Modern chief executives need to be more than business leaders. And their wider responsibilities are something to be supported, not begrudged

At the 2012 Ethical Corporation Responsible Business Summit, I interviewed Paul Walsh, the long-serving chief executive of Diageo.

As I was drafting this essay, Walsh appeared on the BBC’s Today programme, officially to talk about Diageo’s annual results announced that morning. What was fascinating, however, was the number of what might be called “extra-market” issues on which Walsh was quizzed in the short interview, ranging from the impact of Scottish independence, through the UK’s austerity programme, to the prospects for Africa; and whether Diageo might move its corporate HQ from the UK because of high taxes.

Not for the first time, I reflected on the need for today’s corporate leaders to be statesmen /women as well as successful business people. The reach and impacts of today’s global corporations mean that, like it or loathe it, business leaders cannot ignore international relations, and global issues such as sustainable development.

Interestingly, “CEO as statesman” was the title of a recent short think-piece from a US consultancy, FTI Consulting. The authors, Elizabeth Saunders and Jackson Dunn argue that institutional investors now don’t just tolerate, but expect chief executives to be active in public affairs:

“Participants in the study feel that CEOs must proactively engage with policymakers...

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