This month we have seen a series of interviews with Anthony Jenkins, newly appointed chief executive of Barclays. In a BBC report, he admitted: “We have made serious mistakes in recent years and clearly failed to keep pace with our stakeholders’ expectations.”
No shock there. Belatedly, the banks are appointing people who, on the surface at least, finally ‘get’ the damage they have done globally and are at last admitting this.
We need to treat customers with respect
But perhaps what should shock us is that Mr Jenkins wants to change the culture in the bank to ‘respect customers’. Jill Treanor wrote in the Guardian, ‘New Barclays CEO wants good service from staff who are less motivated to make profits and are encouraged to treat customers with respect’.
Surely that should be an absolute given?
Jeff Randall reports in the Telegraph, ‘Barclays has identified five key buzzwords, or “values” as its spin doctors prefer to label them: Respect, Integrity, Service, Excellence and Stewardship. They sound like something dreamt up by David Brent in The Office. Indeed, Mr Jenkins accepts customers will be sceptical until they see good intentions turned into action.’
How did we get to a place when one of the world’s best known corporate names, Barclays, admits its ethics are terrible and that it had no respect for customers?
Business schools teach profit over ethics?
And a big question hangs over this. To what extent are business schools to blame – for teaching the international business management mantra about figures and profit and completely omitting proper discussion on CSR (corporate social responsibility), ethics and the economic impact of a profit-only culture? Yes, it has often been there as an optional module, but never a core essential alongside strategy, finance and HR.
All the big names in the banking scandals and collapses have their MBAs: Bob Diamond – former ceo of Barclays and largely held responsible for the bank’s culture; Richard Fuld – chairman and ceo of Lehman Bros when it collapsed; Andy Hornby of HBOS when it collapsed.
Universities too concerned to criticise businesses
I believe that over the years, universities have been too worried about upsetting the business world and politicians and failed to criticise when it was needed. And where we have looked at ethics, would a business ethics commentator say we have failed to make any point that this is more than airy, ‘nice to have’ ideas? Or convey that it is an issue so important that it would one day rock the whole world’s economies as we know them?
While bankers are rightly still a key focus for what has gone wrong, you can’t ignore other global scandals that have had far-reaching consequences: Shell’s Niger Delta pollution; Nike’s use of child labour; and PIP’s substandard breast implants.
The latest revelations about horse meat frauds have left European shoppers reeling – and yet again, the reason is a focus on profit over respect for the consumer.
Three point plan for all business schools
- We firstly have to admit that business schools have played our own part in creating a way of thinking that puts profit before customers; and not looked enough at the macro effect of this
- Every business programme – whether a BSc or MBA – must include modules that look at the impact of ethics and CSR. Not as an add-on but as an ingrained part of thinking. We have started looking at this in our own business school – our MSc in Finance and Accounting now looks at ethical dilemmas and we can even simulate insider trading using trading room software. Our new specialist Innovation, Enterprise and Circular Economy MBA looks at the whole issue of new business models and long term viability – including the impact of business decisions on society. But we accept this is a mere start – we need to do more, so that even a deeply involved corporate social responsibility analyst would say this is genuine and cuts across all teaching
- And business schools need to engage with our alumni to see how we start to change thinking in the business world generally – and make up for past errors.
Anthony Jenkins’ admission about past failures is perhaps a lesson for us all. The question we have to ask is how quickly can we change these cultures?