A few months ago, I stood outside in the rain in front of the NASDAQ headquarters in New York City, waiting for a cab.
At that moment Ken Frazier, the celebrated outgoing CEO of Merck, emerged from the building. We had just attended the same dinner where he was named Chief Executive Group’s CEO of the Year.
Ken’s remarks that night had deeply resonated with me. And just as I stood there replaying his speech in my head, I saw the man himself emerge from the building.
I approached Ken and asked how I might get a copy of the speech he had delivered earlier that night.
Rather than sending me to his assistant or telling me he wasn’t going to share it for some legitimate reason (honestly what I expected), he reached into his jacket pocket and handed me the original copy. He smiled, connected with me, then stepped into the backseat of his car and drove into the night.
I was impressed for the second time that night. He was the real deal.
Why was I so eager to secure a copy of Ken’s speech?
If you’re on this email list, you’ve heard me shout from the rooftops in recent years about stakeholder leadership as a key pillar of stakeholder capitalism. Ken’s speech was essentially an ode to stakeholder leadership, a stirring call to doing right as a pre-requisite of doing good business.
He spoke at length about how “business leaders can play a meaningful role in improving society” when they “stick to a long-term vision rather than prioritizing short-term rewards.”
He spoke about making “tough decisions that sometimes, on the surface, do not make all stakeholders happy today.”
He spoke with conviction about how “our industry – or any industry – will always do better when it does more for the greater good.”
You know, as a self-proclaimed stakeholder capitalist—as someone who has dedicated my life to empowering businesses because business has the unique ability to empower society— there’s always a lingering doubt that this more conscious form of capitalism will go down as a fad.
But sitting there at NASDAQ and listening to Ken, I felt re-assured. It wasn’t just what Ken was saying—it was the fact that he was saying it. The fact that CEOs of the largest and most influential companies in the world chose to honor this man as CEO of the Year, not despite his commitment to a more conscious capitalism, but because of it.
Yes, there is much work to do. Yes, many of these verbal commitments must be translated into policy and action. But for the first time in a while, I felt confident that the tide is turning towards a brighter, more enlightened, more stakeholder-robust future.
The reality is, looking ahead to 2022, we’re going to need as many stakeholder leaders like Ken as we can possibly get.
It’s easy to regurgitate platitudes and stake out the moral high ground when things are going well. But it’s when times are toughest, when uncertainty abounds, that the commitment to stakeholders gets put to the test.
2022 is set to be another whirlwind of a year, as leaders will have to contend with:
- The destabilizing effects of historic levels of inflation
- The increased pace of digital transformation as a disruptive force for industries and business models
- The increasing tension between autocratic and democratic governments, and the disruption to global economics and supply chains that may ensue
- A further polarized political environment around the globe and the weakening social fabric that results
- The continuation of the ‘Great Resignation’ and the war for talent that it will continue to stoke
And that’s just what we can see coming down the pike. Who knows what curveballs will be thrown our way in the coming months? The “Era of Uncertainty” that the pandemic ushered in, doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Leading effectively and caring for our stakeholders through it all is really going to take something.
It’s with this global context that we at The Granger Network enter 2022…with purpose, with passion, and with excitement for the difference we get to make partnering with leaders such as yourself.
Our raison d’etre, our reason for being as a business, is to support leaders and organizations navigate the volatility of our world by preserving a sense of purpose, taking care of people, and turning a profit, all at the same time. We know that uncertainty is just another word for possibility—and we see lots of possibilities for our client-partners just waiting to emerge.
Lastly, we enter 2022 by saluting all of you. The game-changing leaders who comprise our cherished Granger Network community, those who find themselves “in the arena,” “on the court,” doing the real work of navigating these transitions on behalf of the many stakeholders you serve.
Our hope for you in 2022 is that this Era of Uncertainty transforms into a rich opportunity for expansion, re-invention, and exploration of new and exciting frontiers.
CEO and Founding Partner, The Granger Network