Responsible and Sustainable Business: Best Practice and the Future

CEGBI Master Class Guest Lecture by Lord Rose 23 April 2015

The York Management School and the Centre for Evolution of Global Business and Institutions(CEGBI) hosted a Masterclass given by Lord Sir Stuart Rose, former CEO of Marks and Spencer and now Chairman of the fashion retailer Fat Face and the on-line supermarket Ocado. Sir Stuart, widely dubbed the King of Retail, has been one of the leading lights in UK business for many years. The event was introduced by Prof. Bob Doherty, the Management School’s resident expert on entrepreneurialism and sustainable business.

Sir Stuart’s talk entitled ‘Responsible and Sustainable Business: Best Practice and the Future’ was wide-ranging, provocative, and informative, and delivered with wit, enthusiasm and style to an audience of postgraduate students, staff from several departments across the university, as well as several members of the York business community.

Sir Stuart referred to the transformation in the fortunes of Marks and Spencer through his fabled Plan A (there was no plan B) to revolutionise all aspects of the company’s activities including the entire supply chain towards sustainable, carbon-neutral, responsible practice, while at the same time transforming losses into profits. Naturally he was told it couldn’t be done, but inspired by Al Gore’s book and film Inconvenient Truth (if you’re not familiar with this, please read/watch it!), Sir Stuart ensured that M&S became a standard bearer for best practice in the retail sector.

The talk was followed by many great questions from the audience. Sir Stuart, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, assured us that the massive and unacceptable differences in wealth in the UK can only be addressed through wealth creation, through innovation, and through sustainable business. He excoriated the failure of the rich world in not dealing with problems of migration at source, reminding us that immigrants flea war, poverty and persecution in search of a better life, much as Michael Marks did when he came from Belarus to Leeds in the early 1880s, and set up as an itinerant grocer. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

The King of Retail finished by saying that a free and entrepreneurial business environment is essential and we should cherish the benefits.  His final message to a highly appreciative audience was directed at graduate students: there are brilliant opportunities for innovation and prosperity, and even failure is only a stepping stone to an alternative which can work. Vision, energy and hard work can bring great rewards, but all of this must be embedded in sustainability so that future generations may benefit.

From a personal point of view, I would say that what is inspiring about Sir Stuart’s message is its inclusive and internationalist perspective, driven by commitment to the notion that prosperity should serve everyone, not just the few. We should all embrace that vision.

Simon Sweeney Director of Postgraduate Programmes York Management School


Lord Rose