The is no future for the economy without social justice; on power, glory, money, and trust.
I am a lover of Jazz music. When I am in Montreal in June, one of my favorite activities is to hop from one live concert to the next at the International Jazz Festival.
But on the evening of June 24, 2016, it is not jazz music that got the most of my attention. That night, I canceled all plans to go out and stayed home glued to my computer to transcribe and translate in a frenzy a speech that was going viral on social media, and that had just struck a chord.
The words I was hearing were music to my ears.
The speech was from Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone, a French multinational among the ten largest Food & Beverage companies globally. The occasion was the commencement address before the HEC Graduate School of Business 2016 cohort, a French Ivey League Business School that regularly enjoys pole or top positions in global rankings. Emmanuel Faber took the audience of young graduates and the business intelligentsia by surprise with a personal and emotional tone and a few unorthodox messages.
The story he shared on stage was his relationship with his younger brother, who had been suffering from severe schizophrenia and had passed away five years earlier. Through his relationship with his brother, Emmanuel Faber had found a healthy grounding in the realities of daily life and compassion and empathy for the less fortunate around us suffering from sickness or poverty.
Reflecting on decades of economic growth, he stated that, in his opinion:
“There is no future for the economy without social justice.”
With an audacious and eloquent reference to economist Adam Smith, he critiqued the fundamental principles of the free market economy by stating that “there is no such thing as an invisible hand” and pivoted to a call for leaders to become changemakers: “change is in your hands.” To make his message memorable, he wrapped his talk with a warning to the future executives in the room about the three main toxic poisons of corporate life: glory, money, and power.
"Forget about Glory. Glory is just a never-ending race that will get you nowhere. The list of Hall of Fame people is only there for people to look at their names. They are not interested in any of the other people’s names."
"When I was in investment banking, finance, or as I was traveling the world as I still am today, I met so many people who have become prisoners of the money they have earned. Never get slaved to cash. Stay free. Know why you make money. Know what to do with it. Stay free."
"I think you can look around and see many people who have power. They do nothing but make sure to keep that power, every day after the next. Power makes sense only if your leadership is a leadership of service. The question is: how will you find a way to serve a purpose? A purpose that will make you become who you indeed are. A purpose that will make you become your very best, in ways you do not even know yourself.”
Being an optimist, I was holding on to my intuition that Emmanuel Faber’s speech was a sign of winds turning, and I was eager to share my enthusiasm. With purpose as a North Star, could we finally imagine business becoming a real force of good? In haste, I completed the transcription and the translation of the allocution, emailed it to a few entrepreneurs and executives in my network, and posted it on social media (See below at the end of this post for the full transcript in English).
The thought-provoking speech was received quite positively, mostly. But the reaction that struck me the most was that of my friend Denise: “They’ve got nerves. This is Danone after all. Don’t get your hopes up, Dominique”.
Skepticism and lack of trust were running deep, it seemed.
The communication firm Edelman has been publishing a global trust barometer over the last two decades. In their latest report, published in early 2020, we learn that trust is running low: 56 percent of respondents believe that capitalism, as it exists today, does more harm than good in the world; 73 percent of them support a change in the system of global capitalism [...]
A Commencement Address by Emmanuel Faber, CEO, Danone—HEC Paris Graduate School of Business, Class of 2016. Translation and transcript.
“Good day everyone,
I will try to give this my best shot. I will speak in French at first and will switch to English later.
For those of you expecting a speech filled with academic references, be ready to be disappointed.
As I reflected on what had impacted me the most during my years on campus, I decided to share with you the story of someone who was twenty years of age at that time.
He was born in 1965 in Grenoble. As a little boy, he enjoyed quite a full life. With teenage years, trouble was around the corner. He escaped from home and made ends meet as a helper on a construction site in the Alps, giving a hand to road builders in the middle of winter. At some point, he decided to go back to school.
One day, the doctors took him to the psychiatric ward. When he was back on his feet, his love for the earth, agriculture, and farmers lead him to study agro-engineering.
As fate would have it, he was again hospitalized for psychiatric disorders soon after starting his career as a young engineer. He would never be able to work at the level of responsibility you will be enjoying or that I have enjoyed. He became a gardener and worked small jobs. He would spend long hours on the square with his guitar. Because of his condition, he was sleepless at night. Fixing coffee for garbage collectors at four o'clock in the morning or helping old ladies walk across the streets and carry their heavy bags of groceries, he befriended early risers. He engaged with all sorts of people. People that you, me, and other HEC graduates will never meet in our line of work.
He decided to return to his village in the Alps and be again with his farmer friends. Every morning he would make cheese at the local dairy. Because of his illness, afternoons were for rest and sleep, and he would nap by the mountain streams. On his way down to the village, he would stop by the fountain and, with his rickety mobile phone, would record the running water's melody.
Every single day he would call me to share the beautiful recordings on my voicemail. Every single day, wherever I was in the world, in talks with the Chinese government in Shanghai, in my office in Paris, Barcelona or Mexico, or meeting with some of you may be, I would listen to this little voice of his, remembering my roots.
Five years ago, a few hours after I left him behind to embark on a trekking trip in the mountains, he passed away in the middle of the night.
It was my little brother.
What impacted me the most during those years on campus is this phone call I wish I had never received. The scene took place right over there, building C, fourth floor. "Faber, phone call for you." I then learned that my brother had been sent to the psychiatric ward, diagnosed with severe schizophrenia. My life shifted.
Only a few of you know about this.
I had to learn to negotiate with someone who had lost reason and was holding a firearm. When he escaped, I had to search for him for endless nights. I had to familiarize myself with the environment and ways of psychiatric hospitals. I had to learn the language of lunatics to discover its intrinsic beauty and come to terms with the realization that what we call "normal" is a limiting cage. I found the beauty of otherness. I had to open up to newness. Some of my new friends are homeless. Sometimes, I go and sleep with them. I discovered that one could live with very little and enjoy a satisfying life. I stayed in the slums of Delhi, Bombay, Nairobi, Djakarta, and Aubervilliers, you know, only a few kilometers away in the suburb of Paris. I visited the Calais "jungle."
With all of this in mind, what I must share with you today is:
Following years of economic growth, social justice is at stake with the economy and globalization. Without social justice, there is no future for the economy. Wealthy and privileged individuals like us can always build up walls. Americans built walls along the Mexican border, Saudi Arabia is building walls as we speak, and so are we in Europe. But nothing will stop those who need to share with us.
Also, there can be no climate justice without social justice; it's the only sustainable way forward.
So why am I telling you all of this?
I am telling you this because today you are graduating, and I would like to congratulate everyone. Today, you are facing the future. Today, you have potent tools in your hands. Today, the question is: how are you going to use those tools? You will be in finance, in marketing, a lawyer, a social entrepreneur, a business leader; why? And how are you going to go about your leadership in those areas?
At the same time, what I know for sure after twenty-five years of experience, contrary to what you learned in economics, there is no such thing as an invisible hand. Maybe there is one but if so, let me tell you that it is more handicapped than my brother ever was. This invisible hand broke. So there are only your hands, my hands, all of our hands, to change things, to make things better, and there is a lot to be made better.
You will have to overcome three primary diseases that quickly come with the status you are now enjoying as you are graduating. Those three diseases are power, Glory, and money.
Glory? Forget about Glory. Glory is just a never-ending race that will get you nowhere. The list of Hall of Fame people is only there for people to look at their names. They are not interested in any of the other people's names.
Money? When I was in investment banking, finance, or as I was traveling the world as I still am today, I met so many people who have become prisoners of the money they have earned. Never get slaved to cash. Stay free. Know why you make money. Know what to do with it. Stay free.
And power. I think you can look around and see many people who have control. They do nothing but make sure to keep that power, every day after the next. Power makes sense only if your leadership is a leadership of service. The question is: how will you find a way to serve a purpose. Purposes that will make you become who you indeed are. Goals that will make you become your very best, in ways you do not even know yourself.
I will leave you with one question: who is your brother? Who is this little brother, this little sister, maybe resting inside of you, who knows you just better than you do yourself, who loves you more than you even love yourself? Who is this little voice that speaks about you becoming much more significant than you think you are? Who are they? They will bring you the voice, the inner music, this melody that is truly yours, the unique tune that will change the symphony of the world around you, big or small. It will. The world needs that, and you deserve this.
So, find your brother, find your little sister. When you meet them, say hello on my behalf, we are friends.
#asksowhat | © Dominique Bel, 2020. All Rights Reserved in all Countries.