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KEN COSTA: The “g” of governance needs to focus on generosity

The “G” of leadership needs to focus on generosity in rewarding a well-intentioned change in behavior, says KEN COSTA

  • Can corporate leaders find redemption after falling from grace?
  • Some in the ESG lobby appear bent on punishing past sins
  • The Easter message is certainly that alongside judgment there must be grace

The media has always prided itself on exposing questionable behavior in the business and financial world. The Daily Mail has fought many campaigns to take down executives of companies the newspaper believed were acting in ways that run counter to the interests of shareholders or policyholders. The recent LV campaign is a case in point.

It is important that bad decisions, incompetence or wrongdoing at the top of an organization be exposed.

Company bosses and their advisors have to keep their feet in the fire, apologize and, if necessary, accept the fine.

A Place At The Top: Can Corporate Leaders Find Salvation After Falling From Grace?

But as we approach Easter, a thought occurs to me. Can corporate leaders find redemption after falling from grace?

Because the essence of the Easter message is: “There is a second chance”.

My concern is that there is no way to go back and make amends. Something tells me that our famous tolerance in British public life doesn’t extend that far when it comes to business and finance. In the US, the stigma of bankruptcy is not the end of a career if real compensation is provided.

Perhaps more importantly, we found that while 60 percent of all US startups fail, the majority of entrepreneurs who try again succeed with their second venture. Would you get a second chance here?

I wonder if we are less forgiving this side of the Atlantic, and is this indicative of a mindset that discourages adventurers? I’m not talking about “rewards for failure” where lavish payouts are lavished on well-paid businessmen. I’m talking about the potential for wealth creators or talented leaders to be able to reuse those skills.

Under what circumstances can a business leader expect to return to the world of commerce once he has “given up” and taken his medicine by resignation? Can a businessman ever walk away from a mistake after admitting and punishing it?

Of course, there can be no hard and fast rules, but let me look for some examples. When respected banker Antonio Horta-Osorio went private traveling against Covid rules, he was confronted by his employer Credit Suisse and resigned.

I would have liked to see the Board not accepting his resignation, allowing his mea culpa, perhaps with an accompanying fine or a significant charitable donation, and moving on.

Of course, I’d like to think that if a new leadership role opens up, he’ll be welcomed back into banking circles. Or will there be a black mark against this talented banker forever?

What about Steve Easterbrook, the CEO of McDonald’s, who was fired after having consensual sexual relations within the company? Can he expect to pursue a career elsewhere or will the stigma stay with him?

Can corporations be forgiven for past deeds? Look at BP and Shell. Is it right that the ultras in the green movement are refusing to acknowledge their renewable energy efforts and carbon neutrality goals?

Some in the environmental, social and governance lobbies appear bent on punishing past sins. The “G” of governance needs to focus on generosity when it comes to rewarding well-intentioned behavior change.

Certainly the message of Easter is that alongside judgment there must be grace and that balance must be found in all areas of life. Happy Easter everyone.

Ken Costa is Co-Chairman of Alvarium, the private wealth advisor and merchant bank. He is the author of two Easter books – Strange Kingdom and Joseph Of Arimathea.

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KEN COSTA: The “g” of governance needs to focus on generosity

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