Over the last several years, as Virgin has expanded, so have our ideas for treating the people who worked for us well, and for considering the environment.
We’ve always had, at our core, a focus on our people and making sure that they are empowered to make decisions and feel part of a company that stands for something beyond making money. It’s something I wrote about at length in Screw Business As Usual, which is now available in paperback.
I’ve always believed that by taking care of people in my companies the rest will take care of itself. This can be something simple like allowing people to job share or giving them the chance to run their own show. This has worked for us and has also built a pretty special group of people around the world who are not only passionate about Virgin, but also about making a difference in the world.
The great thing is that many entrepreneurial enterprises and businesses all over the world are now doing this instinctively and people everywhere are realising that they truly can make a difference every day, no matter how small the scale. In fact, a good socially-aware business doesn’t have to be big to make an impact – it just has to have the right people in place.
There are many small-scale businesses around the world – from the townships of Johannesburg, to the villages of India, to rural cheesemakers in France, to organic vineyards in Australia, to llama knitwear cooperatives in Ecuador – that are all changing the way business is done for the better. There are also some large multinational corporations that are starting to radically transform themselves to be a force for good. The people in all these organisations (large and small) have the combined power of a hurricane to effect change.
It should no longer be just about typical ‘corporate social responsibility’ (or that horrible acronym CSR) where the ‘responsibility’ bit is usually the realm of a small team buried in a basement office – now it should be about every single person in a business taking responsibility to make a difference in everything they do, at work and in their personal lives.
The great thing is that, with technology, we’ve also become far more aware not just of what is happening in our own neighbourhood, but of what is happening on the other side of the world. This technology has also smashed through the top-down approach and shifted the power to the people.
Every single business person has the responsibility for taking care of the people and planet that make up our global village. For a long time I have been convinced that this is the way forward if the planet as we know it, and life as we know it, is to survive. I’m not just talking about the disaster facing people and the planet because of climate change; I’m addressing one of the underlying reasons why the climate is changing and a significant threat to humanity – our rapid depletion of our natural resources. In the next couple of decades we could soon end up without oil, minerals, water or fish. Unless we move fast, we are certain to see more wars on a wider scale as people fight over land, food, water and fuel.
The last decade of my life has been a journey towards realising that, while business has been a great vehicle for growth in the world, we have not been doing anywhere near enough to stop the downward spiral we all find ourselves in; and that in many cases, we have actually been causing that spiral to turn ever faster.
We are all part of the problem: we waste, we squander and, to put it bluntly, we screw up. Natural resources are being exhausted faster than they can be replenished. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, many natural resources – such as oil, forests and minerals – can never be replenished. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.
Capitalism as we know it, which essentially started around the time of the Industrial Revolution, has certainly created economic growth in the world and brought many wonderful benefits to people, but all this has come at a cost that is not reflected on the balance sheet. The focus on profit being king has caused significant negative, unintended consequences. For over a century and a half cheap labour, damaged lives, a destroyed planet and polluted seas were all irrelevant when set against the need for profit.
But this is changing. Many good and very bright individuals are working hard, and have been doing so for some time, not only to warn people and governments that we can’t continue to deplete the world’s resources as if they are everlasting, but that we have to do something about it. But now everyone needs to add their voice and energy to stop the perfect storm building up ahead of us. All our combined voices and all our energy are needed if we’re to make a real difference.
Successful entrepreneurship comes in many shapes and sizes and, as I tell those who ask me what my secret is: there is no great mystique about it. Have passion for what you do; believe in yourself and your product and your customer; persevere; delegate; listen. Have fun. Today, I add: ‘Do good’.
Screw Business As Usual: Turning Capitalism into a Force for Good is now available in paperback.