The idea that public opinion of business was in such a place that the CBI needed to make it a priority issue came as quite a surprise to me.
Prior to the CBI, I had spent six years working in China and this included the whole period of the financial crisis.
In China – and you won’t get this from reading the western press – there is generally an admiration for multinational companies. Those in government and business want to learn from them and graduates want to work for them. In comparison to sprawling government ministries and state-owned companies with monopolies, western multinationals were admired for their efficiency, innovation and for having earned their success through competing in markets. The financial crisis — which was barely felt over there — hadn’t changed this.
Coming back and becoming re-immersed in the UK media climate, it soon was clear that the mood had changed and business was under much greater scrutiny. The idea that businesses dodged paying tax, overpaid at the top, underpaid at the bottom and ripped-off consumers had slipped into mainstream conversation.
In our opinion this is overshadowing the overwhelmingly positive contributions that businesses make to the economy and to society. The question for us at the CBI was what can we do about it?
The CBI is traditionally an organisation that represents business to government. The Great Business Debate is a new, challenging, approach to move us out of this comfort zone and engage directly with the public. We are giving a platform for businesses to talk about the contributions they make whilst inviting challenging voices to say how they think things can be done differently.
We need people from all backgrounds to get involved and have their say. Our challenge is to inspire this. If you’re reading this you can start by leaving a comment here or on social media!
A final note, a Korean friend of mine was visiting London and told me that Koreans like to hang around Piccadilly Circus because they feel proud to stand within sight of the giant Samsung advert.
My question – as a person from the UK, if you were standing beneath a giant billboard for a British company in a foreign country, would you feel proud? Should you feel proud? And what would make you feel like this?
Happy Chinese New Year!
Anthony Robinson is Communications Manager for The Great Business Debate.
You can follow him on Twitter @robinsontony