Passing down lessons in sustainable business

The 2022 Business Leaders’ Breakfast was able to support the next generation of business leaders in creating a more sustainable future thanks to nine generous alumni who volunteered their time and imparted their knowledge and experience.

Our emerging leaders must disrupt the status quo to make a sustainable future a reality – but such bold changes cannot be accomplished without wisdom, support and inspiration.

Tim Holt
FBE alum Tim Holt discussing impact and sustainability in business at the Business Leaders’ Breakfast.

On 27 July, young alumni from the Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE) came together for the Business Leaders’ Breakfast, held on campus at the Woodward Conference Centre.

Enterprise Professor in Impact, Sustainability and Innovation Rosemary Addis AM is a globally recognised director and strategist. At the breakfast, she gave an inspiring speech on how business and economics can steer us towards a brighter future.

“We need to build new muscles to calibrate impact and integrate sustainability as part of the equation for long-term financial success,” said Professor Addis in her talk.

Alumni who are business leaders in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) space joined Professor Addis to drive conversations over breakfast. They shared their experiences with guests and discussed how they are helping create a sustainable future.

Dr Kate Forbes was one of the nine business leaders who volunteered their time. She was Global Innovation Director at Aesop and steered their BCorp certification journey – and has since founded her own BCorp consultancy, Alcmene.

Dr Kate Forbes

Dr Kate Forbes engaging in table discussions at the Business Leaders’ Breakfast.

“For those in their early career, there were opportunities to connect directly with established business leaders, but there was also value in connecting with other alumni who are themselves forging successful careers,” said Dr Forbes.

For young FBE alum Tim Holt, the breakfast was an opportunity to gain insights from his university classmates and leaders in ESG.

“It provided an opportunity for me to learn from the personal experiences of leaders in the impact and ESG space – in particular, steps I can take in my current role to drive impactful and sustainable outcomes,” said Tim.

Turning  knowledge into practice

Reflecting on Professor Addis’ speech, alumni took part in roundtable discussions – led by a senior business leader at their table.

These discussions provided an opportunity for senior business leaders to share aspects of their career including tips and advice on how to excel and make a difference in impact and sustainability.

Discussions around where responsibility lies for pushing sustainable change took place at Dr Forbes’ table.

We spoke about sustainability as a journey. It’s evolving into something that everyone can contribute to – not just one team in an organisation. Dr Kate Forbes

“However, the overwhelming agreement between alumni was that commitment to change needs to be led from the top down and must have a long-term perspective.”

From Tim’s perspective, there were some key takeaways from these discussions that he felt motivated to apply to his current role and career ahead.

Attendees at the Business Leaders' Breakfast 2022

Faculty of Business and Economics alumni engaged in table discussions at the Business Leaders’ Breakfast.

“We discussed the importance of driving cultural change at a grassroots level within our businesses,” said Tim. “Whether working directly in an ESG role or not, we all play an important part in enshrining the importance of sustainability within our businesses.”

“We also examined how a company's success and social progress are interdependent – and that it is possible to create solutions to environmental problems profitably.”

Tim says events like the Business Leaders’ Breakfast allow early career alumni to connect with and learn from business leaders across a range of industries and sectors, while also expanding their networks with like-minded professionals.

“There's no better source for insights and advice than our very own network of alumni.”

The forces re-shaping capitalism

Professor Addis’ speech helped kickstart these vital conversations between FBE peers and business leaders.

Professor Addis set the scene by talking about our “collective sliding doors moment” as we choose how to respond to the complex set of issues presented by climate change and the inter-related social challenges – the effects of which are now compounding with profound consequences for health, equity, and our economies.

“We are harming the planet to the point that we are threatening life as we know it," she said. “But we are not yet directing capital and actions effectively to shift the needle – and that's what we need.”

Professor Rosemary Addis AM

Enterprise Professor in Impact, Sustainability and Innovation Rosemary Addis AM speaking at the 2022 Business Leaders’ Breakfast.

Pointing to clear universal objectives set out in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Professor Addis said that a significant paradigm shift in how we approach these problems will be required to achieve them.

These types of paradigm shifts gain momentum when the prevailing models no longer fit the realities. It is precisely when the problems are large, complex and urgent that we can look beyond even the problems themselves to the new models needed to solve them. Professor Rosemary Addis AM

She likened this upheaval of traditional ways of thinking to the advent of space exploration following World War II. “We can draw inspiration from that kind of human ingenuity, creativity, curiosity and imagination.”

Professor Addis also highlighted some key examples of how we can steer ourselves towards a better future, such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi), the alliance that has employed financial markets to issue bonds that finance vaccine delivery.

“Most people don’t wait until they have all the funds to buy a house; most organisations don’t wait until they have all the cash reserves to expand their business,” explained Professor Addis. “Yet, we have let the available funds year on year be a rate-limiting factor for how many children could be vaccinated against preventable disease.

"Through Gavi, hundreds of millions more children have been vaccinated today and millions of lives saved."

Professor Addis noted that in our current economies, we have conflated price and value. Environmental, social and cultural elements are simply not calculated or included in financial measures and this needs to change.

"We need to re-orient around collective goals that reshape markets. The central question is ‘what kind of future do we want?’ That re-shaping requires strategic commitment and leadership to intentionally avoid harm, deliver more benefit and contribute solutions.”

Thank you to our alumni volunteers

Thank you to our alumni and business leaders who volunteered their time to make the 2022 Business Leaders' Breakfast a valuable and meaningful experience:

Paul Conroy (CEO, FareShare), Andrew Davies (CEO, B Lab ANZ), Kate Forbes (Director, Alcmene), Abbie Freestone (Director, ReWild Agency), Geoff Manchester (Co-Founder & CEO, Intrepid Travel), Freya Marsden (Chair, Vic Gov Sustainability Fund), Sarah Newman (Director, Sustainability and ESG, KPMG), Sarah Dearmun (Director, ESG Advisory, PwC) and Tania Smith (Director, Sustainable Finance, ANZ)

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