As a former executive of one of the ‘Seven Sisters’, Mark Moody-Stuart is a surprising champion of corporate responsibility. Yet, there can be few
people who have wrestled with the issue of sustainability up-close more than Moody-Stuart. It was on his watch, that the Royal Dutch/Shell oil company was rocked by two high profile environmental controversies in 1995. These were the execution of Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Brent Spar oil platform controversy. In Responsible Leadership: Lessons from the Front Line of Sustainability and Ethics, Moody-Stuart provides a fascinating insiders view of these and many more events. At it’s heart though this memoir-come-manifesto addresses the responsibility of companies and their leaders when governments are incapable or unwilling to fulfil their responsibilities.
Responsible Leadership draws on Moody-Stuart’s 40 year experience of living in working in ten different countries and visiting a further thirty. Following a damascene moment in Indonesia, the book shows how Moody-Stuart’s sense of responsibility to shareholders expanded until it had subsumed all of the stakeholders in the company. The book shows how companies can work in coalitions with civil society to address problematic issues. Most importantly, how can companies embed values in their day to day operations across the world. The book describes and addresses the challenges for international companies operating in countries with weak, corrupt or pariah governments and how companies can maintain high standards, avoiding the pitfalls of corruption and complicity with human rights abuses. The book also deals with other controversial subjects such as the challenges of climate change for businesses based on fossil fuel production, remuneration policies and the growing wealth gap and even discusses the business model of not for profit organizations.
One of the joys of this book is the scope – a short section in the book discusses Syria, and how its political and economic situation could have turned out differently had the business engagement and development strategies he favours been followed. Unsurprisingly the former oilman does his fair share of name-dropping and the book includes many an anecdote including a ‘mental list of people who should be in jail’.
What is striking is that Responsible Leadership shows that executives such as Moody-Stuart are not inherently the bogey men characterised by many activists and offers an alternative to the view that senior corporate leaders raison d’être is to maintain unsustainable business models. Indeed when sustainable solutions require a broad and collaboratory approach Responsible Leadership is a prescient addition to the debate. Controversial, but always frank, Moody-Stuart offers a fascinating insiders view of life at the sharp end of the sustainability.