Business managers seeking to encourage ethical and socially responsible behavior should constantly refer to their organization's core mission.
That was the message from two CEOs who spoke at MIT on Tuesday, May 2. Each works in an industry that faces tremendous pressure both to respond to society's needs and to earn profits for shareholders.
Lord John Browne, group chief executive of BP, and Dr. Daniel Vasella, chairman and chief executive officer of Novartis AG, spoke at the MIT Faculty Club. MIT President Susan Hockfield moderated the session, which was sponsored by the MIT Leadership Center.
Hockfield noted that MIT can "bring knowledge to bear on the world's great challenges. In addressing these issues, we seek not just to analyze problems but to solve them."
Two of those challenges are energy and health, which affect the daily lives of billions of people. BP is the world's second largest oil company and the seventh largest company in the world. Novartis holds leadership positions in patented and generic pharmaceuticals.
Expanding on the theme for the meeting, BP's Browne said, "Business is part of society. Its permission to be around is only granted when it serves human needs. If we remind ourselves that's what we're doing and doing it really well, we can make wealth for everybody."
Vasella discussed the role of the CEO in establishing a climate for corporate social responsibility, noting you can "impact the organization in a larger way."
Browne advised the audience to focus on the big picture and "remind people of purpose."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 10, 2006 (download PDF).