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Promoting Quaker values in Business and the Workplace

Minute of Q&B NxD Gathering 2012: Building Trust in Business

About 30 of us gathered in the Art Room at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham for the evening session. We began with a period of silence and then gathered in Meeting for Worship. Our Clerks are Tim Phillips and Winston Duguid, our Clerk for this Meeting. Our facilitator is Rick Trask. We are reminded that this event is one of a series. We met as Non-Executive Directors in June 2011 on the theme of Organisational Structures. We followed this with our Business Conference in November 2011 on Responsible Businesses and applying the Quaker values of the past to today’s businesses. Most recently, our Spring Gathering 2012 looked at a Quaker View of Business, rooted in our testimonies of Simplicity, Truth, Equality and Peace. The minutes of these events are on our website under the Downloads section.

There were a number of common threads in the Participant’s notes which we each completed in preparation for our gathering. We are concerned about the level of greed within modern capitalism and the impact this has on the environment and community. We hope to share new models of company ownership, governance and business ethics.

These are complex matters. We wish to hear from one another for mutual understanding of the spiritual elements. We see this as a threshing meeting to focus on what is eternal.

Our speaker in the first session was Stephen Lloyd, Senior Partner of Bates, Wells & Braithwaite LLP, solicitors. Stephen’s contact details follow at the end of this minute. Stephen spoke about the Current Landscape of Trust in Business. Stephen reminded us that corporations (companies) can now be very large. Of the 100 largest economic entities in the world, half are corporations. Over the last 30 or 40 years, inequality in the UK has risen, for example children living in poverty at a time when the chief executives of our largest companies are paid nearly £5 million a year. This is 200 times the average wage.

Stephen spoke of Michael Sandel’s new book, What money can’t buy: The moral limits of markets. Sandel argues that when a communal good is marketised and turned into a transaction, the process is unfair and corrupting or degrading to the communal good itself. Examples are executive boxes at sports grounds and the well off paying the less well off to queue for them at events. Stephen reminded us of our deep Quaker business legacy. He ended with the idea that trust in business is based on positive outcomes; food companies which promote healthy eating, banks working for our financial well being and fuel companies working for clean energy. We thought about Stephen’s comments in groups and shared our findings. We thank him for his enthusiastic presentation.

We ended the day with Epilogue in the Cadbury Room with others who are staying at Woodbrooke.

Next day, we joined Meeting for Worship in the Quiet Room. We began the morning session with a summation of the previous evening. A number of us had brought an object to symbolize our views on trust in business. In my group, we heard of a shoe box to have a soul, a piece of string, a stone, customer service, sunrise and an English Springer Spaniel.

Our morning speaker was Patrick Andrews who spoke of New Possibilities in the Trust in Business landscape. How can we create forms of business which serve humanity equitably and ethically? Patrick gave us Seven facets of a Business Trust:

  1. A clear, inspiring purpose;
  2. Trusteeship (stewardship) and not ownership;
  3. A voice for the voiceless;
  4. Loops of accountability;
  5. Unity on major matters;
  6. Excess profits shared;
  7. An appreciation of the unique qualities of each organisation.

The challenge seems to be to spend time on discerning the right governance and accountability arrangements for an organisation. And then manage to bring these alive. We are reminded that our perspective can be influenced by our viewpoint. Are we filtering what we see? What are we willing to embrace anew, which may involve giving up some things too? Wherever there is a choice, will we hold onto that which is spiritual? We shall. We are reminded of inner leadership, of following our values and not following commercial norms. We recognise that this takes courage.

We heard case studies of the lived experience from four Trust in Business Organisations:

  • Case study 1: Scott Bader, an existing large organisation.
  • Case study 2: Thinking Flowers? a new, small, organisation with ambitious plans.
  • Case study 3: Oasis School of Human Relations, an ethical not-for-profit organisation.
  • Case study 4: Philips Printing, an existing small organisation.

We joined together in worship sharing. We had heard of the current landscape last night, and of new possibilities this morning. We have heard from four quite different organisations this afternoon. We are discovering new understandings and ideas to take forward the creation of forms of business which serve humanity equitably, ethically and spiritually. We see business very much as part of community and central to community.

A paradigm shift happens quickly when there is critical mass and the right people in place for change. We are part of that body of people, recognising the importance of diversity in all its forms.

We greatly enjoyed the enthusiastic, informed presentations which we have heard today and thank all those concerned for them. We enjoyed tea together, hoping to meet again at our Annual Conference 2012 at Friends House, Euston on 7 November. There, the theme will be: Working Together: Exploring Unity in the Quaker Movement’s Relationships With Business. We plan to hold Spring Gathering and AGM 2013 at Friargate Meeting House in York on Saturday 20 April 2013.

We closed with a period of silence, thanking the team at Woodbrooke for their hospitality and Tim Phillips, Winston Duguid and Rick Trask of our Group and others for their work for our gathering.

In Friendship and peace,
Paul Gibson, Minute Clerk

Christine Kell
Member, Quakers and Business Group