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Global Politics and the Impact on Corporate Affairs for our Region – Alan Butler, UK

February 19, 2020

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With a career spanning 24 years in senior corporate and public affairs role in Brussels and London, Alan has global expertise covering regulation, social responsibility, corporate reputation and political engagement.

Alan joined us from the UK to lead an incredibly insightful and timely discussion on Global Politics and the Impact on Corporate Affairs in our region.

In his most recent role, Alan led a global centre of excellence for policy and public affairs responsible for managing a risk profile in excess of £4bn, providing global and regional support for Diageo markets in over 180 countries that delivered over £1bn of net sales value across tax, trade and regulatory affairs.

In articulating the current global policy environment, Alan drew on three contentions. Firstly, “hope that the current volatility passes” is simply not a strategy, he said organisations dependant on a global view must have a geo component to their business strategy and it is critical that the integration of a geo component is led by the CEO.

Risk mitigation and value creation, says Alan, is absolutely central to our role as corporate affairs professionals, however, while we can “take the temperature” so to speak, there has to be a DNA build into the organisation and culture for people to do the right thing.

As Alan correctly pointed out, how we do business and the way we face capitalism is changing. To ensure a business is prepared for the complexities it will undoubtedly face, it must develop its own version of corporate foreign policy and ensure there is an external radar influencing business decision making.

Leadership, says Alan, requires “capability and nourishment”. Speaking to his second contention, Alan suggests most businesses are not equipped for the structural deficiencies that can affect its global policy. The key to move with speed and allow the freedom and flexibility within your business, says Alan, is to build capability and risk awareness through regional nodes in your structure. This assists the leaders of the business to better understand the complexity of the outside world. If they don’t understand, he warns, it will be perceived as a failure by corporate affairs leaders to properly equip the business to navigate this new multipolar world.

Alan’s final contention centres around trust. A widely debated topic, but important, businesses must question how trustworthy it is. If businesses focus on what they do, not why, it will very quickly be seen as a hollow response to social needs and expectations. The “why” and how it is expressed, must be central to a corporate purpose.

Globally, says Alan, we haven’t yet woken up to the challenges that society wants businesses to respond to and how we act upon these expectations, with climate change being the wildcard for geopolitics. In doing so, businesses must better understand the consequences. Reflecting on his time leading Diageo’s global policy and public affairs, Alan admits the single most important investment of both his time and resources was measuring external risks and opportunities, and conducting ongoing scenario planning in “building organisational resilience” to respond effectively. Such measures of geo-political risks must also be reflected within the business strategy: if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

Building this credibility and understanding through insights, data and regional capability enables corporate affairs leaders to curate intelligence to the different arms of a business.

In terms of the regional capability, Alan says it’s all about finding durable solutions for your business, including a strong talent pipeline, that with ongoing support, capability and coaching, can flex across geography and sectors. Honing the skills that identify the geopolitical signals that determine the future risks and opportunities for the business.

In concluding, Alan commented that whilst corporate affairs is best placed to navigate this period of deglobalisation, it needs to retool at pace for this new normal.

The views and opinions in these articles are solely of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Teneo. They are offered to stimulate thought and discussion and not as legal, financial, accounting, tax or other professional advice or counsel.

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