Eleven thoughts on management and leadership from the MacLaren memorial lecture

16 May 2018 -

Maclaren lecture

The MacLaren Memorial Lecture shed light on leadership challenges in a tech-driven world. Here we share the thoughts of CMI President, Bruce Carnegie-Brown 

Bruce Carnegie-Brown CCMI

On Tuesday 15 May, guests gathered at Aston University to hear CMI President Bruce Carnegie-Brown CCMI share his thoughts on management in a tech-driven world, at the annual MacLaren Memorial Lecture.

The event has run since 1953 and has attracted major speakers from business and industry. It commemorates the life of James MacLaren, one of the most eminent industrialists in Birmingham’s history.

Carnegie-Brown used his speech to call on businesses to behave in a socially-responsible manner, in an era in which social media is making company processes and activities more immediately visible. 

However, his views on a wide variety of management issues received warm support from the audience. Here are his views on the changing nature of business and leadership in a digital world. 


“We all have our own frames of reference for thinking about leadership. Mine were formed as a child of the Sixties and Seventies. Although growing up, I never felt any direct connection to the Second World War, as I find myself approaching the end of my sixth decade, being born only 15 years after the end of the War seems now to be really quite proximate. 

My own leadership role models were created from reading the stories of Nelson, Shackleton and Churchill whose flaws were overlooked as we focused on their extraordinary accomplishments. And these historical figures were augmented by fictional heroes such as Biggles, Tintin and Asterix the Gaul, whose stories were uncomplicated in their presentation of the ‘goodies’ and the ‘baddies’. Life – and leadership – seemed simpler then.”


“The word ‘management’ itself is a difficult one as it is burdened by associations with bureaucracy and process that seem antithetical to a faster paced, more entrepreneurial approach to enterprise. But the purpose of management is fundamentally about productivity – about organising resources efficiently and effectively to meet a market need. It is about building an enterprise that develops the right products and services for a market; promotes the benefits of those products and services to a customer base through its marketing activities; and then distributes those products and services at scale and with a quality that meets or exceeds a customer’s expectations.
CMI’s 21st Century Leaders report sheds some light on what these skills might be by surveying employers to find what they want from first-time managers. The top five skills are:  

  • Being willing to take responsibility;  

  • Having people management skills; 

  • Acting ethically and honestly; 

  • Being able to apply critical analysis and offer solutions to problems; and

  • Being able to collaborate and work in teams.

That seems like a pretty good list to me.” 


“Resilience is one much under-recognised leadership quality. 
When I think of Nelson or Shackleton or Churchill, in their different ways and at different times, resilience is a consistent characteristic of their leadership: Nelson overcoming the loss of an eye and an arm in a time without anaesthetic or antibiotics to become Britain’s pre-eminent naval hero; Shackleton rescuing his men from the harshest environment in the world after his ship had been crushed by the Antarctic ice by sailing 800 miles across the hostile Southern Ocean and scaling a mountain range without climbing equipment to get help; or Churchill, who became Prime Minister at the age of 66 – an age when most people of his generation had retired – and after many years in the wilderness of British politics, but who was ready to take on the leadership of this country at a perilous time and who showed enormous fortitude to galvanise the resistance of a nation at a defining moment in its history.”


“Where 30 years ago the value of the largest companies listed on the US stock markets was represented by tangible assets such as commodities, plant and machinery, today’s most valuable companies are backed by the intangible assets of data, software and digital platforms. Today in the UK, 80% of our GDP is made up of services rather than goods. Data is the ‘new oil’ and the world forged in the industrialisation of Shackleton’s time has changed beyond recognition.
Where once it took generations to create global enterprises, it now takes a few years. Those who don’t change slide into irrelevance – just think of the impact of digital sales on the high street retailers in the UK; or the impact on our commuting and travel habits when you can work anywhere with a laptop; or on the implications for low-value employment roles with the advent of artificial intelligence and robotics.”


“Milton Friedman, in an article he wrote for the New York Times in 1970, famously said: ‘The business of business is business,’ and he expounded a view that the only social responsibility of business was ‘to increase its profits’. While this might have been true in the 19th and 20th centuries, it is no longer true in the 21st century. Today over 90% of the S&P 500 leading US companies have programmes dedicated to corporate social responsibility, while others have gone further and operate under responsible business strategies. 

Today, it’s not just what a company does that’s important – but how it does it. With reputation and brand integrity increasingly important contributors to the bottom line – growing numbers of future employees and customers are making employment and purchasing decisions based on shared values. Acting responsibly is an increasingly important business attribute that leaders need to understand and enact.”


“The digital revolution, through the growth of social media, has made an invaluable contribution in democratising the control of information, in increasing transparency through universalising access to data and doing it in real time. Visual images re-broadcast globally of the impact of business on the environment, whether in the exploitation of labour in developing economies or the damage to our oceans caused by plastics, have dramatically altered the priorities of business leaders as the ‘how’ becomes as important as the ‘what’ in evaluating a company’s performance. Millennials, as the digital natives of this revolution, have understood this more quickly than older generations.”


“Today’s millennial generation have sometimes been accused of lacking qualities of resilience – they have been termed the ‘snowflake’ generation. This pejorative term implies a generation characterised by an unwarranted sense of entitlement, lacking stamina, easily offended and unable to deal with opposing opinions.  

At the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, I listened to a talk given by Jeff Immelt, the recently retired CEO of GE, who, in the Q&A which followed the talk, was asked to comment on how GE was responding to the changing employment requirements of the millennial generation and the need for GE to compete for talent against the likes of Google and Apple. In a light-hearted reply, he said and I paraphrase: ‘I have often been challenged to show how GE should adapt to meet the demands of a generation who want to change their roles every six months, be promoted annually, be allowed to take six months off every two years to go travelling and who want to be paid more and more. But when you leave Davos, almost all of you will catch a flight. And when you look out of the window at the engines on your aircraft there is a 75% chance GE made them.  Ask yourself whether you would prefer that engine to have been made by a GE engineer with 30 years’ experience or by a millennial?’

In fact, this is not my experience of millennials. I have the privilege of mentoring a few who have set up their own digital businesses and I see at first-hand the sacrifices they make to start and build their businesses; and their passion for their projects, in terms of both their economic and social value.”


“When I graduated in the 1980s, fewer than 15% of school leavers went on to graduate from university before entering the world of work. This meant that having a degree was a key differentiator in the competition for the best jobs and as close as you could come to having confidence in your employability for the rest of your working life.  Today, nearly 50% of school leavers go on to graduate from university and, statistically, this reduces the differentiation conferred by an undergraduate degree. 


“This is where universities and management training bodies like the Chartered Management Institute must show leadership themselves: universities must demonstrate the value of their product and work harder to increase the value they offer to students to compete for the most talented undergraduates. 
Organisations like the CMI must continue to work with universities to help graduates and postgraduates develop the skills we need and employers want in our leaders of the future.
CMI’s 21st Century Leaders report found that 70% of employers want all university students to have access to management, enterprise and leadership modules to improve their employability. 

CMI, along with other professional bodies, plays an important role in this regard, by providing additional independent accreditation of degrees and by adding value to learners. 
Nationally, a record 56,000 learners will leave education with the professional skills and qualifications that employers are demanding this year – thanks to CMI dual accreditation. Our Future Leaders programme, launching later this year, will support graduates and people starting out in their management careers to continue developing their skills.”


“A second core part of CMI’s mission is to develop managers and leaders through management apprenticeships. There are now 4,500 people enrolled on our management apprenticeships, all of whom are funded by the Apprenticeship Levy. And our Senior Leader Master’s Degree Apprenticeship is now live and offers a new route for executive development. This is unlocking talent from a range of backgrounds and career stages - data show that over half are women, half are under the age of 30, and half are from economically deprived regions.” 


“We have a long way to go – we know that - but the job of a leader is never done. The complex challenges we face today will not disappear; instead they will continually morph and evolve, requiring leaders and the education that shapes them to do the same. There is more that can be done – always.
That’s why for all leaders there is one leadership attribute worth cultivating that helps sustain all the others. And that is the one I began with: resilience.
It is no coincidence that the name of Shackleton’s ship, which sank, crushed by the ice, on the expedition that made his name was Endurance. In the explorer’s own words: “In the end though, leadership is pretty simple. If you're a leader, a person that others look up to - you've got to keep going.” 

Bruce Carnegie-Brown was speaking at the MacLaren Memorial Lecture, an annual event that commemorates the life of prominent industrialist, James MacLaren.