Appearing in In The Black, August 2016
Investing with Impact
By Jeremy Balkin
Bibliomotion, $25, 240 pages, ISBN 9781629561073
The idea of ethical investment is not new but it often sinks in a mire of left-wing vagueness and ideological posturing. Balkin, an accountant by training, takes a different approach, applying a much-appreciated intellectual rigour to the problem of allocating investment funds for both positive investment returns and good social outcomes. The finance industry is not the cause of the world’s problems; in fact, it can provide the solution. And the time is right, with the rise of a new generation of people, the Millennials, who look at the investment process in terms broader than the ROI bottom line.
Balkin offers a framework called the 6E Paradigm: economics, concerned with the value of the company share price; employment, looking at job creation; empowerment, concerned with the diversity of company stakeholders; education, or the cost of compliance and continuous improvement; ethics, looking at a company’s moral principles; and environment, which includes emissions and resource use.
Assessing investments on these parameters requires a high level of disclosure but Balkin believes that the tools are available, and he illustrates the argument with detailed case studies. He is not speaking only to retail investors but also to large institutions, which control such massive amounts of funds that companies seeking capital have a great incentive to use the 6E system. It might start as a search for competitive advantage but it evolves into a culture of ethical behaviour and genuine social responsibility.
Balkin sets this out with admirable clarity, and it is no surprise that the book recently won the prestigious Axiom Gold Medal for Business Ethics (a first for an Australian author). It is well worth reading, but another place to start is Balkin’s Ted talk at tedxtalks.ted.com/video/The-noble-cause-Jeremy-Balkin-a
The Ideal Team Player
By Patrick Lencioni
Jossey-Bass, $36, 240 pages, ISBN 9781119209591
Lencioni has written a series of business fables, aiming to impart lessons through fictional stories. Many of them have revolved around the process of team-building, and in this book he extends the idea to look at how to select and develop team members. The story revolves around a 2IC executive in a construction firm who is unexpectedly pushed into the big chair just as the company is about to enter a crucial growth phase. Finding the right people begins as a hit-or-miss business but gradually develops into a system. The new boss at first thinks that the key attributes are humility, hunger, and intelligence. He ultimately finds, however, that the real issue is how these traits intersect. Lencioni includes an essay at the end to explain the key issues. Some people might find this a useful summary, others might see it as labouring the point.
By Marina Go
Ventura, $33, 320 pages, ISBN 9781925183542
Go has fought her way through the tough terrain of the media business to become one of Australia’s most successful businesswomen. Break Through is part memoir, part career guide, and has the virtue of pulling no punches. Sexism in the corporate workplace remains a major obstacle, she says, and it should be called out and opposed when encountered. But Go also repeatedly underlines the importance of resilience, leading from the front, and taking (calculated) risks. Learning from mistakes is a critical skill, and managing a team is a task that lies at the centre of individual success.
She believes it is crucial to see big changes not as roadblocks but as challenges that present opportunities as well as difficulties. So perhaps her final piece of advice is the most important: avoid the comfort zone. For anyone, words to live by.