Me And My Partner

Sir Stuart Hampson, chairman of John Lewis, met Mark Goyder through the Royal Society of Arts. Goyder then asked Hampson to be non-executive chairman of the Centre for Tomorrow's Company, a business-led charity which aims to research and educate companies
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The Independent Online
MARK GOYDER: Stuart was commended to me as a potential supporter when I was putting together a programme on business sustainability for the RSA. I had come from the printing industry, working for the St Ives Group. I'd had a phone call from Charles Handy, RSA chairman, saying "We need a new portfolio of activities in business and I think you're the person for the job".

I had had a fair apprenticeship in business. I'd never put myself on the fast-track because I was involved in political activities, pursuing two careers, and life isn't always kind to people who try and wear several hats. That's why I admire Stuart, because he's brilliant at that.

Stuart was one of the younger business leaders I was in touch with. He was very approachable, and prepared to come to quite unfocused discussions about what the RSA programme might look like.

We held a series of dinners at which Charles Handy gave a lecture, "What Is A Company For?" We felt there was an unspoken agenda: the future was going to be very different from the past for reasons of technology and the death of deference, and some strong social and ethical attitudes were coming through. There was a lot of debate about short-termism, and a sense that the investment community didn't have the information needed to understand business.

Stuart came to one of these dinners and his attitude was: "I would be fascinated to see how your inquiry progresses, but at this stage I am not sure I see value in committing time to it." Stuart took a holding position for that first year, and I must admit, I was disappointed. I wanted him in.

In 1994, our interim report came out, part of the RSA's Tomorrow's Company Inquiry. We'd got 25 business leaders to look at the question "What will the successful company of the future look like?" and one of the most influential people in shaping that report was John Neill, chief executive of Unipart.

John and Stuart were good buddies and John said: "I think you should have a word with Stuart". He leapt at it: he very much identified with the inclusive approach to business - something John Lewis had valued for years. I was very pleased because this was a great vote of confidence from someone who was sceptical. From that moment, he became one of the most consistent participants on the inquiry.

When our final report came out in 1995, we got the statutory lashing that new thinking must expect. We said companies don't have to choose between stakeholders and shareholders: any company interested in success has to be interested in long-term relationships.

There was scepticism from businesses who said "What is all this stakeholding stuff? Are they trying to make us into the Germans or the Japanese?" People also said "We knew all this already". We replied: "Well, why don't companies do it? What do we need to do to keep this from being something of token importance?"

After the inquiry, I went away for the summer and came back prepared to take a risk and set up a new organisation, the Centre for Tomorrow's Company. The mission was to inspire British businesses to compete with the world's best through an inclusive approach; only through applying this can a business effectively crack problems such as costs, market share, alliances, retaining skills and credibility.

One of the first people I went to see was Stuart. I was asking John Lewis to be an initial supporter, and Stuart to be a board member. He agreed to both: total, solid commitment. He really put his money where his mouth was. I had the courage of my own convictions, but I needed the courage of other people's.

We should have been more ambitious in fund-raising: we were constantly bumping up against cost constraints, and having to accept that we hadn't recognised the scale of the task we faced in trying to bring about a revolution in attitudes. I was thinking "I've failed". Stuart's reaction was: "We've failed". He takes responsibility for any difficulty.

By increasing financial contributions by his own company, he led by example. It was solidity under fire. Where Stuart is absolutely fantastic is that he opens doors. He speaks on business platforms, and he's introduced several leaders, who have brought their companies in. He's a great champion and role model.

I have never seen him in a flap. I feel very free to go out and be creative, to take risks and push the boundaries. It's a case of consulting but often informing, because I know we share the same values.

He probably sees me as someone with a passion for our task. He knows that occasionally I need curbing from excesses induced by my own enthusiasm. I need a bit of structure to work more effectively. With Stuart, I have absolute confidence that however pressured his life, he will be there.

SIR STUART HAMPSON: My first impression of Mark was of somebody who had clear ideas about business: able to think conceptually but practically. He could develop ideas as intellectual concepts but didn't let them remain intellectual.

Mark talked to me because he thought that his approach would be of interest. I was immediately attracted by the idea but declined to participate. I said it was no good John Lewis joining in, because I would spend my whole time saying "But we are different" and that would be tedious for more conventional companies which didn't have our values of partnership and inclusivity.

Inclusivity is recognising that no one relationship defines the business, but that the business is defined by its unique purpose.

When the interim report came out, I had to put my hand up to say: "Hang on, this is what I believe in".

It tied in with my own attitude, but I felt it had the excitement of something which really mattered to business. I wanted to give my time to endorse and push it forward. It would be easy to think of the chairman painting on a broad canvas, with Mark getting on with the detail, but it isn't that at all. Mark is seized with the grand vision of how the Centre for Tomorrow's Company can benefit British industry, how it can combat the lack of competitiveness which has dogged huge sectors. He is very good at the practical steps, and he is the hub of it all.

He's also able to motivate people and inspire them: whether an audience of 500 financial directors or a small group of people, he can capture their imaginations and make them see that here is something really interesting and different. I always get the response from groups: "That was one of the most stimulating talks we have had for a long time". Mark's own natural enthusiasm comes through, but so does his intellectual grasp. He involves them in really practical details.

Our real success has been in changing the language, in the fact that inclusivity is used now in business as almost a norm. Perhaps the most telling example is the review of company law by the DTI. It has two models: one based on shareholder value, the other the pluralist approach which says you have a responsibility to your stakeholders, not just to shareholders. The fact that there were only two models shows how Tomorrow's Company has shifted the thinking. The danger is that we are not controversial enough. People say "That's good sense" but they don't actively proceed with it.

Tomorrow's Company also punches above its weight. People imagine it to be a powerhouse or a think-tank: when they get there, it's just Mark and a small team. That says a great deal about Mark's ability to touch so many people and strike chords. It's something that everybody wants to take account of.

When you encounter something potentially of national significance, the desire to spend more time with it is very great. I have had to recognise that I have got to stand back, otherwise I don't sleep. I can be confident that Mark has sufficient credibility with senior people in industry to argue the case and have their trust. I think Mark regards me as somebody who will always be there if he wants some support. If he rings me and says "Can you please write a letter or phone this person," I will always try and say "Yes I will".