Almost all leaders in publicly-held, professionally-managed businesses today have a mandate to drive growth and profitability. At times, this can lead to an overemphasis on generating returns for their shareholders without consideration for broader business stakeholders such as employees, customers, channel partners, and the communities in which firms design, produce, and sell their wares.
Over the past year, I’ve been interviewing CEOs and regional MDs for our Driving Growth series, co-produced by Organisation Solutions and NUS Business School. We’ve focused on what it takes to create and sustain profitable business growth.
In my most recent interview, I spoke with Professor Bernard (Bernie) Yeung, Dean of the NUS Business School, where I also serve as an adjunct professor. I asked him to share his views on inclusive growth.
Bernie is a highly-regarded economist and also is a keen advocate of inclusive growth. In our interview, he explained how he views the concept and how leaders everywhere can contribute to a society where inclusive growth is the norm. It’s clear that he sees inclusive growth as not being about redistributing wealth or forcing income equality, but about ensuring that people with good ideas can access capital and market opportunities to create great companies.
In short, inclusive growth is about ensuring that people can change their lives with hard work and good ideas. If we really want lasting improvement in the lives of the less advantaged and for our society as a whole, we have to create sustainable change. Doing this requires a different mind-set and different actions.
Let me share some of the insights I gained from Bernie and translate these into actions leaders can take to promote inclusive growth.
Inclusive growth isn’t a Robin Hood approach of taking from the rich to give to the poor. It’s about all of us caring to create a society that is as inclusive as possible in the growth process. It’s about providing opportunity to people with good ideas and the desire to work, but who may lack the access to connections and opportunities on their own, and letting them build great companies. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, politician, educator, or business leader, you can play a role in creating inclusive growth. This isn’t what governments do for people—it’s about what governments, businesses, educational institutions, and entrepreneurs can do through partnership.
Governments have a crucial role to play in fostering inclusive growth, it’s not completely laissez faire. Their policies must encourage fair competition and force the separation of individuals or families who own businesses and their control over the political system. In many parts of the world this may seem impossible or even wrong. But, political leaders who force the separation of business ownership and political power will make greater contributions to the growth of their nation—and not just a few families or individuals.
A company that embraces the concept of inclusive growth will take bold steps. For example, they will ask if their global sourcing policy is really the best strategy for the world—and not just for their shareholders. They will push to grow the talent pool so that more people can have access to the higher paying jobs and not just pay more to buy talent from their competitors. Top leaders of large corporations often have relationships with and access to senior level decision makers in the government. As advocates of inclusive growth, they will place inclusive growth as a top development priority—above the favourable benefits they hope for their own company.
We are all aware of the generosity of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. And while we all might not have millions to donate, business leaders can take time to give advice, share practices that work, and open doors for others. These acts of generosity will foster more successful entrepreneurs, who often struggle to connect with individuals and agencies that can help fund their growth. Entrepreneurs are needed in developed and developing nations alike to pave the way for more people to have access to capital and market opportunities, an integral step for inclusive growth to take root.
When a larger portion of the population is able to participate in the growth of their community or nation, society-at-large benefits. Leaders who care about growth, who are able to see the big picture, and who see the importance of access to opportunity will be the ones who will drive growth, be held up as an example for others to emulate, and ultimately, be the ones who teach others about the power of growth. Teaching about inclusive growth shows a leader’s commitment to make a difference and create a positive change.
Near the end of my interview, I asked Bernie for his own advice to leaders. His words were memorable and meaningful to me and I end with them now:
“Have a sense of purpose. Believe that you can make a difference. Have the caring heart. Use that as the starting point for your sense of purpose. If everyone has a caring heart, and has a sense of purpose that they can make a difference, collectively, we will have a wonderful world.”