The Courageous Director - Can Corporations Better Serve People, Planet, and Profit?




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Jan 29, 2018
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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The Courageous Director - Can Corporations Better Serve People, Planet, and Profit?

Report from the latest session of the Salzburg Global Forum on Corporate Governance now available to read, download and share

Within the last year, Volkswagen and several of its executives and employees have pled guilty to criminal charges stemming from a scheme to cheat environmental standards; Wells Fargo Bank received a $100 million fine for inducing its employees to secretly and illegally open unauthorized accounts; and Google grappled with how to respond to a leaked internal memo regarding diversity in the workforce that the public perceived as demonstrating male chauvinistic bias. All three corporations faced resounding criticism from shareholders, public and press alike. 

However, also within the last year, Kenneth Frazier, CEO of multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical company Merck was hailed by as “courageous”, “brave” and even “heroic” when he resigned from US President Donald J. Trump’s American Manufacturing Council in August 2017 and publicly declared that his reason for doing so was in protest to Trump’s response to the racially driven events in Charlottesville, VA, days before.

In today’s world, “courageous directors” have unprecedented opportunities to serve as global influencers. Even as private sector leaders achieve fame by engaging socially and championing brands that claim to improve quality of life, consumers, investors and employees increasingly demand that corporations act in ways beneficial to society. Looking forward, boards of directors will need to remain ahead of rapidly-evolving trends and address deceptively simple questions. What does the company seek to achieve, and where does it see its place in society?

Shaping a better world - and corporate sector

Salzburg Global Seminar’s mission is to challenge current and future leaders to shape a better world. Founded in 2015, the Salzburg Global Forum on Corporate Governance seeks to deliver on that mission in the corporate sector.

The third session of the Forum, The Courageous Director: Can Corporations Better Serve People, Planet, and Profit?, held October 2017, explored the role of the corporation as a good citizen, while assessing techniques to keep boards of directors alert, active, and effective in meeting their fiduciary duties in the current and future landscapes. It explored how directors might emerge as global thought leaders, to ensure multinational corporations can succeed both in achieving profit and in satisfying conflicting demands of the jurisdictions and societies in which they operate.

This new report from Salzburg Global Seminar highlights the significant outcomes from the discussions at the two-day high-level meeting, including breakout groups that analyzed the scandals affecting Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, and Google and offered key recommendations for the three corporations. 

The report also includes interviews from many corporate sector leaders, offering insights on what it takes to be a “courageous director”. 

As Salzburg Global Vice President and Chief Program Officer Clare Shine notes: “Today’s corporations are under ever closer scrutiny. Like the rest of society, their operations and culture will have to change radically as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ gathers pace. Attitudes to power, progress and value are already in flux. Against this backdrop, courage in the boardroom will matter more than ever before.”

Download the report as a PDF

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