Renowned executive says business must rebuild trust
Niall FitzGerald honored by International Business School's Perlmutter Institute
Former Unilever CEO and Reuters Chairman Niall FitzGerald asserted during a recent visit to Brandeis International Business School that it is imperative for corporate leaders to restore the public’s confidence in business.
A Knight of the British Empire, FitzGerald addressed various business school groups after receiving the Perlmutter Award for Excellence in Global Business Leadership.
“For the first time since the end of the Cold War, there is a serious questioning of… the capitalist system,” he said. “Leaders should not be left off the hook for the reckless behavior in which they indulged…. They need to acknowledge what has gone wrong, and move to rebuild trust brick by brick.”
The Perlmutter Award, presented by Louis ’56 and Barbara Perlmutter on behalf of the Perlmutter Institute for Global Business Leadership, is given to leaders who exemplify a “recognized commitment to the global community and its prosperity.” FitzGerald spoke of the rage over the widening gap between the rich and poor and the high unemployment rate—particularly among the young—in the United States and in Europe that has inspired massive protests, from the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York to the indignados in Madrid.
The highly respected executive suggested that business must re-establish its reputation as a place for bright young talent entering the workforce. “The view of business has been tarnished,” he said. “We have to give [young people] reasons to want to spend their lives within it. Now is the time for business leaders to stand up. The price of economic freedom is moral vigilance.”
FitzGerald spoke at a luncheon and in one of senior lecturer Charles Reed’s classes; he also met with faculty to share his thoughts on the role that business schools can play in inspiring and molding future generations of global leaders.
A native of Ireland, FitzGerald spent 30 years at Unilever, the global consumer goods company. During his tenure as CEO and chairman, he successfully cut costs, and improved the company’s profitability and cash flow.He is known for his philanthropic efforts – he is chairman of the Board of Trustees of the British Museum – as well as his passion for promoting economic development in Africa. He was chairman of the Nelson Mandela Legacy Trust in the UK and co-chair of the Investment Climate Facility for Africa. He is also a regular panelist at the World Economic Forum's annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, where he has chaired discussions about poverty on the continent.
Businesses, he said, have both moral and strategic reasons to act with “enlightened self-interest” and pursue long-term goals that are good for society. “They share responsibility for building and maintaining society. There is a difference between making money and creating sustainable wealth, and there are tough trade-offs that have to be made.”
Louis Perlmutter ’56, a member of the Brandeis Board of Trustees, called FitzGerald a “tri-sector athlete” who operates effectively across the business, social, and government sectors. “He is a great business leader, and also a great societal leader.”
Bruce R. Magid, dean of the school, lauded FitzGerald’s company leadership and humanitarian endeavors, saying it was clear that he has a “commitment to action, and a commitment to excellence.”