True leadership…is it Davos or Dave?

January 24, 2023
Darryl Cooke

Executive Chairman

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Last week I was struck by a stark contrast in how leaders approach tackling the challenges facing our societies, economies and communities.

On the one hand we had the ‘global elite’ gathering for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss ski-resort of Davos.

Aside from arguments about the carbon footprint, extravagance and democratic deficit on display, the event is also controversial because many see it as ‘fig leaf’ designed to give the impression the wealthy and powerful are working hard to address concerns like climate change and inequality.

On the other hand, we had the premier of a light-hearted Netflix film about Dave Fishwick, the Burnley-based businessman and his mission to establish a community bank that would help local people in one of the most deprived towns in England.

Whilst the film is billed as a “true(ish) story”, in reality the peer-to-peer crowdfunding company Dave established has lent over £30 million to local businesses and families with all profits donated to charities in the area.

It’s a great illustration of my firm belief that leaders have a responsibility to act with moral purpose and to start with The Square Mile around their business.

It’s here, not on the ski slopes of Switzerland, that you’ll be able to positively impact the community and environment which you are a key part of.

From Aristotle to Brailsford…

The theme at Davos this year was ‘cooperation in a fragmented world’. A laudable aim given where we find ourselves, but the persistent criticism levelled at the event is that it’s just a talking shop. Once the hotels empty and private jets depart, very little is actioned.

Perhaps it’s the complexity of co-ordinating efforts on a global scale that hinders progress? 

What’s clear is we can’t sit around waiting for big money, big tech and big influence to make a difference.

The phrase ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is originally attributed to philosopher Aristotle but is a universal truth with real world application. Famously sport makes use of the ‘marginal gains’ strategy to deliver overall performance improvement by making lots of small advances across the board.

Leaders should adopt the same mentality when considering their role in creating positive change for people, communities and the environment.

No matter what size of business, if every leader focused on using their influence, contacts and resources to target improvements in The Square Mile around them, then the combined effect would be far greater.

More than ever, society needs leaders and companies to step up.

The annual trust and credibility survey (released at Davos) revealed that business is now the only sector viewed by the public as both ethical and competent…quite a way ahead of government.

It’s time to live up to these expectations.

Engagement, action and impact

The scale and reach of global capitalism on show at Davos can leave successful leaders feeling somewhat inadequate and powerless.

But, by focusing on making targeted, positive, incremental improvements, we are far from that.

The key is engagement. Connect with social enterprises and charitable organisations in your Square Mile to really understand the issues, the need, the gaps in support and where you may be able to leverage your knowledge, expertise and resources.

Also talk to your employees, customers, suppliers…even competitors. In line with the theme of Davos, understand how you can cooperate and mobilise to create a force multiplier effect.

Crucially it’s about delivering action and impact.

  • How can you put in place a plan, dedicate time and make things happen at pace? 
  • How do you measure the success of your efforts and use this insight to continuously improve and expand what you are doing?

The wonder of business and entrepreneurship is the speed and efficiency with which something of incredible value can quickly be created from nothing but an idea.

It’s obvious and only right that we leverage this skillset to deliver more for our communities and society.

Even the most hardened capitalists at Davos now realise there is a strong self-interest driver in this. If the environment and society continue to be eroded, the instability, uncertainty and potential disruption this will cause will impact their own wealth and status.

Our Square Mile

gunnercooke has offices around the world, each with Partners doing great things to support the needs of diverse communities in these locations. We like to integrate our people in the work we are doing with our communities. That way they also get the benefit and it becomes both a driver and a glue to our culture. Creating a giving culture is critical to our financial success and growth.

Thinking about my own Square Mile I’m filled with pride at the recent opening of House of Books & Friends, literally a few doors down from our office in central Manchester.

This purpose-led independent bookshop, cafe and events space is a community interest company on a mission to combat loneliness in the area. Noreena Hertz refers to this time in our evolution as the lonely century. Loneliness kills. More than obesity. Yet it is not a medical illness. And we can all become the cure. If we take the time.

The bookshop and coffeeshop works to combat loneliness on many different levels. Not least is that all the profits will be directed to raising awareness and working with businesses and charities alike to address this 21st century challenge.

It’s been a huge effort by many hands inside and outside gunnercooke and the gunnercooke foundation. To me it’s a great example of localism and what can be achieved through pan-community stakeholder co-operation.

I’d encourage all business leaders to think again about the difference they can make, and we can make together, by focusing on The Square Mile.

In my mind, true leadership is more Dave than Davos.