Future of the Corporation

A major research and engagement programme examining the purpose of business and its role in society, led by Professor Colin Mayer FBA, Professor of Management at the Saїd Business School.

The Future of the Corporation programme is the British Academy’s review of the role of business in society. It combines research from a range of academic disciplines with insight from senior business and policy leaders. In 2018, it highlighted trust in business and its impact on people and the environment along with globalisation and technological disruption as drivers of a shifting view of business. The research suggested a need to develop a new, more human framework for the corporation around well-defined and aligned purposes, complemented by ethical cultures and commitments to trustworthiness. Professor Colin Mayer, the Academic Lead for the programme, drew together the research and defined the purpose of business as:

Profitably solving the problems of people and planet, and not profiting from creating problems.

Now, in 2020, we are all living through a crisis few could have anticipated. The COVID-19 pandemic has exaggerated the fault-lines across society. Business is no exception and the crisis is shining new light on the issues that have been driving the shift to purposeful business in recent years.

What does this type of business look like? How can we shift from an ecosystem of policies and practices driven almost entirely by financial goals to one focused on purposes that solve problems? Over the course of 2019, the Future of the Corporation programme explored the issues in more depth with a range of experts, business leaders and academics. The conclusion was a set of eight principles for purposeful business, illustrated here:

Principles for purposeful business

Alongside our work and with growing concern around the climate crisis, 2019 saw a step change in business commitments to a purposeful approach. For example, the US Business Roundtable, made up of biggest US companies, released a statement that revised a long-standing focus on shareholder value with a new statement on the purpose of the corporation that commits to delivering value for all stakeholders. This public commitment continues to raise questions about how business can deliver on purpose. And with business and society tested to the limit by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are new challenges around building resilience, a shifting role for government following interventions to limit the effects of lockdown, and changing work cultures.

The Future of the Corporation purpose summits are a series of major events, many of them held virtually, to generate new ideas for reshaping business around purpose, building on the Principles for Purposeful Business. The first summit is being held between 22 and 24 June 2020.

If you would like to know more about the programme or become more involved, please join the mailing list and email the team on fotc@thebritishacademy.ac.uk.


Partner publications

Enacting Purpose Within the Modern Corporation: A Framework for Boards of Directors

A report providing guidance to boards of directors on how to enact purpose. It draws on research findings from different academic disciplines together with best practice insights from some of the UK and continental Europe’s leading businesses and institutions.

Partners and Supporters

The British Academy would like to thank the following partners and supporters for their support of the Future of the Corporation programme.

If you would like more information about becoming a partner or supporter of the programme, please contact Michelle Waterman, Head of Development on 020 7969 5290.

Principal supporters

Associate supporter

Corporate partners

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