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Sir Stuart Rose to speak at launch of landmark Ashridge Business School/ IBLF/ PRME report on the changing role of business leaders

New research from Ashridge Business School and the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) - based on in-depth interviews with top executives - reveals that they are increasingly aligning their core business to serve not just direct customers, but also the interests of wider society.

Sir Stuart Rose, former Executive Chairman and CEO, Marks & Spencer, will launch the new report on the changing role of business leaders, on 29 March, at The Institute of Directors, London.

Leadership in a Rapidly Changing World: How Business Leaders are Reframing Success’ shows that more and more business leaders are connecting company success with social progress, and paying attention to social and environmental issues that have conventionally been the territory of political leaders and NGO activists.

No longer is business leaders’ engagement with social issues largely ‘defensive’ and relegated to an annual philanthropic gesture, or a token recycling programme. This is in sharp contrast to a generation ago.

The report outlines what we can learn from current and former Chairs, CEOs and senior executives about the shifting demands of business leadership. Growing numbers see the pursuit of business growth that is ‘smart’, ‘inclusive’ and ‘responsible’ as fundamental to creating long-term value.

Mark Foster, Chairman of IBLF, said: “Trust in business leaders is at an all-time low, coupled with a lack of confidence to take the lead. However, there is a cadre of CEOs in many organisations who ‘get it’. These are people who are already confident enough to step away from the shorter term rhythms of their traditional stakeholders, and paint longer term visions for how they intend to grow their company responsibly.”

The research identifies a range of examples where helping address major societal challenges go hand-in-hand with successful business practice.

The authors believe that this trend is indicative of a new generation of leaders emerging from some of the world’s largest businesses. They assert that these examples could become the norm for the majority tomorrow.

Sir Stuart stated: “There are chief executives who are ahead of the game. There are chief executives who are more visionary. There are chief executives who recognise that the world is not the place it was 10 years ago and that they have to find different routes and listen to different inputs. They are necessarily in the minority. The tail end will never catch up and the rest are in the middle. The middle's a comfortable place to be, and everybody else seems to be doing the same thing until you suddenly find, ‘Oops! They’re not doing that any more. Oh dear!’, and you realise you’ve been left behind.”

Yet not all top executives recognise the need to lead differently. The report also highlights the many hurdles faced by those who do decide to challenge the status quo.

Co-author of the report, Matt Gitsham, Director, Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability, said: “You might think, that as a business leader, you cannot afford to waste time and resources on these challenges, that it is not your job. But as your peers at the top of a growing proportion of the world’s most influential businesses reshape and redefine tomorrow’s business landscape and what it means to succeed as a leader in it, the evidence suggests that in today’s world, you cannot afford not to.”

This new way of seeing their role has led a growing number of influential business leaders to pursue a new style of leadership. Not only do business leaders need to lead significant cultural change within their businesses. They now increasingly work with others to play a leadership role beyond conventional business boundaries. The report calls for senior executives to develop skills in areas that have not traditionally part of the business leader’s repertoire.

The report also has acute implications for talent management and leadership development. HR professionals and business schools must embrace this opportunity to accelerate this new kind of business leadership.

H. Elizabeth Thompson, Assistant Secretary General, United Nations; Executive Coordinator of Rio+20, offers her reflections on the findings: "Outstanding business leaders do not merely conduct market analyses, respond to changes and government regulation, or wait for the competition to set the agenda; they try to shape the future by predicting and even defining market directions. As a contribution to the PRME Global Forum for Responsible Management Education at Rio+20, this report provides timely evidence of how business leaders are seeing their roles change to embrace CSR, invest in natural capital and partner with governments, civil society organizations and the UN system to lead systemic change at the global level, yield greater returns on investment and enhance shareholder value." 

"Leadership in a Rapidly Changing World: How Business Leaders are Reframing Success" is produced by Ashridge Business School and the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) on behalf of the United Nations Global Compact and Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), to inform debate and action at the 3rd Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, which will serve as the official platform for management-related Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) at both the Global Compact Corporate Sustainability Forum and the UN Conference on Sustainable Development - Rio+20 in June.

It is based on interviews with Sir Stuart Rose, former CEO and Executive Chairman of Marks & Spencer, Neville Isdell, former Chairman & CEO of The Coca Cola Company; Paul Walsh, CEO of Diageo; John Brock, Chairman & CEO of Coca Cola Enterprises; Lord Browne, former CEO of BP; Sir Mark Moody Stuart, former Chairman of Shell and Anglo American; Frederick Chavalit Tsao, Chairman of IMC Pan Asia Alliance Group; Carolyn McCall, CEO of easyJet: Richard Reed, Co-founder of Innocent Drinks, Mark Foster, former Group Chief Executive, Accenture, and others.


For more information and interviews contact:

Jenny Murray, Corporate Communications Manager, Ashridge Business School, tel: +44 (0)1442 841388, email:

Shivangini Jervis, Global Communications Manager, IBLF, tel: +44 (0)207 467 3650, email:

27 Mar 2012

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