Balancing business and society: why you need to give back

Two professors from Harvard Business School, Michael E Porter and Mark R Kramer, have stated in a recent report that public trust in companies is at an all-time low. To rectify this, they said that companies should do everything in their power to bring business and society more aligned. 

This is a bold statement when some companies are still struggling to keep afloat, so therefore a call to look at your core business values might not seem like a top priority. We?d argue though that it should. 

The founder of our business was Cecil Jackson-Cole, who established Andrews & Partners in 1946. A renowned entrepreneur and humanitarian, he believed that commercial success should benefit society. Cecil was one of the founders of prominent charities, such as: OXFAM, Help the Aged and Action Aid. That ethos is still central to Andrews & Partners today, and we believe that we are the only estate and lettings agency in the UK to operate in this way.

ACT (Andrews Charitable Trust) benefits from being granted a large section of the profits (over ?1m in Gift Aid over the past five years) from Andrews & Partners which they use to support causes in the UK and abroad. Our senior directors also spend 10 or more days a year working for charities that ACT helps to support.

It is always hotly debated whether business success and social philanthropy can go hand in hand. Putting charitable causes ahead of benefiting from all of your own profits in today?s business world might seem a difficult, perhaps somewhat impossible task. But we feel 1946 isn?t so different from today when it comes to what it is still important in society and in business. 

However, in order for social responsibility to work properly, we?d argue that it needs to be at the core of your business and be driven by dedicated people who can ensure that it lives freely and prominent in everything that you do. 

Believing passionately about what you do as a business and having motivated team members who are proud to be part of a social enterprise adds to our success, and the business model, we feel, could operate in any kind of business just as successfully. 

We do know we?re not alone in our thinking, but we are unique in our industry which still faces a large amount of scepticism from its consumers. Therefore, how we deliver those values is under constant scrutiny and review.  

The financial crisis has resulted in customers wanting an estate agency to be very good to at their job, but to also have greater accountability and responsibility. This is when our values really make us stand out in a crowded high street.

It is like most things in life, society and business, it?s all about striking a balance, as without profits, we would be unable to sustain the business and therefore to continue to maintain our charitable support. However, we are not here to make a fast buck at the expense of our long term business, nor are we prepared to negotiate on our core values of service, integrity and performance in order to make a quick return. Although, at times when we are surrounded by our modern world 1946 might seem like a world away, but it seems our values have never been so important.

Can businesses still thrive during difficult times when they are focused on philanthropy? We have for the past 60 years; it makes people want to join the company as they feel that they are helping to give back to society and when today?s customer has very high expectations of how businesses conduct themselves we think it will be difficult to survive in future without doing so.

Michael Robson is chief executive of Andrews & Partners.

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