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Lord Michael Hastings: From Cleaning Toilets to a CBE
March 28, 2017
This is one of a series of interviews that started when Rosie Warin, CEO of culture and communications agency Kin&Co, began having conversations with high–profile, values–driven leaders of the ‘purpose revolution’ about the future of leadership. Each explores how these leaders got to where they are now, and what they think the future of values–driven leadership looks like.
Lord Michael Hastings, Global Head of Citizenship at KPMG, is a man who has used his passions for good. His work for the development of children in Africa earned him the UNICEF award for ‘outstanding contribution to understanding and effecting solutions for Africa’s children;’ and he received an honorary doctorate in civil law from the University of KentCanterbury, in recognition for his leadership at both the BBC (where he was the first Head of CSR) and KPMG. We talked with him to learn more about his work and what continues to drive him.
Rosie Warin: What was your first job?
Michael Hastings: Cleaning toilets!! It was for two weeks at an outdoor youth facility.
RW: What does a normal day look like for you?
MH: I never have a normal day. It is a mix of the different constituent parts of my responsibilities. Responsibilities in life merge in the full sense of the word. At KPMG, I tend to do a lot of emails in the morning between 6:00 and 7:30. Then it’s meetings - either at KPMG offices, or at the House of Lords. Half of my month is spent travelling internationally. I have responsibilities as the trustee of the Vodafone Foundation, as Vice President of UNICEF, and as Vice President of Tearfund.
Lord Michael Hastings
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I also mentor a number of young men and women who are developing their lives in business. I take as many along the journey with me as I can, so they experience what life is like in the business world and in the political world.
Everybody knows the good oil of any business relationship is in the human contact side – the human contact side is vibrant in the potential for business. Competition is also realistic, and, naturally, I want KPMG to succeed over and beyond any of the others. However, what I most want to achieve from everything I do is to orientate the prosperity of the capital and commercial world towards the potential of the poor, and to give the poor the opportunities of business, self-driven enterprise, employment and sound economic futures.
RW: What’s been your greatest achievement as a values-driven leader?
MH: I would say, undeniably, the six years of KPMG’s commitment to the Millennium Village Project. Most NGO intervention is short-term, ranging from a couple of months to a year. But we’ve been at this for six years now. We’re committed to 10,000 people’s welfare on a tiny island off the coast of Tanzania where 99% of the population have never heard of, and where we have no business interests and probably never will. It’s been values-driven from the beginning. It really distinguishes us, and it distinguished our commitment, and I think it’s something every business should do.
RW: How do you inspire your team?
MH:I inspire them because I set them free. We don’t clock-watch and we don’t detail-watch. I set broad, strategic objectives, [upon] which I agree with the KPMG board. We know what we have to achieve within a set time frame – I like that time frame to be four years. They get on with the work they’re meant to, and are able to attend the meetings they want to attend. I insist they have a strong sense of awareness of the real world - watch the news, read the papers, follow the stories, get out there, and understand what’s out there.
RW: Is there any business jargon - specifically related to the world of values-driven business - which you really hate?
MH: ‘CSR.’ It’s really a very convenient way for senior people to say ‘we do a few good things in the community,’ which is not the same as, ‘we are the change in the world.’ Values have to have longevity to them as much as they have to have determination.
RW: As we move forward from a year full of political upheaval, the onus is on purpose-driven business leaders to continue driving sustainability agendas. What do you see as your biggest priorities and challenges for 2017?
MH: It seems like an understatement to say 2016 has been a tumultuous year of change in Western democracies and a painful, life-losing year of oppression and terror in parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Of all the world dramas that I feel most grieved by it is the relentless loss of lives from desperate boat people in collapsed craft in the Mediterranean Sea. They were reaching out for a hopeful future. It literally sank with them. The US political satirist and journalist, P.J. O’Rourke, put things into perspective for me, at least: “I think that if being a foreign correspondent teaches one anything, it is to put things in proportion. Some college kid telling you they’re an anarchist. OK, I’ll take you to Mogadishu for a day. See the anarchy? I’ll show you anarchy. People say, oh, America’s so polarised. 1861: That was polarised. This is not. Right now, we’re just snipping at each other. We’re having little text snips. We’re unfriending each other on Facebook.”
Nonetheless, some affirm that maybe we live in ‘post-truth’ times and this does pose a challenge to me as a parliamentarian and a leader in business. This also happens to be my biggest opportunity. Post-trust, for me at least, is a manifestation of the continued erosion of trust in our governments, our global business structures and in many of our public figures. I am convinced that 2017 is about crafting a response to 2016; to defend open markets and celebrate the last 25 years that saw more people lifted out of poverty than in any other time in history. Most of this was a result of opening up markets and facilitating trade. There have been consequences, and many people have been left behind. But the greater good of globalisation is beyond dispute. The once extreme poor have jobs and hope, and women are free to learn and build businesses to support families. I’m proud of that.
This year, and beyond 2017, through my work at KPMG, I will redouble my commitment to see universal education established as a foundation stone to rebuilding trust, by embedding a programme of Lifelong Learning throughout the KPMG community, to ending extreme poverty and creating a climate-resilient world by 2030. This, I believe, will also help form more prosperous and inclusive economies. This is the opportunity for purpose-driven businesses. We know we can make change sustainable and efficient.