War Requires Bosses to Manage Political Capital

(This article was published by Financial Times)


This letter first appeared in the Financial Times

Andrew Hill is right to point out the difficulties some business leaders are experiencing in deciding how to deal with their Russian-based operations (Opinion, March 14).

The Ukraine crisis risks obscuring the fact that these issues have been bubbling for two decades, largely unnoticed or ignored by much of the business community. The world started to change with 9/11. Since then we have had Iraq and Afghanistan, a politically transformed China under President Xi Jinping, Georgia, the Great Financial Crash, Syria, Crimea and the Covid pandemic. All these events were milestones on the way to a fundamentally changed world. Ukraine is the rude slap in the face that has, maybe, woken us up to that which we have long ignored.

Neither is geopolitics the only politics corporations are embroiled in. When Alphabet withdrew from a $10bn contract with the US Department of Defense after staff objections, when Microsoft took an explicit political position on not being associated with President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, when HSBC executives signed a petition supporting China’s new powers in Hong Kong and endless other examples large and small — it becomes clear that it is unsustainable for corporate leaders to pretend they can any longer maintain a vacuous “apolitical” stance that separates commercial activity from political context.

We have entered a new era in which senior executives will need to manage their political capital with the same skill that they have hitherto deployed in managing their financial capital. Those that develop these skills most rapidly and most effectively will thrive.

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