The White Swan Formula: Part. 3

The White Swan Formula: Part. 3


The White Swan Formula: Part. 3

The White Swan Formula: Part. 3


James Featherby will be visiting the Chanel Islands later this month to speak at Business Connect hosted events (register here) In the run up we will be serialising his post crash analysis here on the blog

Part Three: The Case For Values

It is clear that we need regulation that is more shrewd, nationally and on a globally co-ordinated basis, and we certainly need strong and flexible public and private institutions.

It is my conviction, however, that our problems are in reality human, not technical. They are philosophical and psychological, not regulatory or economic. Both the reason for our past diffıculties and the solution for the way forward can, in my view, be found in one simple word: values.

It is my belief that it will only be through rediscovering our time-honoured values that we will rebuild our confıdence in doing business with each other, and that it will only be through rediscovering our ancient paths that we will rebuild not only our own prosperity but also the prosperity of those who depend on us.

It is no longer enough – as so many may have been doing for so long –merely for us to operate honestly within a system that has lost its direction. We now need to mould the system itself so that it increasingly reflects the values to which we aspire. It will be tough to achieve this. No-one is in doubt about the size of the challenge. The danger is that we return to our old habits of asking the Government to solve our problems or not truly learning from any of the other lessons mentioned above, including that regulation is ineffective and costly and restricts rather than encourages helpful innovation.

Values on the other hand do two things.

Fırst – over the long-term – the economy of a country whose business is based on sound values will be signifıcantly more healthy than the economy of a country whose business lacks a strong, values-based approach. Through positive values the fairness, sustainability and communal well-being of a country is enhanced.

Second – over the long-term – business is more profıtable if it takes a values-based approach to setting its objectives and managing its operations.

More rigorous recognition and avoidance of conflicts of interest would have delivered better alignment of risk and reward. More courage would have enabled more challenges to conventional herd-like thinking. Less aggression would have permitted managers to listen more attentively to contrary views. More humility would have produced better risk management. Better perspective would have assessed risk with more clarity. More restraint would have led to better investment decisions. A longer-term view would have delivered less volatility.

At the end of the day risk is a decision, it is not a mathematical formula, and it is a decision best not taken by the arrogant.

All of these are, fundamentally, human factors. It is values that are the birthplace of good judgement, and to regain these values we will need to rediscover something of our humanity.

There are those who believe that it is only leadership that brings about change. And there are those who believe that it is only grass-roots movements which in the end endure. We surely need both. All of us need to adopt in our personal and in our business lives a new set of values of which we can be proud.

There will always be cynics who prefer pragmatism to principle, who will assess short-term income and not long-term value, and for whom personal and business fınance is no place for ideals. That is their choice.

I am reminded though of a man named Samuel Budgett who, in the early part of the 19th Century, became known as 'The Successful Merchant' having built one of the largest businesses in Britain. After he died a biography was written of his life, charting the way in which he had applied his values to both his business and his personal life. Samuel Budgett had learnt that good values were good for business, allowing him to follow the encouragement of that great Methodist John Wesley to "earn a great deal, save a great deal and give a great deal". The book became a best seller, and helped change the way in which the Victorians did business. We in Britain still live in the light of that inheritance.

However, before we look at what some of these positive values might be, let us fırst consider six wrong-headed notions that have grown and confused us over the last 25 years.

This paper was orgianlly published by the LICC in 2009. You can access the whole paper here

James Featherby

James Featherby

James Featherby has worked in the City for more than 30 years. For most of this time he was a...

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