Super League debacle shows value of putting purpose at heart of “building back better”
When the London-based family investment firm I founded, Man Capital, recently acquired Right to Dream, a global football group that includes a premier league club in Denmark and a network of football academies in Europe and Africa, I was asked what kind of a “return” we would be seeking for this “investment”. The framing of the question suggested we were seeking dividends or had an exit goal already mapped out. Neither is the case.
I have reflected on this again as European football debates its future in light of the European Super League proposals. While those plans have been shelved, the conversation is likely to continue about ownership models in the game. We have long-term aims for Right to Dream but profit is not what motivates us.
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Success for Right to Dream – a not-for-dividend organisation – including its football teams will be measured in other ways – not just on the pitch but in the positive impact we are able to deliver for as many young people as possible, whether they go on to pursue careers in the game or take their positive learnings and experiences into other professions, as many alumni have done. We want the organisation to be commercially successful so it can expand and provide opportunities for more people, not so that we can reap a financial reward.
This reflects our wider purpose as an investment firm and also as a group of family-owned businesses. Of course, we have many investments away from football that we hope will be profitable, but we always consider the social and economic impacts of our operations.
Lessons from COVID
We have heard a lot during the pandemic from the likes of Joe Biden and Boris Johnson about the need to “build back better” once COVID-19 was finally behind us. Defined in its broadest sense, “better” has come to mean a recognition that businesses need to go further and faster in pursuing positive social and environmental impacts and to have a purpose beyond merely seeking a profit or dividend. It is a call to action that is necessary as well as timely.
As the co-chair of a global group that directly employs more than 60,000 people and supports tens of thousands of other jobs across its supply chain and ecosystem, I recognise our primary role as a provider of valued jobs and services for people in dozens of countries, particularly in developing countries. For those we directly employ, I have always felt a deep sense of responsibility to secure their futures by delivering growth while managing risk through diversification and other strategies. We are a family business and I have always regarded my colleagues as part of our extended family.
Jobs and growth are vitally important, but success can also be defined and measured in other ways.
A business’s purpose is why it exists; the reason the company was formed and how it sees its role in society. EY defines purpose as “an aspirational reason for being that is grounded in humanity and inspires a call to action.” The purpose a business lays out for itself encompasses both the way that business operates and how it gives back to communities around it.
In line with its purpose, the values that define a business will guide decisions in every part of an organisation, from operations to innovation. At its core, our business has values of diligence, trust and transparency, which is why we are focused on longer-term relationships with investee companies, business partners and other stakeholders.
According to Deloitte, purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors. At the same time, those companies achieve higher workforce and customer satisfaction. A core element of growth is hiring top talent and facilitating creativity, and today’s candidates are seeking companies with beliefs that align with their own, where they can work together on a common vision of purpose and success.
My siblings and I were raised with an appreciation for conducting business in that way. When our father founded our business, the Mansour Group, he knew the importance of hard work and determination. But he also instilled in us the importance of having a long-term vision and of building trust, understanding, empathy and loyalty that goes both ways. He and his peers may have used a different lexicon back then, but in his way he was encouraging us to pursue opportunities that ultimately would deliver positive social outcomes.
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Like many other large organisations, we have managed a foundation for many years. Nothing I have done throughout my career makes me prouder than the work of the Lead Foundation, which we set up in 2003 to contribute to the elimination of poverty in Egypt by providing financial support to women-owned small businesses. Access to affordable finance is just one, important example of how women can be discriminated against. The foundation, which is run as a not-for-profit, has supported hundreds of thousands of women since it was established.
What these and other social programmes we directly and indirectly support have in common is that they are long-term efforts. Thinking about future generations is embedded in our culture and approach to enterprise as well as philanthropy.
Indeed, we think there is something inherently advantageous in the family-owned, privately-held model in terms of delivering social and environmental benefits. Society needs its private enterprises to embrace sustainability, but ownership structures make it easier for some to think long term in this way than for others.
We have known for many years of the link between family ownership and economic success. Credit Suisse, for example, has published research that shows that privately-held family businesses on average perform better on some key economic indicators than public companies because they are generally more stable, more patient and less short-termist in their approach. It is no surprise, or coincidence, that family businesses were early adopters of sustainability practices and ESG (environmental, social, governance) principles. It’s not about quick wins; it’s about the bigger picture.
The advantages of running businesses underpinned by strong values are clear, but emerging leaders can suffer from short-sightedness on the potential impact. Without purpose, short-term success is possible, but it is not sustainable.