Posted by: millumino | November 30, 2009

INSEAD Professor incites corporate irresponsibility

I received a tweet recently from the Unreasonable Institute, a social enterprise incubator, which asked “Tell me truly, what gets you unreasonably fired up?”  I now have the answer!

This week I am more than unreasonably fired up with the article Why MBAs should not sign the Harvard Business School oath written by by Theo Vermaelen,  Professor of Finance at INSEAD.  The MBA Oath is a voluntary oath drafted by the 2009 Harvard MBA graduates and is a significant  example of ethical leadership which  promotes corporate responsibility.

Professor Vermaelen suggests there are three reasons why MBA’s should NOT sign the Harvard Business School MBA Oath:

1.The oath invites violation of fiduciary duties and ethical standards

2. The oath is a misplaced response to the financial crisis

3. People are not driven by pledges, but they are driven by incentives

Vermaelen suggests that the corporate governance code requiring fiduciary duties to maximise shareholder wealth is inconsistent with corporate responsibility.  He says that “none of these codes would accept that managers promote “social and environmental prosperity worldwide” as the HBS oath does. I would suggest to Professor Vermaelen that customers, employees and investors are voting with their feet, and their money, and gravitating to those companies that actively promote corporate responsibility.  It would be hard to find a major corporation which does not publicly promote their commitment to sustainability, ethics and social values. Further if a corporation engages in global business  then its responsibilities are also global.

He also has the impudence to suggest that “Externalities such as the consequences of business decisions for the environment have to be dealt with by the government, …”.  Does he truly believe that governments are responsible to clean up the mess,  if, as a consequence of  business decisions which maximise shareholder value, there is a negative impact on the environment?  Or is he suggesting that if governments don’t legislate against environmental degradation then corporations can behave as irresponsibly as they like in the course of maximising shareholder wealth. Historically it is correct that governments and voluntary environmental groups have cleaned up after environmental destruction caused by irresponsible corporations, however it is the responsibility of the corporation to make sound business decisions which do not impact negatively on society.

In regards to ethics Vermaelen writes  “I believe it is unethical to raise money from shareholders without telling them in advance that you are going to pursue causes that are destroying shareholder value.”  I ask which clause in the MBA Oath suggests  that corporate responsibility would be unethically hidden from prospective investors? As far as I was aware the oath promotes ethical, moral leadership.  And how does the pursuit of social and environmental responsibility “destroy” shareholder value?  I guess that depends on whether financial returns to the shareholder is the sole measure of value. Besides, it is increasingly recognised that strong corporate citizenship programs enhance reputation, market share, employee retention, innovation and most other functions which contribute positively to  shareholder financial returns.

Vermaelen argues that the MBA Oath is a misplaced response to the GFC.  He suggests the crisis was due to a lack of financial expertise at the highest echelons in the financial industry.  He further says “So the solution is not more ethics or pledges, but more finance education and better forecasting and risk management models.”  Now we are getting to the crux of the article.  Professor Vermaelen’s motives are perhaps to discredit a competitor, Harvard Business School, and market his finance faculty at INSEAD as the world’s saviour from further financial meltdowns. Might I suggest to the good Professor that the GFC has produced a very significant re-evaluation of our society and what it means to lead and conduct business with integrity.   A significant segment of society believes that shareholder value goes beyond mere financial returns to shareholders. Employees are recognising that their value as human beings is integral with the work they do and the integrity of the company for which they work.

Oh dear, Professor, do come out of your glass INSEAD tower please,  the carrot and the stick went out with Oliver Twist.  Human Resources departments now realise that there is a lot more involved in talent acquisition and retention than throwing money at employees.

Vermaelen says “I don’t believe in pledges as an instrument to guide people’s behaviour”.  It doesn’t matter what Vermaelen believes.  What matters is the integrity of those MBA’s who have pledged an oath to be moral leaders upholding  ethical and responsible corporate behaviour. They don’t need to be guided by anyone except their own principles of what is right and what is good.

Vermaelen interprets the oath ” as a commitment to bad corporate governance, companies which employ those who sign the oath as top executives should disclose this on the first page of their website. In this way investors are warned that investing in these companies can be “dangerous to your wealth.”  To the contrary, I congratulate those MBA’s who drafted, promoted and signed the Oath, for they are the new generation of corporate leaders who will transform the way in which corporations seek to add real value to shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers and the communities on which the conduct of  their business impacts.

I have chosen IBM at random as an example of the manner in which corporations are now taking their global social contributions seriously.  Here is what I found on IBM’s website:  IBM Corporate Citizenship and  Corporate Responsibility.  Please see below two relevant excerpts:

“The primary focus of our corporate citizenship activities is on developing initiatives to address specific societal issues, such as the environment, community economic development, education, health, literacy, language and culture. We employ IBM’s most valuable resources, our technology and talent, in order to create innovative programs in these areas to assist communities around the world.” – IBM

In 2003, we undertook a global, company-wide discussion about the values that define IBM. In addition to finding a common set of qualities that characterize “an IBMer,” we also learned something equally important: Almost every one of us thinks our work and choices should be determined by what we value. – IBM

Professor Vermaelen, the world has moved on, shareholder and employee value is not entirely vested in financial returns  to shareholders.  I invite Professor Vermaelen to quantify the destruction wreaked on IBM’s shareholder value by the inclusion of corporate responsibility within the conduct of their business.

There were a number of other statements in the article which I would love to refute, but the above will do. I am sure others will weigh in to the debate.

I was about to send off my application for entry to INSEAD’s MBA program majoring in social entrepreneurship.  Guess I’ll have to tear it up now, I was assuming INSEAD would provide a progressive curriculum with a modicum of integrity. I clearly need to find another business school.  Perhaps Harvard would take me?

Plato: Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly ...

Posted by: millumino | November 29, 2009

If you trade security for freedom, you start living

In my last post I discussed my grand plan to escape responsibility and obligation and achieve the ultimate freedom by cycling the world:  living in a tent, sharing meals with nomads, forging new roads. I would be responsible to, and responsible for, no-one.  I would see all the countries, cultures, landscapes, architecture and art that I could possibly desire.  I would be fit and healthy and life would be stress and care free!  I would need only the bare essentials for clothing, food, shelter and communication.  I would sell my business, rent or sell my property and dispose of unnecessary assets. I would not require expensive consumer goods, after all a plasma TV (not that I own one) would not fit on the bike!

Instead I have traded the “cycotherapy” liberation plan for something bolder.  I am putting my financial security on the line to make a contribution to the lives of people less privileged than myself.  In this new plan, the “M’illumino plan”,  I am trading security for a social enterprise and this has given me freedom to realise my vision to make the world a better place.  I  have started living!  I have started living a life with purpose, a life with vitality, a life with passion and hopefully a life which will add value to society.

Recent media reports have suggested there are too many NGO’s, too many non-profits and too many social entrepreneurs.  These organisations are thought to be  un-coordinated, inefficient and lacking economies of scale.  I would refer the critics to  E F Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful:  Economics as if People Mattered which was required reading for Macro Economics in the 1st year of my economics degree.  Schumacher advocated the efficiency and sustainability of small scale development with a local focus, a theory which is perhaps even more relevant in today’s economic climate.  And whatever a corporation’s or country’s financial or economic goals might be, people do matter!

So do I think that launching yet another social enterprise is inefficient?  No I do not.  Do I think my focus should remain local?  In the short term, yes, because there is much to be achieved  in this country.  Do I think my enterprise should be for profit?  Absolutely,  because by reinvesting that profit and employing the best people, M’illumino will be able to focus on sustainable social projects. In other words the business must be sustainable for it to achieve its goals of making a contribution to society.  In the longer term M’illumino will act globally as  health, poverty, environmental and moral issues are global issues.

If enough people decide  not to escape from our responsibilities we will have the answers  for our children about what we can do to end poverty, to promote peace, to save animals and plants from extinction, to mend environmental degradation, to promote ethical corporate and national governance, and construct a socially and ecologically sound environment that we will be proud to hand to our grand children.

Please watch the video of 12 year old  Severn Suzuki’s presentation at  the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992.  Have we come up with any answers?  Have we made any progress?  You be the judge!

With thanks for the link to Liviu Callinan, MPhil. in International Peace Studies at ISE Trinity College Dublin, who posted the link at the Leadership Cafe Foundation.

Posted by: millumino | November 28, 2009

My Inspiration for M’illumino

In 2004 and again in 2008 I had a brush with my own mortality.  There is nothing like the fear of losing your own life, or the life of someone in your family, to make you consider your priorities and evaluate your contributions to society. In 2008 I decided that constantly chasing money and financial success was neither adding value to my life nor to my community or society as a whole. So I planned a multi-year, round-the-world, ultimate escape trip  … by recumbent bicycle. It would afford an unprecedented degree of freedom and liberty from the obligations and responsibilities of “normal” life in the developed world. It would allow a gentle pace (propelled by strenuous exercise) and access to geographies and cultures off the moneyed tourist track.

Then I started linking up with old friends via social media and looking at what they had done with their lives:  some achieving to expectation, some wildly successful despite inauspicious starts, others disappointingly reduced to career oblivion despite exhibiting much early promise.  While I did not compare my achievements with theirs, nor regret  any choices made in my life, I did wonder if escaping on my grand cycle tour would be  using the gift of my life in the best possible way.  But the question became what to do? What to do?

I decided to combine my entrepreneurship and e-commerce expertise with the things I love, literature and technology,  and bring my passion for health, life and learning to those who have yet to discover those joys.  I hope to inspire a spirit of sharing and bring hope to those whose lives are deprived of the basic physical and psychological needs which they require to succeed. If I bring literacy and financial resources to inspire even  just one potential leader in an under-privileged community I will have achieved something.

When searching for an appropriate name for a new social enterprise which hoped to enlighten and inspire,  I recalled an essay on an Italian poem which I was required to write as a post-graduate diploma student in languages in 2001.

Here is my documented version of the inspiration for the name M’illumino:

“M’illumino was inspired by the Italian hermetic poet Giuseppe Ungaretti’s 1917 poem Mattina (Morning):

M’illumino
d’immenso

Literally, I illuminate myself with immense.  Or figuratively, the sun rises in me, my light is immense and comes from within.

All humans are “immense” and when this creativity, passion and power is not only recognised but developed and harnessed by societies, corporations, communities and individuals, they will all achieve striking results.

I am excited and passionate about allowing the maximum expression of all facets of our lives through science, art, music, language and communication, architecture, technology, health, relationships, sensuality, spirituality, adventure and the appreciation of unique cultures and the planet’s sensational environment.

Life is magnificent!”

The Gates Foundation suggests that all people are of equal value, I agree, but I would go further; while we are all of equal value we are all immeasurably valuable to ourselves, our families, our communities and human society.  Please be thankful for every little thing in your life and contribute what you can to improving the quality of life of someone less privileged, whether they are in your own community or the other side of the world.

Posted by: millumino | November 28, 2009

My Aspirations for M’illumino

I have huge aspirations for M’illumino and each day seems to bring a new person, a new idea, a new experience, a new source of information which adds immeasurable to my vision or my ability to edge M’illumino closer to reality.  Some days I am very discrete about my plans, I often don’t provide many clues about my vision to family and close friends. However I have absolute faith in my vision and my ability to succeed  because every day I see wildly successful social ventures achieving previously unimaginable results.

Here is my vision for M’illumino:

M’illumino is a new social business venture with a focus on the transformation of corporations and societies to achieve “greatness” through the recognition and development of unlimited human potential.

M’illumino will essentially be a company which focuses on communication and the dissemination of information, transforming the way we live and interact with society, within organisations and within our personal relationships.  M’illumino will provide inspiration, creativity, knowledge and leadership and do so with honesty and integrity.

M’illumino will employ the latest technology to disseminate products and ideas ensuring that all people, no matter their circumstance, can empower themselves to achieve.  Shareholder eminence will be replaced with corporate responsibility and fair returns on investment;  equal access to technological and economic resources will ensure that  ignorance is replaced with education and understanding, disease with ease and health, poverty with abundance in all things, and helplessness and despair replaced with individual empowerment and peace.

M’illumino’s vision is:

  • To transform the way in which humans live their lives so that everyone can see the beauty in all things and live their lives in the knowledge that every individual has the power to live their dreams.
  • To honour and respect employees and customers, aligning their goals with the goals of M’illumino and always adding extra value in all communications and transactions.
  • To inspire creativity, innovation, vision and integrity within individuals, corporations and societies.
  • To offer  an holistic range of tangible and intangible products and services which will illuminate all facets of our lives:

Literature, music, art, architecture, science, technology, sensuality, spirituality, language and communication, leadership, health and recreation, wealth creation, creativity, inspiration, innovation, nurturing relationships, conservation, human and animal rights, beautiful environments, appreciation of unique and diverse cultures, wide open minds, good vibes and superior thought!

M’illumino is a start-up “social entrepreneurship” venture, incorporated on 1st October, 2009 as M’illumino Pty Ltd in NSW, Australia.  It is in the development phase and will have a new web site http://www.millumino.com.au up and running in early 2010.

Posted by: millumino | November 15, 2009

A love for life

I returned form a fabulous bike ride today feeling fit, healthy, inspired and full of joy.

When you start the work day full of  vitality you feel like skipping around the office for the rest of the day, inspiring vitality and fun in every person you have contact with.  No perceived disaster can upset your equanimity and all obstacles to achievement just melt away. Active, healthy, vital, fun loving workers are mentally alert, engaged and productive.  They are also usually self-disciplined and able to focus without distraction from  niggly or debilitating health issues.

I loved all physical things when I was in school and in my early 20’s. Athletics, tennis, netball, swimming, horse riding, ballet, whatever was going I joined in enthusiastically. I was flexible, toned, fit and healthy.  I also remember there were no fat kids.  None!  We all loved  the great outdoors and were never still except when we slept.

I’ve had this conversation with other people my age lately: “remember when there were no fat kids?”  Yes,  everyone can remember, we were all fit kids!

Now its hard to  find the fit kids, and its hard to remember  when that happened. Its also getting harder to find  people my age  who don’t accept that it is OK to be overweight and unfit.  This state is not an inevitability of middle age. It is an inevitability of losing the joy and love for life.

Most of these people would suggest  that they are happy and exuberant, they love good food but they don’t have time for exercise.  I would suggest that there is something important missing in their lives. Perhaps some ingredient of dissatisfaction with their life choices, or circumstances, sub-consciously allows them to disrespect  themselves and their bodies. They are not just filling the void with food, they don’t have enough esteem to care about their health and fitness and appearance.

How do I know this?  Because for a brief time I allowed myself to do this.  I ate too much of the wrong food, I lost the joy of exercise, and dragged myself through the day not caring what I looked like.  Instead of admitting I was not disciplined enough to get out of bed an hour earlier, I used the familiar lame excuse that I didn’t have time to exercise.

When I realised what I had done to myself, I examined the reasons why I might have done this and set about making changes.  I re-introduced exercise back into my life,  and discovered not only did I enjoy it, it made me feel great.  Once you re-discover the joy and inner teenager you suddenly discover that there is more than enough time to add exercise  to your day.  I get up early and spend about an hour on my bike, the joy of the wind on my face and the exhilaration of going top speed down a hill is  unsurpassed.  The slow steady climb back up is  time to reflect on life and enjoy the sheer power being generated by leg muscles through the pedals.

Apparently women my age have all manner of health problems, loss of sexual drive and a feeling of depletion.  To the contrary, I am happier, healthier and fitter  than I have ever been in my life.  I am the tiny girl I used to be, full of enthusiasm, self-respect and esteem and knowing that I can move mountains in my personal and business life.

I realise how very lucky I am that good genes and an accident of birth in the right place at the right time has provided a life of privilege.   I am now embarking on  a new social enterprise to inspire health, literacy, hope and economic development in the least privileged communities.

Fitness generates  post-menopausal zest, vitality,  joy and love for life.

Get fit, get fit!  Whether you are 10 or 100 you won’t regret it for a minute!

Posted by: millumino | October 21, 2009

Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship

It is human nature to strive to find meaning and purpose in our lives and to strive to improve not only ourselves, but  the way we do business, the tools we use  and the way we live.   Innovation is the thought or action which allows new thoughts or things to evolve beyond our current standards and hence produces those very improvements we strive for.

Corporate and small business innovation leads to new products and technologies, new business processes, new ways of empowering and rewarding individuals, new ways of enhancing customer service and  new ways of growing our markets.

Technology continues to evolve in exciting ways:  products are faster, cheaper, smaller  and provide infinitely more useful applications.  Technological innovation provides new health, transport, communication and other technologies which immeasurably enhance our lives.  Web 2.0 and cloud computing has provided new ways to integrate, network and communicate. Personally I wonder how I survived, or kept in touch with family, friends and business connections without my iPhone, Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and blogging applications. Now with SaaS applications  and my iPhone I can run my business from home, Ayers Rock or the Eiffel Tower.

However it is innovation in societies which is most exciting.  Social innovation is leading  to a fundamental shift in values resulting in significant global gains. The Global Financial Crisis has caused a global rethink of values and an explosion in the number of social and philanthropic entrepreneurs who are making a significant and passionate contribution to society. Read More…

Posted by: millumino | October 9, 2009

Digital Media as Catalyst for Transformation

One of my goals is to add value in all of M’illumino’s interactions and transactions with employees and customers, and citizens of societies on which we might impact.  M’illumino will be a company which uses leading edge technology to communicate as deeply and widely as possible to transform world views from a  focus on greed vs poverty and terrorism vs peace,  to a common understanding  that the future of  society is dependant on  engaging morality and recognising that  health, wealth and peace is achievable for all.

Societies, corporations and individuals  do not operate in vacuums.  Corporations are not  exempt from moral responsibility to add value in all their interactions with individuals and societies. By acting responsibly corporations receive the side benefits  of enhancing their markets, fulfilling customer expectations and enhancing human resource productivity and retention. Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp, is often reviled for greed and corporate bullying however my goals and thoughts coalesce with those of Rupert Murdoch regarding the ability of technology to transform lives and the responsibility corporations have to add social benefit. Read More…

Posted by: millumino | October 8, 2009

New Life at 54 …

Don’t you just love people who have the fortitude to stand out on a limb, to stand by their convictions in the face of criticism, ignorance  and ridicule, and then go on to change the world’s view on a given subject?  The power of just one person to cause a paradigm shift is truly inspirational.

Don’t you also find it strange that recruiters and leaders in young, entrepreneurial companies have an attitude that  anyone under, say 40, thinks that anyone over 40 has nothing of value to contribute?

This quote landed in my in-box today and was written by Monty Roberts on 7 Oct, 2009 ( at the age of 74):

“….and at 54 years of age I started a new life. There is no question that I have accomplished more in the 20 years since 1989 than I ever accomplished in the first 54.”

Monty is a horse trainer from California whose influence has not only transformed  horse training methods worldwide but influenced how corporations train their leaders. His understanding of communication with animals has enabled humans to  develope more effective methods of communication  between ourselves.

Monty Roberts is a best-selling author of numerous books and DVDs including Horse Sense for People.

I am a young 55, with an  equal enthusiasm  for new technologies and achievement as any Gen Y ‘er. Like Monty I have the fortitude to fulfil my aspirations. I also intend to contribute more in the next 20 years than I have in my lifetime to date. What about you?  Don’t settle for anything less than the very best you can be.

Posted by: millumino | October 8, 2009

Dare to Win!

Recent events in my life have created an excitement, enthusiasm and passion for  understanding the deeper meanings in our lives and the potential for humans to achieve.  How do our interactions with society, our employers/employees, peers and friends affect our determination of personal success, and indeed our measurement of success?

I recently contemplated  the achievements of my LinkedIn connections and wondered why they had achieved significantly beyond their former school friends and colleagues.  What is it beyond talent, IQ and personality that lifts them to positions of power and wealth and even perhaps beyond their own dreams.

I think it is their ability to dare to be someone, their ability to dream big and think even bigger. It is their ability to determine and visualise their goals, to innovate and strategize, to forge ahead with drive and passion, and have the confidence to persevere despite any fears, doubts and opinions of naysayers. They take calculated risks and back themselves against the odds. Read More…

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