Interview with the Lord Mayor: Championing Responsible Business

Heart of the City Director, Sarah Mitchell, catches up with our Co-President The Rt Hon The Lord Mayor of the City of London, Charles Bowman. During their chat we discover what inspired The Lord Mayor to take up this prestigious role, how Heart of the City members can support his ‘Business of Trust’ initiative and how his family felt about his Mayoral appointment.

What triggered your decision to run for Lord Mayor?

My great grandfather, grandfather and father all worked in and around the City of London (CoL) and at the age of seven my father took me to the Lord Mayor’s Show. It was a cold, wet and miserable day in early November and yet the colours, the history, the energy and diversity I saw on the streets of London that day provided early inspiration for starting a career in the City.

Fast forward many years and I came back to the City where I was lucky enough to have an incredibly enjoyable and diverse career with PwC. This is where I developed a huge passion for the City and UK financial and related services, then around four years ago I became an Alderman of the City of London.

Being Lord Mayor is a phenomenal role, but what I’m really focused on is acting as a key ambassador and spokesperson for the City of London.

 You are the 690th Lord Mayor of the City of London, how do you think that role is still relevant for business today?

It is a wonderful role that has morphed and changed. The City is a unique institution and it has retained its independence ever since the Corporation negotiated with King George to elect its own Mayor in the year 1215.

The City’s financial services industry alone accounts for 6.6% of UK GDP, employs 1.1 million people from across the UK and contributes to £72.1 billion of the annual tax take, so to have the Lord Mayor acting as key spokesperson for such a significant part of ‘UK plc’ is very relevant.  I think the Lord Mayor’s role has demonstrated its ability to remain relevant and purposeful throughout its time.

One of the themes for your mayoral year is ‘The Business of Trust’ which is very relevant to us at Heart of the City and to our members – tell us more about the ‘Business of Trust’.

The ‘Business of Trust agenda will support restoring trust and trust-worthiness within business and financial services, creating better business which is trusted by society. Trust is a misunderstood and undervalued asset in life and we don’t discuss the components of trust enough.

The Global Financial Crisis in 2008 destroyed a lot of trust between big business and society almost overnight. Diminished trust is a global issue that has manifested itself in all sorts of areas. It is important that we redefine the engagement between business and society and trust is the core dynamic that sits in the middle of this.

 Is there anything that Heart of the City members can do to help increase trust in business?

Yes, to act as advocates for the Business of Trust programme. I encourage them to access and engage with our content and the programme itself.

To develop this programme, we asked citizens’ juries how we could increase the trustworthiness of business. They suggested five themes:

  • Do what you do well (confidence and skills)
  • Do the right thing (integrity)
  • Have a wider purpose (value to society)
  • Focus on the customer (interests of others)
  • Communicate clearly (clear communication)
  • Over the course of the year I will be interviewing senior people in the UK and internationally to find out which of the five guiding principles engages them and for what reason. I want to find out what unique action they would take within their business to help build trust and trustworthiness – and I want everyone, including Heart of the City members to do that too.

    What would you say to encourage a small business to start on the journey of doing responsible business practice?

    The responsible business agenda has grown hugely in the last 20 years and I think the businesses that will thrive and survive in today’s society are those that put responsible business at the core of their strategy. I encourage any young, growing business to consider that right from the start. It’s the future.

    How did your family feel about you taking on this role, where you spend 100 days abroad, visit 28 countries and you have over 800 speaking engagements?

    We made a family decision on it around the kitchen table.

    Since then my 16 and 18-year-old daughters have been really enjoying the experience, taking an active part in the Lord Mayor’s show. I was very keen to get young people involved in the Show as I’ve often been asked what my measure of success would be. It would be that if, as a consequence, any number of seven-year olds might have felt inspired as I did to engage with the City, then I’ll sleep easy for the rest of the year.

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