If good businesses are run by bad men then society is screwed

Luke Johnson is wrong - social enterprises can be successful, profitable businesses too.

by Natalie Campbell
Last Updated: 16 Nov 2015

My fellow columnist Luke Johnson wrote about what makes businesses successful in last weekend’s Sunday Times. The summary is thus: bad men make for good business as their companies are profitable and their shareholders love them for it - #great. He went on to explain that one executive was guilty of both rape and fraud, but continues to be hired and lead companies. I felt sick to my stomach.

I must say this in every column, but call me an idealist because a) it’s not just men that run businesses, b) not all businesses are run entirely for shareholder gain, and c) if bad men always prosper then society is royally screwed. It’s not that I don’t see the truth in what Johnson has said. Yes there are some assholes out there that are driven to build companies for nothing other than financial reward and the lifestyle that brings. But it’s the broad-brush sentiment of the piece that irks me so much.

There is such a thing as the ‘non-asshole-led-business-model’. It’s a business model that favours social and environmental impact over purchasing G7 private planes. Community investment over doing-over supply chains. And profit that is made based on having a positive social impact on customers, not selling them stuff they don’t need. These businesses contribute at least £18.5 billion to the UK economy according to Social Enterprise UK and government data estimates that there are approximately 70,000 social enterprises in the UK. In addition to this they employ a million people.

If you add in the newer dimension of ‘profit-with-purpose’ businesses springing up and businesses led by women then you get an altogether different picture. Or does Johnson believe that all people turn into megalomaniacs, given a bit of power – including the women and the socially-minded ones?

I hope not, as that would mean all of the women on the 35 Women Under 35 list published this week (whom I hope will be running the large companies Johnson noted one day) are evil, aggressive, bad people in the making. Or not. Thankfully I had drinks with them to celebrate our award and there was no hint of a bitch in any of them.

On the whole, social ventures are built with a different DNA from the outset. It’s not about scaring the outside world with litigation, cultivating a bullying culture or intense, oppressive management structures. There is too much at stake - primarily driving change than creates a better world for us all. What the bad men would consider ‘do-gooding’ doesn’t come at the expense of being profitable or financially viable either. Toms Shoes, The Big Issue, People Tree and Belu Water are all good examples of this (and by no means the only ones either).

So why the rant? I want to restore some order to proceedings. As such I have some news: I am running for the London Assembly in 2016. I can’t keep complaining about the way things are without attempting to do something about it.

I have a couple of policy areas I am working on for my campaign, but a key one is City Hall procurement. I am going to lobby for 50% of contracts to be given to businesses that operate in the social economy. Take that bad men.

If we have been told the truth about how certain businesses operate, then I believe we should make sure more money is given to morally conscious businesses that actually invest back into society, rather than paying their executives to splash the cash on supercars and yachts.

One final hashtag: #NatCampbellforLondonAssembly2016. Do tweet me @NatDCampbell.

Natalie Campbell is the co-founder of A Very Good Company, a social innovation agency that helps employees become better engaged in sustainability initiatives.

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