The world today is quickly changing, with power imbalances being publicly eradicated — or at least exposed — and the roles of those in power shifting, as well. For leaders of corporations, what’s the best way to ensure the continued longevity of a brand amidst all this transformation? Becoming an agent of change yourself.
That’s the message behind a recent letter from Larry Fink, CEO of global investment firm BlackRock. Addressed to CEOs of public companies, the letter contains a call to action for more corporate leaders to put on the mantle of activism and accept a new role: that of a changemaker in both business and society.
“Society is increasingly turning to the private sector and asking that companies respond to broader societal challenges,” he explained. “Indeed, the public expectations of your company have never been greater. Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.”
Fink argued that in order for a company to prosper in today’s world, it must “not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.” The community in which a business operates, he added, is just as important a stakeholder as the customers themselves.
“Companies must ask themselves: What role do we play in the community? How are we managing our impact on the environment? Are we working to create a diverse workforce?” he wrote.
Fink isn’t the only CEO to perceive his role as a leader in the context of a greater social picture (though some would argue that hearing these sentiments from a $6 trillion asset manager is, more or less, a first). Increasingly, consumers are voicing a desire to align with brands that serve a social mission, and no longer does “making money” exist in a separate sphere from “doing good.” Instead, the challenge now lies in finding new and innovative ways to intersect the two. And it’s a challenge CEOs should be taking on for ethical as well as fiscal reasons, Fink said.
“Stakeholders are demanding that companies exercise leadership on a broader range of issues, and they are right to,” he wrote. “A company’s ability to manage environmental, social, and governance matters demonstrates the leadership and good governance that is so essential to sustainable growth, which is why we are increasingly integrating these issues into our investment process.”
Where BlackRock is concerned, Fink practices what he preaches by placing an emphasis on diverse hiring, especially.
“Boards with a diverse mix of genders, ethnicities, career experiences, and ways of thinking have, as a result, a more diverse and aware mindset,” he wrote. “They are less likely to succumb to groupthink or miss new threats to a company’s business model.”
The time has come, Fink contended, for CEOs to demonstrate a new brand of influence; as he put it, a style of “leadership and clarity that will drive not only their own investment returns, but also the prosperity and security of their fellow citizens.”