Monday, 11 April 2011

Corporate oxymoron

'Corporate social responsibility? Why is that part of this course? You seem to have slipped it in as an after thought.' Is what many of my students comment about the MBA module I teach.

Few of them believe that private sector companies show much interest in anything beyond profits and growth.

I beg to differ.

One of my students told me about Bovis Lend Lease Community Days. Outsiders may see this as a warm and fluffy idea for junior staff to bunk off work for a day to mess about with local community groups doing 'good works.'

The construction industry has a macho reputation and property developers aren't seen as kindly uncles of the community. However an increasing number of projects involve partnership working, where the needs of users and major stakeholders have to be considered and included. Projects may involve a lot of work to adapt plans to suit patterns of use. Bovis Lend Lease are ahead of the game in making community consultation and cooperation part of company practice.

The company has a code of conduct and core values which read well. I tend to be sceptical about the theory until I see it in action.

This video shows the beginning of a site induction with a basic safety message:

I found an interesting obituary of Sir Frank Lampl. I'd never heard of him, but he got a job with Bovis in the early 1970s and worked his way to the top. He oversaw the sale of the company to Australia's Lend Lease and became life president of the united company: Bovis Lend Lease.

In Czechoslovakia he was only allowed to work as a construction labourer, but turned this to good advantage:

'If you come through the ranks..... you have a much better feel for what's happening on the site.'

I've met many people who used to work in construction, but couldn't bear the strain of recession, redundancy and the struggle to find work. I was astonished to read his goal for the company, particular Bovis International:

"I wanted to build up a business that didn't suffer so much from the economic cycles." He introduced US construction management skills allowing rapid completion of complex projects.

How macho was Frank Lampl? He wanted to be remembered 'for fairness and caring.' 'Most success depends on colleagues, on the team. People at the top can have large egos, but you must never say 'I': it's always 'we''. Colleagues described him as a compassionate man and an exceptional leader, but always hard nosed.

Frank seems an excellent example of a Level 5 leader, with the ability to drive things forward without crushing colleagues or blaming others for his mistakes. A humble man, who was also a survivor of 2 concentration camps and persecution under the Czech communist regime.

How did this warm and fluffy company do in the current economic downturn?

They delivered an operating profit after tax for the half year of 220.2 million Australian dollars, which represents a 17.2% increase on the corresponding period for the prior year. The UK part of the business experienced a fall in profits because of a significant slowdown in its EMEA markets (Europe, Middle East & Africa.)

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