IMD conference highlights leadership responsibility

by Malcolm Curtis|Swisster.ch|February 3, 2009

The accent at this business conference is less on ways to maximize profits than on how to provide responsible leadership. Ethics emerges as a more important aspect of the administration of companies and countries at the three-day summit organized by IMD, the Lausanne business school. The conference follows the World Economic Forum at Davos, where moral issues were also a focus of attention.

Responsible leadership is being touted at a Lausanne conference as the response needed for the business world to survive what may be the world’s worst global economy since the great depression.

The IMD business school has invited international leaders to a three-day gathering that winds up on Tuesday.

The “Responsible Leadership Summit” is offering an ethical perspective to what is sometimes considered a bean counter’s world.

Growing public demands are focusing on busines leader to act responsibly, particularly with regard to human rights principles and standards, Mary Robinson, former Irish president and onetime United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the conference.

“Business managers who view human rights and other social issues as just philanthropy, or an afterthought, will face a growing number of risks,” she said.

“I am hopeful that we will see the emergence of another kind of leader — one who is able to incorporate human rights and other ethical issues into her or his decision-making.”

Robinson joined Victor Fung, chairman of Li & Fung and chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce Peter Bakker, CEO of TNT, among the list of speakers invited to the conference in addition to IMD faculty members.

“The current financial turmoil in our world is the result of a leadership crisis,” said John Wells, IMD president, in a statement outlining the goals of the conference.

“Responsible leadership is about getting positive results in the right way,” said Wells.

“It should permeate all aspects of our business, including making informed and timely choices, developing our people, reporting results in an accurate manner and taking a sustainable approach to management,” he said.

Wells has placed significant emphasis on the theme of responsible leadership since taking over as IMD president in April 2008, Kevin Anselmo, a spokesman for the school, told Swisster.

Anselmo said 360 delegates are attending the final day of the presentations on Tuesday.

The conference comes hard on the heels of the World Economic Forum in Davis, which wrapped up on Sunday.

Jean-Pierre Lehmann, a professor of international economy at IMD who attended the forum, said the mood there was “uncharacteristically sombre.”

In a summary of the Davos gathering of the world’s elite, Lehmann said the event turned into a “great collective confessional” that also focused on moral issues.

“There’s been some crying for blood, with attendees demanding that erstwhile financial moguls be forced to ‘disgorge’ themselves of their monety and power,” he worte in an opinion piece for Forbes.com.

Lehmann said perhaps the “single most damning indictment” came from Joseph Stiglitz, economics Nobel Prize laureate and Columbia University professor.

“He declared simply that one main reason for the (economic) mess lies in human incompetence.”

Lehmann questioned whether the days of globalization may be numbered, although many of the speakers ta Davos underlined the need for countries to avoid protectionism.

For those interested in the leadership issues raised by the IMD conference, excerpts of presentations are available on YouTube with links from the school’s website.

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About Malcolm Curtis

Freelance English-language communications professional (writing, editing, translations) based near Geneva, Switzerland. Let me know if I can help you.
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