GLOBAL AUTHORITY ON SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS GROWTH; ECONOMIST, ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE STRATEGIST AND RESEARCHER; AUTHOR, “REIMAGINING CAPITALISM IN A WORLD ON FIRE” (2020); PROFESSOR, HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL
Rebecca Henderson is a Global Authority on Sustainable Business Growth and Professor at Harvard Business School. She is also an Economist, Organisational Change Strategist and Researcher. For Rebecca’s Full Bio see below.
Topics: Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire
The emergence of capitalism as the primary system for organizing economies and generating prosperity has taken root across the globe. But can it be a force for tackling the biggest challenges our burgeoning population faces, namely the threats posed by global climate change and finite resources on the planet? Rebecca Henderson believes that not only does capitalism have a role to play, but it is uniquely qualified to harness the enormous intellectual, technological, financial and motivational resources that humankind can bring to bear on these challenges. However, the framework of private enterprise, along with enlightened state and intergovernmental factors, require a fundamental re-imagination. Professor Henderson illuminates how this important debate is unfolding and its impact on the future of sustainable business.
Sustainability as a Fulcrum for Corporate Innovation
Driving innovation for organic growth is always challenging for companies, says Rebecca Henderson. But it is especially hard when new markets often look less profitable than existing ones and all organizations become increasingly comfortable with the status quo. Yet, leading companies are finding that the immense challenges posed by climate change and the need to use resources more efficiently provide the essential stimulus to focus and act in new ways. Professor Henderson explains how business’ commitment to solving “big problems” can unlock not only tremendous enthusiasm amongst employees, but also exactly the kind of creative thinking and commitment to work across organizational boundaries that is at the root of most significant innovation. She shares stories of companies such as Unilever that are getting it right—often using a big overarching game plan, like becoming a leader in creating sustainable solutions—to catapult the company into a new direction.
Coaxing Organisations to Do New Things
Throughout her career, Rebecca Henderson has been fascinated by the difficulties that large, well-established companies encounter as they attempt to leverage technological innovation to reinvent themselves. In many industries, incumbents have seen new entrants come in, either entrepreneurial firms or established players from other industries, and yet they cannot respond effectively to these disruptors. Professor Henderson digs deep to uncover why it is so hard, examining the strategic, organizational and behavioral shifts that can help managers create the right conditions for discontinuous change to occur.
These are just some of the topics that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest Rebecca’s range and interests. For more information on these topics let us know. Rebecca researches each and every company he speaks to and for and the final topic is always finalised that works best for the needs of the audience.
Books: “Reimagining Capitalism in a World On Fire” (Public Affairs, April 2020), which was named a Financial Times Best Business Book of the Year, Henderson draws on her years of research into organizational change, innovation and disruption to make a case for a new, more balanced form of capitalism.
Media: Rebecca Henderson: Can Capitalism Address Climate Change
COP27: What Can Business Leaders Do to Fight Climate Change Now? – HBS Working Knowledge
Lemley lecture discusses reimagining role of private firms in capitalist economies
Some organisational leaders, particularly CFOs and COOs, may be surprised to learn that focusing on sustainability can drive long-term growth and yield high returns.
Those in doubt need only speak to Harvard Business School (HBS) Professor Rebecca Henderson who sees leading energy, pharmaceutical, IT, materials and CPG firms already profiting from purpose-driven practices while positioning themselves for long-term growth. Henderson strongly encourages other businesses to follow their lead, not just for the health of their bottom lines but for the health of the planet they rely on now and will rely on tomorrow to support their long-term plans.
In her newest book, “Reimagining Capitalism in a World On Fire” (Public Affairs, April 2020), which was named a Financial Times Best Business Book of the Year, Henderson draws on her years of research into organizational change, innovation and disruption to make a case for a new, more balanced form of capitalism.
“Capitalism is one of the great inventions of the human race and over the last hundred years it has generated enormous wealth and freedom,” says Henderson. “But in its current incarnation, it has become radically unbalanced. Too large a percentage of recent gains have gone to the top 1%, we’re at risk of destabilizing the climate and we seem unwilling to address widespread inequality. We need to take a good hard look at the rules that control capitalism and recalibrate.”
Henderson, The John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, with a joint appointment in HBS’s General Management and Strategy Units, has seen firsthand how thinking around sustainability can drive growth by widening a firm’s vision and building trust and engagement among customers, employees and suppliers.
Drawing on examples from a wide range of companies including Walmart, King Arthur Flour and Unilever – firms who have built strong business models around adopting “high road” employment models while tackling our environmental problems – Henderson outlines four areas where companies are gaining a competitive edge while protecting people and the planet:
- Brand Awareness – Social media can either hurt a company’s reputation or drive positive reviews. Companies focused on sustainability and fair employee practices consistently receive accolades and earn customer loyalty, online and off, and loyalists are often willing to pay a premium for their products and services.
- Supply Chain – If your company’s products rely on natural materials, its long-term growth is inextricably tied to protecting and regenerating those resources, as well as supporting the people who grow them.
- Efficiency – Companies that invest in efficient buildings and systems reap high returns, creating a win-win for the environment and the bottom line.
- Employee Loyalty – Environmentally-conscious companies attract like-minded employees who are more passionate, creative, loyal and invested in long-term success. Treating them fairly and paying them well strengthens that loyalty.
When it comes to driving large scale change, Henderson strongly believes the private sector has the power and must pressure slower-moving governments into developing and enforcing responsible policies. She also sees self-regulation within private sector industries as a healthy way to navigate the changes collectively. Such cooperation gives businesses a voice in developing better practices without hurting their bottom lines, while also creating a collaborative forum for uncovering new opportunities.
Marveling at the fact that 1000 firms control 70% of GDP, Henderson sees a prime opportunity for a handful of smart trailblazers to set an example for the rest.
“If a small percentage of those firms chose carbon-based pricing or opted not to deal with corrupt partners, they would no doubt pull others into the current,” says Henderson. “This is a great moment for businesses to balance power with responsibility, to heal the world while keeping themselves positioned for long-term success. We all have families and friends too, so the investment goes beyond our companies and jobs.”
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