My generation of leadership has fundamentally failed, says O2 CEO

Big corporates have dodged their social responsibility over the last decade, and customers are beginning to notice, according to O2 boss Ronan Dunne.

O2: CEO Ronan Dunne says customers want businesses to do more social good
O2: CEO Ronan Dunne says customers want businesses to do more social good

In a blistering criticism of how big business operates, Dunne slammed the current generation of UK CEOs, claiming they have not historically used their influence for good.

Speaking at an event by The&Partnership, Dunne said: "People of my generation of leadership have fundamentally failed, in that corporate private sector has not delivered its contribution to society over the last 10 years.

"We have been found out as a generation of leaders and corporates. That is simply unacceptable. Those of us who do get it need to hold ourselves to account."

According to Dunne, customers are increasingly interested in doing business with brands which do not only provide a good service, but do good more generally.

He said: "The younger generation is very clear that doing well and doing good are not mutually exclusive, you do them in parallel, not sequentially.

"We need to tap into that internally and with our customer base."

O2 currently runs a sustainability and youth programme called Think Big, which Dunne says has allowed his company to pressure other corporates to "behave".

Starbucks and race relations

Still, big businesses must be careful when it comes to taking up a good cause. 

Jeremy Heimans, CEO of citizen movement service Purpose, pointed to the disastrous Starbucks ‘Race Together’ campaign.

The US campaign saw Starbucks baristas instigate conversations about race relations with customers, and write ‘Race Together’ on coffee cups.

This backfired spectacularly, as consumers saw ‘Race Together’ as an attempt to use racial tension to sell coffee.

Heimans said: "This was announced by a middle-aged white man and another middle-aged white man at USA Today, Starbucks’ partner. These were the people who said we really need to talk about race."

"Of course by doing that, ordinary consumers and baristas were asking questions. Who made this decision? Was it an inclusive process? Were minority voices involved in the way the campaign was constructed? And the answer was not very good."

During the Advertising Week Europe conference last week, Microsoft’s UK CMO Philippa Snare also criticised marketing strategies that associate brands with irrelevant causes. She pointed to Ben & Jerry’s participation in the gay marriage debate, noting that the views of an ice cream would not influence her own purchase choice.


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