Colin Mayer CBE FBA, Peter Moores Professor of Management Studies at Oxford University's Saïd Business School and Academic Lead for The Future of the Corporation initiative at the British Academy in conversation with Dr Mary Johnstone-Louis, Programme Director, The Ownership Project.
Oxford Conversations on Responsible Ownership: Colin Mayer CBE FBA
Business is rapidly losing its legitimacy for doing the things it believes to be important; it's not getting the buy-in from society, from the political process or from its key stakeholders.
Mary Johnstone-Louis (MJL): What is the urgency for this research?
Colin Mayer (CM): The Ownership Project at Oxford Saïd is focused on the issue of how owners can take forward business in the 21st century, and in particular we are focused on the question as to how business should be trying to address the problems that its currently confronting in terms of political, social and environmental challenges, and also how it can take advantage of the technical advances in progress.
MJL: What does it mean to be a good owner?
CM: What the programme is really trying to do is establish the role that owners play in that transformation process. And the urgency derives from the fact that business is rapidly losing its legitimacy for doing the things that it believes to be important, it’s just not getting the buy-in from people across many different societies, from the political process and it’s also frequently not getting buy-in from its key stakeholders in terms of employees and investors.
That's extremely damaging for business and it threatens to undermine the ability of business to go on functioning in the future. So the threat is quite often perceived to be one that comes from the environment and the unsustainability of business in an environmental sense, but it's much more than that, it’s an unsustainability of business in terms of its reason for existing and the extent to which people accept that reason for existing.
Creating profitable solutions to the problems of people and planet
MJL: Why does business need to change?
CM: At the moment business is perceived to be extremely self-interested. It’s self-interested in terms of creating benefits for a very small segment of society, namely investors, shareholders and for those running companies, and that that self-interest is being manipulated against the interests of other parties. And that is the aspect that business needs to very seriously think about, how can it best confront and address (this perception).