New information about cookies

Leadership in a rapidly changing world

Ashridge Business Blog

Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability

Icon: Telephone

+44 (0)1442 841178

Icon: Emailresearch

Icon: Email a friendEmail a friend
Icon: Subscribe to RSS feedSubscribe to RSS feed

More from Ashridge on Sustainability

Thought Leadership

Matt Gitsham, Director of ACBAS, discusses topical issues of sustainability

Ashridge Centre for Business and Sustainability

Ashridge on Sustainability Blog


Ashridge Masters in Sustainability and Responsibility is a two year part-time Masters programme based on a series of eight intensive residential workshops.

Bespoke Learning and Change Consulting

Ashridge Consulting's Sustainability Practice works with a wide range of clients on learning and organisational change for sustainability.

Leadership in a Rapidly Changing World - around the web

Sir Stuart Rose on the changing role of business leaders in The Guardian

Sir Stuart Rose: retailers face 'Darwinian War', in Management Today

Sir Stuart Rose "We need to have an urgent debate on pay" in The Sunday Telegraph

Harvard Business Review - What it takes to lead a business today

BDaily on The Changing Roles of Global Leaders

Virgin Blog "Is everyone screwing business as usual?"

ValueU Blog Leadership and Talent Management

Mark Foster Blog Interviewing Sir Stuart Rose

Prephead Blog Leadership in a Rapidly Changing World and what it means for schools

Drayton Partners blog

How Business Leaders are reframing success Sonia Gavira Coaching blog

The Changing Role of Business Leaders at Rio+20 in The Guardian

Leadership in a rapidly changing world

Download the Full Report

Read a summary of the findings published by Harvard Business Review

Read this article in The Guardian on this research at Rio+20

Download the follow up research report on implications for leadership development Building Leadership Capability for a Rapidly Changing World

In the past few years, more and more business leaders have begun speaking a new language – talking about, taking action on and defining their success in terms of things that used to be the preserve of political leaders and NGO activists – the contribution their core business makes towards addressing today’s most pressing societal challenges.

This shift in rhetoric is being matched by a shift in action, with many organisations engaging in innovative partnerships prioritising activities that create stakeholder value as well as shareholder value.

This is all the more surprising coming at a time, in the wake of the financial crisis, when negative stereotypes of business leaders are flourishing in public debate.

What does this shift mean for how we think about business leadership? Is there an emerging group of business leaders that are leading in a different way to the generation that went before them? If so, what does that mean for everyone else?

These are some of the questions that Ashridge Business School and the International Business Leaders’ Forum have been exploring in a landmark study.

Interviewees in the research have included:

  • John Brock, Chairman and Chief Executive, Coca Cola Enterprises, 2008-date
  • Lord Browne of Madingley, Partner and Managing Director, Riverstone Holdings, Former Chief Executive, BP, 1995-2007
  • Ian Carter, President, Global Operations, Hilton Hotels, 2008-date, Former Chief Executive, Hilton International, 2005-2008
  • Jan Dauman, Chief Executive, Intermatrix, 1975-date
  • Mark Foster, Former Group Chief Executive, Accenture, 2009-2011
  • Neville Isdell, Former Chairman and Chief Executive, The Coca Cola Company, 2004-2008
  • Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive, easyJet, 2010-date, Chief Executive, Guardian Media Group, 2006-2010
  • Craig McLaren, Regional Managing Director, Johnson&Johnson Medical, Middle East, Egypt, Pakistan, 2010-date
  • Sir Mark Moody Stuart, Former Chairman, Shell, 1998-2001, and Former Chairman, Anglo American, 2002-2009
  • Richard Reed, Founder, Innocent Drinks, 1999-date
  • Sir Stuart Rose, Former Executive Chairman (2008-2011) and Chief Executive (2004-2010), Marks & Spencer
  • Frederick Chavalit Tsao, Group Chairman, IMC Pan Asia Alliance, 1995-date
  • Paul Walsh, Chief Executive, Diageo, 2000-date

The report finds that a growing number of business leaders are adopting a different perspective on their role and purpose, and reframing what counts as success. As a result, they are not only finding they need to lead complex cultural change within their organisations, but redefine the scope of their role and think of themselves as leaders in wider society, playing an active role contributing to public debate and leading systemic change in society in partnership with others.

The study has important implications that anyone playing a leadership role in an organisation cannot afford to ignore. It also has significant implications for those working in talent management and leadership development.

Download the full report

Read a summary of the key findings published as part of the Harvard Business Review Insight Center on the Next Generation of Global Leaders

The study has been conducted on behalf of the United Nations Global Compact Principles for Responsible Management Education to inform debate and action at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012.

The evolving role of the business leader

Diagram to show the Evolving role of the business leader

Launch Event

Based on a series of in-depth interviews with senior executives, “Leadership in a Rapidly Changing World – How Business Leaders are Reframing Success” was launched at a breakfast briefing held at the Institute of Directors in London. The report is co-authored by Jo Wackrill and Graham Baxter from IBLF and Matthew Gitsham and Mark Pegg from Ashridge Business School.

The event - sponsored by Coca Cola Enterprises - saw IBLF’s Chairman, Mark Foster (former Group CEO, Accenture) take the stage to 'interview' Sir Stuart Rose, former CEO of M&S and Matthew Gitsham of Ashridge. An extremely interactive and insightful discussion followed, covering key findings from the report and their implications in the current climate. These findings include:

  • A growing numbers of senior executives see a pursuit of business growth that is 'smart', 'inclusive' and 'responsible' as fundamental to the creation of long-term value
  • More business leaders are connecting company success with social progress and paying attention to social and environmental issues that have conventionally been the territory of political leaders and NGO activists
  • Not only do business leaders need to lead significant cultural change within their businesses, but they now need to increasingly work with others to play a leadership role beyond conventional business boundaries
  • Senior executives now need to develop skills in areas that have not previously been a conventional part of the business leader’s repertoire

Sir Stuart Rose reflected on his own experiences and shared his views on how business leadership needs to change. He asserted:

  • Younger people in the organisation often 'get' the sustainability agenda and it is often the people at the top who are slower to change
  • It is the CEO’s job to keep up the drumbeat and unleash the energy and power of the organisation
  • It is crucial for business leaders to set ambitious targets and to be prepared to put their heads above the parapet - despite the risks, they must set a course of action and stick to it
  • It is critically important for businesses to build trust with consumers and society by acting with integrity and delivering value to society

Clare Melford, CEO of IBLF said:

"No longer is business leaders’ engagement with social issues largely ‘defensive’ and relegated to an annual philanthropic gesture, or a token recycling programme. This is in sharp contrast to a generation ago. "

The invitation-only event saw over 100 attendees from both business and other sectors engage in a lively Q&A session featuring challenging questions.

Matt Gitsham, Mark Foster and Sir Stuart Rose
Matt Gitsham, Mark Foster and Sir Stuart Rose