x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Earning profits but making a difference

The Life: Craig McLaren, regional managing director for the medical company Johnson & Johnson, participated in a new study that found more companies are aligning company success with social progress. He explains.

Craig McLaren, right, says companies that demonstrate that they have a conscience attract the best employees. Lee Hoagland / The National
Craig McLaren, right, says companies that demonstrate that they have a conscience attract the best employees. Lee Hoagland / The National

More leaders of the world's biggest businesses are connecting company success with social progress and paying attention to social and environmental issues, new research from Ashridge Business School has found.

Craig McLaren, a participant in this study, is also the managing director for the medical company Johnson & Johnson in the Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan. He oversees about 800 employees. Below he discusses shifting management trends.

What was the role of business leaders 20 to 30 years ago?

We were looking at a straightforward business model, where certainly in this industry you taught sales reps how to sell the benefits of a product to a customer, like a surgeon. If you did that well, then you were pretty successful. And so, the challenges of a leader was making sure you hired good people at a time when certainly in this part of the world talent was difficult to find.

In the past, why would companies focus their core business directly on consumers and not society at large?

Companies, I don't think, had a huge conscience years ago. Their mission was to beat competition and gain market share and be successful. I don't think there was really a time where organisations stopped to examine what they were doing in the communities in which they worked. It was just a different era. I think the spirit of corporate social responsibility [CSR], or being aware of our impact on the environment, [has] grown in the last 10 years effectively.

What business advantages are there to trying to get into these areas?

There are a couple of things that are important there. Clearly, if you can do the right things in terms of cutting down on wastage, obviously there's a great outcome in terms of the environment. But also, there's savings in terms of operating cost. If someone turns down lights on a regular basis you save money on electricity; it's as simple as that. When times have been good, and I'm saying this generally, people tend not to worry too much - and sometimes the benefit of the tougher times is that companies can start looking at these issues more seriously.

An executive in Ashridge's study said that trust of business leaders is at a record low. How can they rebuild that trust among employees?

One way to start building trust is to be able to not just pay lip service but demonstrate that companies do have a conscience and are willing to do something beyond just making a profit. Companies that can do that are those that will attract the best employees. Often, when you interview [candidates today], starting salary might be a consideration, but young graduates also want to see what the organisation's commitment is in terms of CSR - and that becomes an important decision-making factor that wasn't there eight [to] 10 years ago.

* Neil Parmar