1920 – Navigating Activist Leadership in Business with Lucy Parker

Parker Wide

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks to a Corporate Advisor, Co-Author, and Senior Partner of Brunswick Group, Lucy Parker.

Lucy Parker, a pioneer in social value and sustainable business practices, co-authored “The Activist Leader: A New Mindset for Doing Business.” She explores the complex relationship between corporate leadership and social activism, highlighting how contemporary leaders can manage businesses conscientiously.

Lucy focused on the significant changes in business operations in response to societal challenges. She underscored the need for leaders to understand their company's influence on the world and actively ensure this impact is positive and significant.

As the founder of the Brunswick Group's social value initiatives, Lucy provided insights into how companies can incorporate sustainable practices into their main strategies. She cited examples of organizations that have effectively leveraged social value to bolster their brand and contribute positively to society.

Key Points from the Episode:

  • Social value and sustainable business
  • The Activist Leader: A New Mindset for Doing Business (book)
  • The role of activism in leadership and business
  • Strategies for integrating social value into business practices
  • The impact of sustainable business on society and the environment

About Lucy Parker:

Lucy Parker is a distinguished corporate advisor and coach renowned for her leadership at the Brunswick Group, where she co-founded the firm’s practice on social value and sustainable business. Her work predominantly focuses on guiding global companies through complex societal challenges, particularly environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. With over two decades of experience across diverse sectors such as pharmaceuticals, engineering, retail, and telecoms, Lucy has been pivotal in shaping corporate strategies that address critical societal impacts. She regularly writes on the role of business in society and has co-authored two influential books with Jon Miller, Everybody’s Business, and The Activist Leader.

Before her tenure in corporate advisory, Lucy’s career began in journalism as a documentary maker at the BBC, where she produced content on social issues. Transitioning to a business context, she has effectively utilized her storytelling skills to enhance corporate communication with various stakeholders, including investors, employees, and governments. From 2008 to 2010, Lucy chaired the UK Prime Minister’s Taskforce for Talent and Enterprise under Gordon Brown, emphasizing the strategic importance of high-value skills for maintaining a competitive edge in the global economy.

About Brunswick Group:

Brunswick Group is a global advisory firm specializing in critical business issues, helping companies build and maintain trusted relationships with all their stakeholders. Known for its robust background in financial communications, Brunswick understands the intricate dynamics of how businesses operate. The firm emphasizes the importance of integrity, reflected in its commitment to diligence, openness, and accuracy in all dealings. This approach is essential not just for managing perceptions but for the effective overall functioning of a business.

Operating as a unified firm worldwide, Brunswick boasts a diverse team of highly skilled professionals from various backgrounds, ensuring high-caliber and experienced consultancy. No matter the complexity of the task or its geographic location, Brunswick is adept at assembling the right experts from across its network to address each client's specific needs. The firm’s overarching goal is to assist the world’s leading value-creating organizations play a more successful and constructive role in society.

Tweetable Moments:

02:15 – “If you're running a business today or you have a leadership role in a business today, you need to be looking at these issues very seriously and stepping into them on your own momentum. You own the change that needs to happen; don't have it forced out of you.”

Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out Brunswick Group’s website at

Check out Brunswick Group on LinkedIn at

Check out Brunswick Group on Facebook at

Check out Brunswick Group on Twitter at

Check out these two books Lucy Parker co-authored:

“Everybody's Business”

“The Activist Leader”

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Josh (00:00:05) - Hey there, thoughtful listener. Are you looking for introductions to partners, investors, influencers and clients? Well, I've had private conversations with over 2000 leaders asking them where their best business comes from. I've got a free video you can watch with no opt in required, where I'll share the exact steps necessary to be 100% inbound in your industry over the next 6 to 8 months, with no spam, no ads, and no sales. What I teach has worked for me for over 15 years and has helped me create eight figures in revenue for my own companies. Just head to up my influence comm and watch my free class on how to create endless high ticket sales appointments. Also, don't forget the thoughtful entrepreneur is always looking for great guests. Go to up my influence. Com and click on podcast. I'd love to have you. With us right now, it's Lucy Parker. Lucy, you founded the Brunswick Group's work on social value and sustainable business, and you are the co-author of the book The Activist Leader A New Mindset for Doing Business.

Josh (00:01:19) - Lucy, it's great to have you.

*Lucy * (00:01:21) - It's great to be with you. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Josh (00:01:24) - On your website. And I'm just going to let's get right into this. It says if you want to be a successful leader in today's business world, you need to think like an activist. Why?

*Lucy * (00:01:35) - Because if you look at the world today, that business is operating in, it is changing fast. There are huge pressures in the world from, let's name a couple of them, you know, from climate change to the food we eat and the nutritional ingredients we take in. If you're running a business today, these huge societal questions are coming onto your radar screen. And the reason you need to think like an activist is if you're not careful, they'll put you onto the back foot. So what is an activist? An activist is somebody who looks at the problem and goes, I think this is something I need to be doing something about, not somebody else. Me. And then you step towards it and you start finding solutions.

*Lucy * (00:02:15) - And if you're running a business today or you have a leadership role in a business today, you need to be looking at these issues very seriously and stepping into them on your own momentum. You own the change that needs to happen. Don't have it forced out of you.

Josh (00:02:30) - And so could you kind of define what this is that we're talking about? Like what does it mean to think like an activist leader?

*Lucy * (00:02:38) - Well, that's a great question because actually, in many times in business today, the word activist feels antagonistic. It feels like somebody's unreasonable coming at you, wanting things from you. But really, what an activist is doing is looking starkly at a problem and thinking, this is going to need solutions that are radically different. And the new leadership and business today is starting to realize that the job into the future, if you're going to deliver financial value and social value hand in hand, it means some radically new ways of working. And you, as a business all alone won't be the one to fix it, but to decide.

*Lucy * (00:03:16) - You play your part and then mobilize resources and work across the ecosystem. This is a whole new demand on business, so you need to be the people with the hands on the reins driving that change.

Josh (00:03:28) - Well, and Lucy, someone may be listening to our conversation. They say, I'm just a you know, I've got a couple of team members. It's just me, like I, you know, am I a business leader? Yeah, sure. But do I need to worry about global activists? You know, type, positions? I wasn't really on my radar. I just want I want to quietly do my thing. What would you say to this individual?

Speaker 3 (00:03:53) - Yeah.

*Lucy * (00:03:54) - Well, what I would say is, I think that one of the most remarkable and wonderful and fun things about business through all time, anywhere, anytime, have people gone. I think we could get this going, couldn't we? We could do this, couldn't we? But actually. That's always been a mix of what's the societal need you're fulfilling and what's the money you're going to make out of it as a business, how does that land in a product? And so I think whatever your product, whatever your sector, whatever your size of business, to understand today that it's almost impossible to build a business today that doesn't have to adapt to the climate realities that are changing this fast.

*Lucy * (00:04:34) - If you look at the politics around the world today, it's almost unimaginable that you're going to be able to lead a business into the future, where you're not going to have to answer some questions that are about the inclusiveness and the nature of your workforce. Even if there's only three of you in an office together, how do you show up in the world looking like your part of the world? And so this thing of understanding that it's the operating context of your business, so you stay alert to what it is that businesses ask. The world is asking of business today. And I think one of the reasons that's. Important for successful entrepreneurial businesses is that usually they're playing into the ecosystem of bigger businesses. And so their customers, unless you're actually just a B2C customer without a business, you're playing into the ecosystem of bigger businesses. You make a particular kind of yogurt, you're selling it into an ecosystem. You make a piece of clothing, you're selling it into a supply chain of some kind, or you are actually hoping to grow your own supply chain.

*Lucy * (00:05:40) - Either. Which way? If you look at clothing today, clothing is talking about water use. Clothing is talking about whether or not you can grow the same crops in the same areas that you used to be able to grow, because cotton won't grow in certain flooded fields or dried territories as it used to be able to do. If you can't see that the operating system around you has changed, you can't begin to come up with solutions. So I think it's really about a future facing alertness to the operating context and future proofing your business. When you see it played out in big businesses today, the businesses that are doing this well are actually saying this is about the future proofing of my profits. The argument is going to change about what leadership requires, and I need to understand how it's going to change into the future.

Josh (00:06:29) - Lucy, I'm sure that, you know of some examples of maybe where this was not prioritized and there were some consequences of that. any cautionary tales come to mind that you could share with us?

Speaker 4 (00:06:42) - Wow.

Speaker 3 (00:06:43) - Well, there's.

*Lucy * (00:06:45) - Yes, we have seen that. What a great question to have cautionary tales. I think there have been cautionary tales, hadn't there, when if you take something like DNI, which is just a sort of acronym, really, for people wanting to be alert to say, gender rights or racial rights, sometimes people go, I think I feel very strongly about this. I am going to speak up about it. And they speak up and out into the world about what they think. The world looks back and goes, sorry. Has that got anything to do with your business? Are you actually doing anything about that, or is that just your opinion on this question? And the real cautionary tale is individuals and businesses that feel they have to speak up because it's their opinion as opposed to they have to act up because the question coming at them is, what does their business need to do or do differently because of this issue? So people often think that this is about how you talk. It's actually about what you say and what you do.

*Lucy * (00:07:41) - So that I think is is is a real cautionary tale. There was another cautionary tale, interestingly, in, in, southern Italy last year, which I thought, now that's what I meet every day. The whole of a sudden electricity system in Italy went out. And it was because in the heat waves, which is something you will understand where you're based in the heat waves, the cables melted under the ground. Yeah, exactly. People go, wow, we didn't see that coming. And so the whole system went down. People are not recognizing the degree to which the actual fundamental operational resilience of businesses is changing so fast. The whole insurance sector is alert with the fact that suddenly the business model of how they used to pay out claims for natural disasters is just broken. Crops are beginning to fail in parts of the world that they didn't fail in last year, and crops that are very simple, you know, mustard seeds, cocoa plants. If you're running a business, what is the natural environment doing to your long term supply chain? And unless you're plugged into that, you are in a very risky situation these days.

*Lucy * (00:08:51) - And often when you begin a business, you're just going, I've got this in the door. I'm trying to get it out there, the other side to customers. But to not see the long term operating context these days is very, very risky.

Josh (00:09:03) - Yeah. And, you know, so much of this I think, is, you know, mindfulness of where consumers brains are today and what our customers, our audiences, our shareholders and so forth and what their expectations are. And that is absolutely changed over the past couple of decades. Do you mind maybe just addressing, where consumers brains are and I speak consumers, just people in general populations? yes. I have some expectations. We want to know that you care. We want to know that you give a darn, in things other than just shareholder value or profit. Right? You're just, you know, that that's sort of completely.

*Lucy * (00:09:42) - And of course, employees expectations have changed. One of the biggest things you see on the on the radar screen today is employee activism, where companies are going, you're really saying this into the outside world and this is the best we can do.

*Lucy * (00:09:53) - I'm ashamed of working for this company and every company I know that does it well. If you ask the leadership, why are you doing this? Number one is our employees expect us to these days. So you're so right that the boundaries of the inside and outside of a company are changing, and people in general are changing. So these days, what you're looking at is that industries are throwing off externalities. They're throwing off costs that society is having to pick up. They may be health costs, they may be energy costs, whatever it is. And regulators are moving in even even parts of the world. And types of regulators that don't want to regulate are starting to go. We can't afford that much packaging waste in the world, and it's on our watch that we have to change it. So you set up a business today, you need to ask yourself, where are we on our waste? Somebody's going to come off to you if you're not alert to that direction. And then a few years ago, the investment community woke up and they really woke up.

*Lucy * (00:10:52) - And what they were saying is the long term, sustainable profitability of your company depends on you understanding the urgency of these trends and the speed with which they're coming at you. Now, I know in parts of the world, and particularly in America, that's got so fraught that people have given it a political overlay, but the companies that do it well are going, whatever your politics, I can't I can't be running a company that isn't resilient to changing crop patterns.

Josh (00:11:24) - We are who we are. This is who we.

*Lucy * (00:11:25) - Are to packaging regulation. It's going to come. So that's what you're saying. These things use not to be on the radar screen of somebody running a company, but the next generation of business leaders, it does need to be on their radar screen. Yeah. So that's why it's a whole other set of skills. A lot of people start companies or rise in companies because they've understood the numbers. They've understood how to run it efficiently and get it out the door at the right price. Price.

*Lucy * (00:11:52) - They've understood how to manage the suppliers, but they haven't understood this new area of recognising the degree to which the big societal questions are now on your radar screen, and the regulators and your investors and your employees and your consumers are going, where are you? And the biggest gap is when the company goes, the consumers don't really care, and they might not really care until they discovered you really didn't. And then they go, oh, well, we thought you had it under control, actually. You mean you don't have it under control? And that's where companies get into a hole because they go, well, they're not asking us for it. No, but that was because you they thought you weren't abusing human rights at the far end of the supply chain. They thought you weren't overusing water in communities that are water stressed, are you are. We don't feel the same way about you anymore. Yeah. And I've had people had senior business leaders turned to me and go, why did my children hate me? And you go.

*Lucy * (00:12:52) - Why is that? Well, they think I'm doing something bad. Why is that? Well, because actually I've been running my business without thinking about these things. So individual people running individual businesses actually feel like a different kind of leader. They feel like a leader about what the future's needing when they're taking these issues onto the radar screen. But there are a whole other demands, and there's a whole other questions and skills that you have to master to get good at it. I mean, that's why we wrote the book, because actually, the people who do it well, it's really, really clear what they're doing. But it isn't what most leaders of businesses, big or small, were brought up with. So you want to go, this is a new gig. If you're a leader in a business today. Get your head around.

Josh (00:13:34) - Lucy, your book is called The Activist Leader A New Mindset for Doing Business. And you have endorsements from former CEO of Unilever, former CEO of Mastercard, is CEO of Nestle and many, many, many, many others.

Josh (00:13:47) - Who needs to read this book? And what is the transformation that you would hope for?

Speaker 4 (00:13:52) - Oh oh well.

*Lucy * (00:13:54) - I think anybody who wants to work in business should be reading this book. A business, big or small, because this is about what is leadership today and one of the most crucial things I think, that we're trying to talk about is they're a leaders in many, many parts of the business. There are leaders in supply chain management, there's leaders in procurement, there's leaders in R&D, there's leaders in HR. You know, all over the place. There are leaders in business. And when people look at the big challenges in the world today, most people feel helpless. What can I do? If you work in a business, you're not helpless. You've got things you can do, levers you can pull, processes you can change. But that actually means going about it in a somewhat different way, looking at the question differently. So if you want to build a successful business or you want to grow up through a successful business and keep it as a sustained performance into the future, you need to be thinking, what is this new demand and how do I go about it? And that's why we wrote it, because I don't meet any business leaders today who don't think this is important, but most of them are going.

*Lucy * (00:15:04) - I'm not sure how to do it. And so we were going, can we just spell out some real basics of how to go about this? And when there are there are successful formulas in doing this and you need to get a grip of them if you want to run a successful business today.

Josh (00:15:20) - Lucy Parker, you're well-known as a top corporate advisor, and you founded the Brunswick Group's work on social value and sustainable business. The website for the book is The Activist Leader. Online, of course, is where you can get the book and certainly learn more about it. Lucy, where does our our listener go from here?

*Lucy * (00:15:43) - Well, you'd expect me to say, read the book, but I think the point of the reading the book is not so much read the book as we wrote it, because there are emerging patterns and we spell out in the book there are nine steps. There are nine things which if you started to do them, this would actually change the frame around your leadership. It would make you a leader of financial and social value, rather than of financial value, at the expense of everything else.

*Lucy * (00:16:10) - I think most business leaders want to be that. So you go to a mix of. Equip yourself to understand these steps. I'm not the only one writing about this. There are many others. But what is this look like? What does this look like when it's good? That's what we were writing about. And then you ask yourself in your business, if I look at these questions, do I really think? That we're being ambitious enough. Do I really think that we're being.

Speaker 4 (00:16:38) - Radical.

*Lucy * (00:16:39) - Enough? And if I were to go to the first step, really focus on the big things you could focus on, what would that mean in my business? If I were to go to the second step, which is what is the world worried about on this and really learn what the concern is out beyond the business, would I do that? So I think it's relate that pattern of how people do this well to the place you have actual agency over and ask yourself the question, am I being ambitious enough? Am I being radical enough because I could I could take the reins of this plot line.

*Lucy * (00:17:12) - RJ Bangar, who you cited who's now work, said, strange kind of leadership, isn't it, if you don't want to be active. He said, I can't think of any other kind of leader. And one of the reasons I love working with people who who lead and run foreign businesses is they are active in spirit. They do want to go, oh, I see the gap between where we could get to and where we are today. Let me work out a plan. So this is not rocket science, but it's a different frame around the problem and working out actual, practical, ambitious things to do to succeed.

Josh (00:17:44) - Lucy Parker, you're founded the Brunswick Group's work on social value and sustainable business. Your book, The Activist Leader A New Mindset for Doing Business. Lucy Parker, thank you so much for joining us.

*Lucy * (00:17:55) - Thank you very much. Thank you for inviting me.

Josh (00:18:04) - Thanks for listening to the Thoughtful Entrepreneur show. If you are a thoughtful business owner or professional who would like to be on this daily program, please visit up my influence.

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