Every entrepreneur should want to save the world

28 February, 2016

I had the immense privilege of speaking at the recent UK launch of Marga Hoek’s book, New Economy Business, held in the illustrious surroundings of the Dutch Ambassador’s London home. Marga leads the Dutch Sustainable Business Association and has been a CEO and advisor to many organizations so sees businesses from various perspectives.

The book’s first sentence, “Every entrepreneur should want to save the world”, sets the pace. It is a powerful opening line, and Marga revealed that it has also been controversial.  In that sentence, she is challenging the status quo of some western economies that businesses exist to further their own interests in isolation from society. Well, that idea is firmly rejected and Marga’s argument that, when over 40 of the world’s 100 most valuable entities today are companies, not countries, you quickly get the point about where accountability and responsibility must lie. Marga’s thesis is centred on giving prosperity a broader meaning, because “the new economy is focused on creating value for all our assets and all the movements within them that contribute to true prosperity”.

I would not be surprised if, very quickly,New Economy Business becomes the boardroom handbook of choice especially for those companies seeking to navigate their way towards broad-based success in a world where capital market and civil society expectations have intensified due to the demands of globalization, technology and transparency.

While the book challenges “business as usual” its author is fervently pro-enterprise, drawing on case study after case study that shows how inclusive business translates easily into dynamic performance and enhanced value.

I am delighted that Marga articulates so clearly the powerful impact of information, and endorses Integrated Reporting with its multi-capitals focus and principle of connectivity. Marga is clear that <IR> represents the information system that supports her vision of business in a new economy. This is a vital point: several years on from the global financial crisis, it is time to settle on a package of solutions rather than ponder endlessly over possible options.

At the launch Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, also endorsed <IR>. He said that businesses face a series of new “imperatives” – social, human, environmental, financial – and that <IR> helps to put them in context.  Unilever is one of over 1,000 businesses globally to be guided by the principles of integrated thinking and reporting. Indeed, sticking with the Dutch theme, the institutional investor organization Eumedion reported recently that more than a third of Dutch listed companies are working towards the adoption of Integrated Reporting, a number we know is bolstered by adoption rates in France, Germany, the UK and other European economies.

New Economy Business is packed with intriguing ideas that are innovative enough to be interesting and practical enough to be implemented. One that caught my eye – and I declare my interest as a Chartered Accountant – is the idea that if value management is a core feature of business, then surely the role of the Chief Financial Officer must evolve into one that embraces more than maximising financial value alone. Marga suggests the “Chief Value Officer” should replace the CFO and have “a broader perspective”, focusing on value creation and be responsible for Integrated Reporting. It is perhaps an idea whose time has come.

I congratulate Marga on the publication of her book, and translation into English, which will open up her ideas to a whole new audience, not only in Europe but around the world.

Some people just have “it” – the essential qualities to move the dial in a positive direction: vision, passion, ideas and – crucially – a plan to make change happen.  Marga Hoek is such a person. She possesses the character and strength to help change the system and save the world.