climate Change, Water Security, health and well-being – are now “hard” for business: hard to ignore, hard to manage – and very hard for the businesses that get them wrong.

You might expect that someone like me would say this; but what I find really significant, is the way that mainstream institutional investors are now paying serious attention to sustainability. I have been following the annual letter issued by Larry Fink, the global head of BlackRock, with great interest.

Fink concluded his 2018 letter with these words;

“Companies must ask themselves:

  • What role do we play in the community?  
  • How are we managing our impact on the environment?
  • Are we working to create a diverse workforce?
  • Are we adapting to technological change?
  • Are we providing the retraining and opportunities that our employees and our businesses will need to adjust to an increasingly automated world?”


Are companies considering their purpose as something key to their commitment to society and stakeholders?

I do see more businesses asking themselves what is their purpose? For too long, too many businesses have slavishly followed the misguided and false theory, that their purpose is to maximise shareholder-value. As the British economist John Kay has argued, that is like saying the purpose of living is to breathe! Certainly, businesses need to optimize returns to shareholders over the medium to long-term – but in order to do that, they have to address the needs of different stakeholders – and that requires having a purpose – what Chris, Mark and I define as an authentic and inspiring explanation of how the business creates value for itself and for society.

Again, don’t just listen to me. Larry Fink, the global boss of the world’s largest institutional investor – BlackRock – writes in his 2018 letter:

“Society is demanding that companies, both public sector and private, serve a social purpose…”  

“To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society…”

“Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders including, shareholders, employees, customers and the communities in which they operate…”

“Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential.  It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders…”


You defend social entrepreneurship as a philosophy of life and as an essential force for achieving Sustainability, but what is really a social entrepreneur and what requirements or qualities must he or she meet?

Now, I am going to sound like the business school professor I have been for the last eleven years! Let’s define our terms. Social entrepreneurism is about “a business with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.”

I distinguish this from a responsible entrepreneur – someone who takes responsibility for the social, environmental and economic impacts of his/her benefit; and seeks to create long-term value for their business and for society by embracing the opportunities and managing the risks associated with economic, environmental and social developments.

In both cases, they are using business activity to advance sustainable development. In both cases, the social and the responsible entrepreneur sees potential: opportunity where others may not – and they have the drive and the determination and the talent to mobilise resources and make things happen.

I think both the social and the responsible entrepreneur live the dictum of the great management guru, the late Peter Drucker, who declared shortly before he died:

“Every single social and global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise.”


How do companies benefit themselves by having social intrapreneurs among their employees?

Two of the most common challenges I hear from business leaders are: “how do we create more innovation in our organization?” and “how do we engage our employees more effectively?”

Social intrapreneurs are people within large businesses who take direct initiative for innovations that address social and/or environmental challenges, whilst also creating commercial value for their company.

Social intrapreneurs take the initiative. They don’t just come up with suggestions, they champion innovations and drive them forward.

I am fascinated by the way that leading businesses such as Unilever are establishing Intrapreneurs’ Hubs, creating Challenge Funds, running internal competitions and training programmes for intrapreneurs. One of my previous books was all about the positive role of social intrapreneurs, and how and why businesses should encourage them. (Social Intrapreneurism and all that Jazz – 2014 – with Melody McLaren and Heiko Spitzeck). There are lots of resources for social intrapreneurs and for businesses such as the League of Intrapreneurs and the Circle of Young Intrapreneurs and the Intrapreneur Lab

In another, recent blog, I explain why I believe that businesses that go All In for sustainability, will encourage their social intrapreneurs.


How can we put the talent of socially responsible citizenship to work towards a global objective such as sustainability?

I have always believed in the maxim that “it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” In other words, don’t just moan about things that are wrong, get stuck in and do something concrete to improve things. There are many different ways of doing so. You might be a social intrapreneur, or a social entrepreneur, or a responsible entrepreneur, or be working in an NGO, or be a social change-maker, or an Active Citizen, or an elected politician, or a thought-leader or a mentor for change-agents. Many of us, will be in several of these different roles during our lives. In my own case, at different stages in my life, I have been a candidate for the British and the European Parliaments, I have chaired agencies for the British Government, I have advised large companies on becoming more sustainable, I have taught corporate sustainability in a business school, I have been a social entrepreneur and so on. The exciting thing nowadays is that there are lots of different opportunities and ways to promote sustainable development.

I am a big fan of a new book called “New Power: How It’s Changing The 21st Century – And Why You Need To Know” by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms, and the positive message from this book, is that we can make a difference, we can bring about change. Again, I have blogged recently about why in a New Power world, it is even more important for businesses to go All In for sustainability.


Why should someone with an intrapreneur vocation attend Sustainable Brands Madrid 2018?

I hope that Spanish intrapreneurs and anyone in Spain who believes that business can be a positive force for sustainability, will want to attend Sustainable Brands Madrid 2018. You have a great line-up of speakers, and a format that encourages attendees to interact with one another and with speakers. I am really looking forward to taking part. Meantime, anyone who wants more information about “All In: The Future of Business Leadership” can visit: www.AllInBook.net

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