Birmingham Business Club Breakfast Briefing: What does it mean to be a responsible business in 2018?

Clockwise from top left: Nicky Templeton, Sophie Sinclair, Ian Thomson, Matteo Fuoli, Mark Saunders

The University of Birmingham Business Club breakfast briefing, organised by the Birmingham Business Club team and held on Thursday 21 June, addressed how business and academia can work collaboratively to achieve responsible business aims.

The briefing opened with Professor Mark NK Saunders, who addressed the room on the importance of trust in business relationships. Studies have shown that positive internal relationships with employees leads to an increase in productivity (by 50%) and in engagement (by 75%). Building a reputation for trustworthiness gives the brand an advantage with potential customers, investors, suppliers and employees.

Trust is an essential component of responsible businesses. There are several ways a company can build trust, including paying its fair share of taxes, treating employees well and adopting a transparent approach in their communications. Professor Saunders said: ‘Trust shapes positive relationships [...] when things do go wrong, it requires immediate and honest responses’.

Professor Ian Thomson, Director of the Centre for Responsible Business, and Sophie Sinclair, Engagement and Operations Manager, delivered a presentation on building the foundations of a responsible business. At its base level, responsible businesses ‘create value without exploiting others or the planet whilst avoiding inequitable distributions of risks, hazards, costs or benefits’.  The mission of the Centre is to bring together business, policy makers, researchers and change agents to overcome barriers to responsible business, and to educate a new generation to help build a sustainable future.

The Centre, in collaboration with Business In The Community (BITC) have also created a responsible business tracker, to help businesses evaluate their practices and make changes for the better. More information on the launch of the tracker is coming soon.

Nicky Templeton spoke about her team at BITC and the excellent work they do with organisations to aid them in the journey towards becoming a socially responsible business. Part of the Prince’s Responsible Business Network, BITC exists to create healthy communities with successful businesses at their heart.

Although they have an extensive a network of over 800 members, including Tesco, McDonalds and Shell, BITC also helps small companies in areas such as digital innovation, smart growth and ethical trading.

Dr Matteo Fuoli of the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics delivered a presentation on how to restore trust after a crisis. He used the specific example of the methods employed by BP to recover trust after the 2010 BP oil spill, which included the then-CEO calling the spill "relatively tiny" in comparison with the "very big ocean." Other comments he made that drew criticism at the time include stating that he’d “like his life back”, despite 11 people dying in the explosion.

Dr Fuoli believes there are three attributes companies need to demonstrate to repair lost trust after a crisis. These are ability, benevolence and integrity. Businesses must accept accountability for the crisis, acknowledge their part in it, apologise and clearly communicate what they are doing to correct the situation. This exhibits all three qualities needed to rebuild public trust.

The Breakfast Briefing came to a close with a pitch from Richard Egan of RICH Learning Solutions. RICH Learning Solutions offers various programmes geared towards training future leaders and managers.

The session discussions over the morning raised a number of interesting and important considerations for businesses. Many of the attendees took part in engaging conversations after each of the presentations around instating responsible business practices in their organisations and how to overcome the associated barriers.

Find out more

If you want to find out more about the Centre for Responsible Business, you can follow us on Twitter, take a look at the Centre’s website or get in touch with Sophie Sinclair, Engagement and Operations Manager at the Centre. Keep an eye out for news of the Centre’s annual conference, taking place this year on 13 and 14 September.