Should business leaders get involved in social and political issues?
The figureheads of change have shifted dramatically in the last 100 years. In the past, great thinkers, academics and philosophers conceived of notions of moral good, equality, access to improved living conditions and safety at work. As representatives of the people, politicians would enact this change. If they didn’t, the people’s representative bodies would apply pressure (think worker’s unions and the 38-hour work week, pay disputes or health & safety advocacy). Fast forward to the present day and those traditional roles have considerably changed.
Business leaders to the fore
Traditionally business owners have been seen as initiators of internal change within companies, delivering commercial services to customers or shareholders and taking responsibilities for social issues like gender equality within their own organisations. External causes were limited to the confines of their corporate social responsibility programs.
However, with a new surge in connectedness, and increased political and social dialogue driven by social media, business leaders of today act as catalysts for change outside their organisations. Leaders of progressive organisations are vocal about criticising perceived civil and human rights violations, encouraging social change, and acting on moral choices that would have gone unnoticed in a less connected world.
Business leaders are also quickly realising that the best way to drive social change is by collaborating with other organisations that carry a similar philosophy towards achieving an inclusive society – one that boasts of equality, access to justice and transparency. Hence it’s no surprise that Australian leaders from 30 of the nation’s biggest brands such as Telstra, Qantas, Holden, CommBank, Westpac and ANZ emerged as a force for social change when they championed same-sex marriage. The power of this partnership, collaboration and fierce campaigning crushed the notion of the traditional CEO and created a modern version – one in which the CEO is focused on purpose, not just profit.
Leaders of large organisations can now enact just as much social change as a political movement, and often in a much shorter time frame, due to their extensive resources and network. Microsoft and Bill Gates are household names. The only factor that is as well-known as the service his company provides, is Gates’ ongoing philanthropy. To date, the “Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation” has contributed an estimated US$30 billion to areas such as Global Health, Development and Education. Influential business leaders such as Bill Gates have found ways to combine profits and purpose by focusing on causes that would benefit the greater good such as climate change, social justice, human rights issues and more.
Be the change you want to see
The role of business leaders has changed. On one hand, the pressure to deliver customer and shareholder value is as strong as ever, but there is now the expectation of a strong social position as well. The CEO is now the central representative of the company’s values and the causes they choose to speak on determine the way that company is perceived in the public sphere. It speaks to values that consumers, partners and employees consider when deciding to align themselves with a particular brand.
Whether or not a CEO should demonstrate a social voice on potentially political matters is a tricky matter, but the end result is that social and commercial domains are becoming increasingly merged. Prominent members of the business community can exert real influence on political and social outcomes; and within that paradigm, pushing a social agenda that is in line with the customer’s values quickly becomes less of a novelty and more of a central requirement for brand trust.
Simon Wilkins is the General Manager from LexisNexis Australia
Seo JungJin: Who is EY’s World Entrepreneur of 2021?
Seo JungJin, founder of biopharma firm Celltrion, which most recently developed an antibody treatment for COVID-19, has been named the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year 2021, becoming the first South Korean in the award’s 21-year history.
Regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious business awards program for entrepreneurs, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year celebrates visionary and innovative leaders from across 60 countries who are transforming the world and fostering growth.
JungJin, who is now honoroary chairman of Celltrion Group, was up against a worthy cast of entrepreneurial competitors, taking the crown from among 45 award winners across 38 countries and territories.
Speaking during the virtual event, JungJin described his own interpretation of entrepreneurship as something that brings together “a group of people toward a common vision, embracing challenges as opportunities and committing oneself to contribute to the greater good”.
Why was JungJin crowned King Entrepreneur?
A South Korean native and now 63 years of age, JungJin founded biopharmaceutical firm Celltrion in 2003. In the nearly two decades since its founding, Celltrion has lived up to its goal of advancing health and welfare for all by developing ground-breaking drugs to treat autoimmune disease, various forms of cancer and, most recently, COVID-19.
The company, which JungJin started with just US$45,000 and five of his colleagues, has since growth to more than 2,1000 employees with sales permits in more than 90 countries and revenues exceeding US$1.69bn.
According to the panel, JungJin’s story is a shining example of the power of an unstoppable entrepreneur to change the world with the pandel moved by both his incredible story and his purpose-driven leadership, innovative mindset and entrepreneurial spirit.
Described by the chair of the EY judging panel Rosaleen Blair as “representing everything an unstoppable should be” from taking on the world’s biggest health care challenges to consistently creating long-term value for his company, JungJin’s story is one of incredible tenacity and perseverance that the judging panel felt most represented the entrepreneurial spirit.
“He’s taken breathtaking risks, both personal and professional, to found Celltrion and grow it into one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies,” says Stasia Mitchell, EY Global Entrepreneurship Leader. “His passion for creating affordable, life-saving health care and flair for tackling global problems has led to many treatments that have helped millions of people worldwide and was especially evident this past year through the creation of a COVID-19 antibody treatment.”
How did JungJin get there?
JungJin's entrepreneurial journey started at an early age when he worked as a taxi driver to get himself through Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea. After studying industrial engineering, he rose through the ranks of Daewoo Motor Co. before losing his job amid the carmaker’s financial troubles following the 1997 Asian economic crisis.
Following this, JungJin started collaborating with colleagues to explore business opportunities in different industries, though none delivered lasting success. The turning point came after he attended a talk hosted by renowned scholars, which inspired him to focus on the biopharmaceutical sector.
And so he founded Celltrion with just US$45,000 of his savings. The launch of Remsima, credited with being the world's first antibody biosimilar, quickly moved Celltrion up the ranks of the country's fairly underdeveloped pharmaceutical sector. Celltrion followed this success with the launch of drugs for breast cancer and lymphoma that today are being used worldwide.
With ambitions to be the world’s first in different areas, Celltrion has pioneered numerous uncharted areas to great success over the past two decades, most recently responding to the global pandemic by successfully developing an antibody treatment for COVID-19 and working to ensure a timely supply of the safe and effective treatment.
“When I first started, my vision was to help patients gain access to safe, effective and affordable medicines and thereby enhance the quality of people’s lives,” explains JungJin. “The success of Celltrion has enabled me to expand on this while finding new ways to fuel my entrepreneurial drive.”