Why we must make it our business to give something back
Topman, who runs the historic Acme Whistles in the Jewellery Quarter.
Simon, a former president of Birmingham Chamber, was among a group of businesspeople who gathered for like-minded discussions the other evening.
The subject of why business should be a force for good came up. In other words, while businesses drive the economy, generate jobs and wealth for employees and pay taxes, should they be doing much more for the community?
There has been a gathering storm in some quarters where businesses have been perceived as “bad” and anti-capitalist sentiments and demonstrations have spread.
But on a daily basis we see how that just is not true, while accepting there are cases of bad practice.
Simon’s is just one small but effective example of corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Another more example was that of the late Sir Adrian Cadbury, who devoted much of his later life to studying how businesses should behave and wrote several works about corporate governance.
His Quaker family were famous for looking after their workforce and even created the famous Bournville estate for them.
Today, we have many more examples of firms behaving responsibly and a recent study found that candidates for jobs in a wide variety of sectors were more interested in their potential employer’s CSR policies than the salary.
This change in employer-employee relations is a long way from Thomas Gradgrind, the character in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, whose attitude to his business and later life as a schoolteacher was pretty much that the floggings would continue until morale improved.
Of course, businesses cannot survive without generating profits and that must remain the case. A failing business is no good to anyone.
But at the Chamber, we daily see examples of businesses putting something back.
In fact, our former president, Greg Lowson, head of office at global law firm Pinsent Masons, spearheaded the foundation of ‘CSR City’, a Birmingham project focusing on improving links between business and schools.
I could cite many firms in Birmingham who get it – like Mondelez and National Express, which do sterling work in deprived areas of the community.
Also, take Birmingham Children’s Hospital (BCH), where two huge businesses have made huge contributions. Wesleyan provides tailored financial advice and products to select professional groups, notably GPs, hospital doctors, dentists, teachers and lawyers. The firm, without much fanfare, gave £1 million to create Magnolia House for the use of hundreds of parents and families who receive life-changing news through this sanctuary built in the hospital’s gardens.
Also in the grounds of the BCH, businessman Doug Wright, who owns 15 McDonald’s franchises across the West Midlands, was instrumental in setting up Ronald McDonald House, which last year helped 1,183 families stay close to their children while they were in hospital.
But Doug’s support goes on. The house can accommodate up to 90 families a night and requires £750,000 to cover annual running costs – a fee Doug is continually striving to raise.
Just another example of how businesses can and do contribute to the greater good. Paul Faulkner is chief executive at Greater Birmingham Chambers of
At the Chamber, we daily see examples of businesses putting something back