[Image: Hiking on New Zealand's South Island | © Boehringer Ingelheim]
I've spent a large part of the last year helping Boehringer Ingelheim (BI), a family-owned multinational pharmaceutical business, to better embed the UN's Sustainable Development Goals in their business in Australia & New Zealand.
As part of this work, I found myself reflecting on how much quicker organisations like BI can make change happen, simply because of their ownership structure.
I've worked with a few family-owned businesses in my time, starting with Bacardi-Martini in the late 1990s – who had a striking ability to make things happen fast and at scale as soon as they'd decided on a course of action. Most recently this impressive agility has played out through 'Good Spirited', their overarching approach to sustainability and what it means to their business.
In BI's case, the last few years have seen them adopt a global sustainability platform called 'Sustainable Development for Generations' (SD4G), an approach fully aligned with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.
Some might look at this platform and think they've come a little late to the sustainability party, but because of the streamlined decision-making process that being family-owned provides them with, they've been able to pivot very rapidly and are fast ensuring that sustainability lies right at the heart of what they do.
That's not to say an organisation with a different ownership structure can't move quickly, but the independence that being family-owned provides is more often than not a 'supercharger' when it comes to being sustainable/purpose driven, rather than profit driven.
Of course, this all assumes that the family-owned organisation makes a decision to become more sustainable rather than less, as (unfortunately) the very same speed advantage can just as easily be used to pursue the wrong direction as it can the right. Cargill anyone?