Lucy Parker on How Big Business Can Fix the World
The Co-Author of Everybody's Business on the Keen On
Over the last 200 years, nothing has divided us more than our free-market economic system. Is it the source of every social injustice, from exploitation to alienation to inequality, or is it essential to our freedom and democracy? This debate is as relevant today in 2020 as it was in 1920 or 1820. This is the focus of the second season of Keen On from author Andrew Keen.
In this episode of Keen On, Andrew talks to Lucy Parker, senior partner at the Brunswick Group, a global boutique consultancy group focusing on giving business critical advice in all areas, and co-author of Everybody’s Business: the Unlikely Story of How Big Business Can Fix the World.
From the episode:
Andrew Keen: Many people, when they think of business, assume that businesses only care about the bottom line. Is that the natural reflex of senior executives at large companies?
Lucky Parker: I think it’s a truism. I think that’s absolutely the case, that many people’s only touchpoint with big business is that it is a money-making machine and that’s all people care about. I think in reality that is quite simply not the case. I think that a lot of what they are measured by is the money and the profits and the bottom line. But actually, if you produce anything from drugs to T-shirts, the actual machinery and expertise that goes into doing that is hugely exciting, and that’s almost invisible to people who live outside big business.
But the area that I’m really dealing with is not just the straight line between the customer and the product that goes out the other end of the business and then rushes across the road to profits and to shareholders. It’s actually in this world as a big organization, a big business. You’re like an engine and you spin off impacts all over the place. Negative, positive. You use water as raw materials. You have chemicals in your supply chain. You sometimes have some of the biggest companies with a million people in their supply chain worldwide. So for me, the behavior bit is how do you make your choices and conduct yourself as a business to all those impacts in the wider world just by being a business?
Andrew Keen: I know this is a hard question, but how do you think business has conducted itself from an ethical perspective over the last 25 years?
Lucky Parker: What a great question. I think that the rise of concern about business all over the world in the last ten years is because it’s gotten hugely unbalanced in the last 30 years.
Andrew Keen: Is that a euphemism for saying it doesn’t work anymore?
Lucky Parker: No, it’s not. It’s me. It’s exactly what I mean. I think it’s gone out of balance. It is always a balance between the interests of the company, the interests of the shareholders, the interests of the customers, the interests of the wider society and the emphasis. Almost like the swing of a pendulum has gone over heavily to the financial markets. And an awful lot of the corrective that needs to happen actually is in the investor base. It’s not in the corporate base. The pressure from the investor base is enormous. And we’ve seen in the last twenty to thirty years that has become the predominant paradigm. And now the world doesn’t want that anymore. That’s what people call financialization.
I think when the financial markets almost got bigger than the businesses, when the stock is no longer traded in it … the whole model has shifted towards the financial arena. And I think what you’re seeing now is a real pull to correct that. I think the other thing that’s happened and links with so many of the subjects that I know you’re interested in. Technology has changed everything in the way companies behave. It’s changed their landscape. It’s changed their processes, everything. And at the same time.
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Lucy Parker is co-author of Everybody’s Business: the unlikely story of how big business can fix the world. She is a strategic advisor at the Brunswick Group, working with senior leadership in business. With her co-author, Jon Miller, she leads Brunswick’s offer focused on one of the world’s most contentious challenges: helping companies get to grips with their role in society. She has more than twenty years’ experience with global corporates across a range of sectors, from pharmaceuticals to engineering, from retail to telecoms.