How can we help business think longer term? This question is in my mind because we're working on a project spotlighting the inter-generational core of the sustainability agenda.
Several sectors spring to mind as potential models. They include higher education, pharmaceutical research and development, pension funds, family wealth management, forestry and the provision of urban infrastructures. But there's another sector that thinks longer term: family business.
Too often, the sustainability movement has overlooked family-owned companies just as we've ignored state-owned industries and sovereign wealth funds. But I've become more exposed to family business, thanks to events organised by the UK's Institute for Family Business and by the international Family Business Network in Singapore.
I have discovered two things: first, the next generation of family business leaders, at least in Britain, are adopting different styles of leadership, focusing on a better work-life balance than their predecessors and sustainability. Second, the triple bottom-line approach is alive and well in the sector. It appears – framed as the "Triple Context" – in a new report by thinktank Tomorrow's Company called Family Business Stewardship.
The report spotlights the fact that more than 60 per cent of all European companies are family-owned, with an even greater percentage in the US, Middle East and Asia. In the UK, the family business sector has a £1trn annual turnover. Successful family companies can leverage strong balance sheets and the associated financial muscle to invest in line with family values "over unconventionally long-time horizons".
There are many problems that coincide with family ownership, not least the "family knows best" attitude that can slow or stall innovation. But given that such businesses make up such
a huge slice of our global economy, it must be time to find out a lot more about them.