David Jones, chief executive of Havas and founder of One Young World, believes passionately that capitalism is changing and that business leaders need to alter their behaviour to stay ahead of the game. We caught up with him to find out more
David Jones bounds into our studio a little late, apologising profusely but eyes sparkling with excitement. He turns to Nick, the company’s PR director and says: “She said yes.” He grins at me. “I’ve just signed up another counsellor for One Young World [Havas’s young people’s leaders forum]. It’s very exciting.” I ask who. “Can’t say at the moment, let’s give her 24 hours to change her mind,” he laughs. Jones is sharp-suited, relaxed and self-effacing.
Photographer Ray asks which music he would like on, Jones hands over his new playlist – a collection of tunes from his recent family holiday in Brazil. As the shoot set-up continues, we begin the interview and within seconds the brain and the vision that has led to Jones becoming the youngest chief exec in the history of advertising shines through.
He believes with every fibre of his being that business has to change and put social responsibility at its core. His book, Who Cares Wins: Why good business is better business, brings all these thoughts together in a digestible format. It is visionary and very good, and he smiles when I say I’ve enjoyed it.
“I thought that people would buy it, be impressed by the endorsements [Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Arianna Huffington are two] and then just put it on the shelf. But loads of people have actually read it,” he says.
It is a thought-provoking read. Jones talks about a changing world and a new form of capitalism. He has defined three ages: the first is The Age of Image, from roughly 1990 to 2000.
“That was about companies not changing anything but saying, ‘hey if we pretend we’re a nice, better, greener, more sustainable company, people will buy stuff from us’. He cites BP as the poster child for this. “If you are in the oil business, don’t change your logo to a flower and pretend to be one of the world’s most sustainable companies. It was the worst example of image-only change.”
Then from 2000 to 2010 is The Age of Advantage “where people genuinely set about trying to turn this into a form of competitive advantage – such as Marks & Spencer with Plan A.” The third age, which Jones believes we have just entered, is The Age of Damage.
“People are now empowered by social media to hold business and leaders accountable so if you behave in the wrong way – whether you are the head of an Arab Spring country or News International – then people can sanction you. That has taken corporate social responsibility out of the silo and put it in the P&L statement. Business cannot avoid this. In the future if you do not do good you will find it harder and harder to compete and do well.”
Jones believes there are two big drivers of this new form of capitalism – technology and the millennial generation.
“The millennials are an amazing generation of young people who are better informed, more responsible and know more about the digital and social revolution than anyone. And the power technology brings is amazing, too. When Bank of America and Verizon introduced convenience fees, people didn’t like it, there was a backlash in social media – and 24 hours later they both overturned their decision.
The new rules of social media have informed the new rules of running a business today – transparency, authenticity and speed.
When faced with a problem, the old rule was often ‘don’t respond to it’ as you will turn it into a bigger issue but that is now one of the biggest mistakes you can make. The new rule is ‘presume this is going to be a global issue within five minutes’.”
Jones recalls a corporate scandal in 2009 when two Domino’s employees posted a video of them in a kitchen doing some pretty horrible things to a pizza (search on YouTube for Domino’s pizza video scandal).
“Domino’s believed that the video wouldn’t become a big deal,” recalls Jones. “But the story was on every major news channel and the share price plummeted.” But the company learnt from it and launched “the transparent campaign”, sharing research which said that people thought their pizzas tasted horrible.
“At first people thought they were mad,” Jones smiles. “The old rule was, if people say bad things about your product, change the product but don’t share that with anyone. But Domino’s made that their main campaign focus; they also changed the photography of their product, stopped retouching it and showed it how it was. The share price, since they launched the transparency campaign, has risen by 233 per cent. We are seeing more and more examples of this – businesses being rewarded if they behave in the right way.”
That’s a salutary lesson, of course, in how to react to a crisis in this new world but is the time really right for businesses to be proactively embedding social responsibility in their companies when the world economy is in meltdown and leaders are working day and night to make it survive?
“The reason the global economy is in meltdown is because of the pursuit of irresponsible profit. We had a model where short-term irresponsible profit was the be-all and end-all, and the pursuit of profit for profit’s sake led us to that, so it’s the cause of the issue. It’s a bit like if you smoke and get cancer – the tumour is the current economic issue. You can remove the tumour but if you don’t change your behaviour and stop smoking, you’ll get another one.
“If you drill down and take that to a specific individual business level then this is not about having a successful business and then a ‘doing good’ sideline because it is fashionable. This is about putting social responsibility at your core if you want to be more successful. If you put social responsibility at the core of your business and look at every aspect of what you are doing, a lot of things about being more sustainable as a company will save you money – Walmart saved $320m (£204m) purely by reducing their packaging. It’s about competitive advantage.
“You’ll also find that you will get more customers because people will think you are a better kind of business and better talent will want to work for you. All the research about the millennials says they would rather work for a company whose values they believe in than one that pays them more. One of the biggest issues the banking and financial sector is having at the moment is that people don’t want to go and work there.”
Jones tells me about two pieces of research – a study by Accenture showing that companies which are more sustainable outperform others quite substantially over both three- and five-year periods, and about Havas’s Meaningful Brands tracker, which works out who would care if your brand disappeared tomorrow.
“There are about 30 to 40 different criteria that go into ranking you,” he explains. “And the most valued brands and best share price performances are coming from the most sustainable companies.
“I believe massively in capitalism, it can be a brilliant model. I think the problem is that we have had irresponsible capitalism. To simplify it, if you look at the last century you have the NGOs and charities with great intentions and poor executions, and businesses that had brilliant execution and often poor intention. I think this century both can and needs to be about businesses having both great intentions and great execution.
“Business is such a phenomenally efficient organism – if the biggest businesses in the world set out to be really socially responsible, the impact on the world would be so much greater than politicians and charities combined.”
Walking the talk
Jones has a busy day job, running global ad agency Havas – a huge, highly successful and demanding business which operates in 100 countries, employs 15,000 people and last year saw a 5.9 per cent increase in revenue to €1.6bn (£1.3bn). I wonder how he has embedded social responsibility in his own organisation.
“One of the most difficult things about social responsibility is to decide where to act. If you draw one circle with the issues people care about and then draw another one with what is the genuine, credible role for your business, the overlap of those two things is where I believe you should play.
“At Havas our focus is on the future, communications and digital, along with a massive interest in young people. We are good at creating brands, organising events and getting media coverage. I thought if we brought all of this together and created a platform for the world’s most brilliant young people to effect positive change they would be able to do so much more.”
So in 2009 Jones and UK group chairman of Euro RSCG (part of Havas Group) Kate Robertson – “a wonderful, amazing person” – founded One Young World, which held its first event in London in 2010. The events bring together 1,300 young people from 175 countries and combine them with a council of luminaries that currently include Bob Geldof, Kofi Annan, Pete Cashmore and the aforementioned, just signed supermodel Natalia Vodianova.
The idea is that, rather than just being a lone, brilliant 17-year-old, young people can be a One Young World ambassador and connect with others to bring positive change. There are 375 tangible projects on the go, including a housing project in Nicaragua and an empowerment scheme for vulnerable girls in Liberia.
“It probably takes about a third of our lives [his and Robertson’s] and is incredibly rewarding but it’s also something that our clients will look at and go, ‘OK, these guys get social responsibility and social media. If they can do it for themselves they can probably help us with that’, so it also has a business benefit as well.”
But how did he make this happen? “At the time, I wasn’t CEO of the whole holding company and there were people in the industry who would’ve liked this to be the banana skin that my career slipped on. We launched in the middle of a recession and our bottom-up funding model was tricky – it’s not for profit but also not for influence. It would have been easy to get $1m (£640,000) from a soft drinks company and say you’re ‘the soft drink of One Young World’. But those companies would then have an expectation. There were 20 times in that first year where I thought, ‘I am going to have to tell Kate we can’t do it’. Fortunately I didn’t have to make that call.
“Today there is a lot of support but when we started there was cynicism. People didn’t understand that if we’re the people who best understand the new world, that makes us a much better company. And it’s worked. Havas is now at the forefront of the digital and communications industry. There’s a revolution going on and, if you are willing to change and think differently, it’s the most amazing time to be in business.”
David Jones on…
Apple As a brand, Apple is incredible but they are one of the worst in terms of sustainability – the reason they lost millions in a day with the iPhone 4 problems is because they didn’t follow transparency, authenticity and speed. They have a huge opportunity to reposition – imagine using all that creativity to become the most socially responsible business.
Burt’s Bees A great example of a business created on a platform of social responsibility. Founded as a company making home-spun natural products, it acts transparently, produces products in an environmentally sensitive way and is an active member of the community. It aims to be a zero-waste business by 2020.
Patagonia Their ‘don’t buy new, buy our clothing secondhand on eBay’ campaign was brilliant. You could think Patagonia are mad because they’d sell less product. But consumers looked at them and went: ‘If that’s how they behave, imagine how sustainably they must source their product. I like that company’s recycling policy, I’d like to buy more from them.”