Past eventMembers

Bad Reputation: Changing the Relationship Between Companies and Society

8 December 2015 - 18:00 to 19:00

Chatham House, London


Lord Browne of Madingley, Chief Executive, BP (1995-2007)

Chair: Robin Nuttall, Principal, McKinsey & Co.



In the social media age, an ever-greater level of scrutiny placed upon corporate actions can snowball a seemingly minor, local dispute into an international protest. Those that are seen to fall below public expectations of honesty, decency and transparency can suffer serious reputational (and ultimately financial) consequences.
Criticism of business is regularly pitched in terms of a dichotomous conflict: corporate values versus those of the general public. But can businesses function more effectively if they work to break down this dichotomy; both seeing and presenting themselves as an important part of the community rather than as an external actor?
Reflecting on his five decades in business, Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, has explored the complex relationship between companies and society. He argues that despite its centrality to human progress, business has historically provoked anger and suspicion, with cycles of anti-business sentiment often driven by anti-social corporate behaviour. As a result, those companies willing to engage radically with people outside their own walls can move beyond the 'us and them' paradigm, greatly benefiting themselves and the societies in which they operate.
Lord Browne will discuss how the old model of corporate social responsibility simply relegates engagement with society to a departmental issue when in fact it is a company-wide operational concern, the neglect of which poses a systemic threat to an entire organization. He will set forward four tenets which companies can adopt to place society’s needs at the heart of a business strategy and thus guard against the pitfalls inherent in the traditional model of community engagement.