Andrew Thornton on Brexit, Trump and Heartful business

I will start by owning my political position – if a label helps, I am a ‘liberal social democrat”. So despite the imperfections of the EU and of Hilary Clinton, I supported the losing side in both cases. And while I feel mystified (and at the same time understand) how Trump got elected and only time will tell what the global impact will be, I feel that Brexit is a catastrophic mistake. As Jonathan Freedland pointed in an article in the UK’s leading ‘liberal’ newspaper The Guardian earlier in the year, if one were to do a pact with the devil to avoid either Trump or Brexit, at least with the former is only for 4 or 8 years; whereas Brexit is forever. However, we are where we are and I am a great believer in trusting that everything (no matter how crazy it seems) happens for a reason.


On the morning after Trump’s unpredicted victory, my father asked me if there was any silver lining from Trump and my immediate thought was that it could be good for the case for heartful business. Why so?


Post Brexit, many senior business leaders here in the UK saw the result as a rejection of ‘big business’, with their perceived self-serving short term profit obsession. An approach sadly typified by the likes of Sir Philip Green and Mike Ashley justifying their approach to the media and to select committees in our parliament; if you don’t follow the detail of UK business, just google one of these two and I hope you’ll be horrified. As a business leader, I felt mortified that I might be in any way associated with these two men and all they typify. Although they appear to be men, listening to them they sounded more like naughty school boys being hauled up in front of the headmistress. On the more ‘sensible’ side of business, in the days and weeks post the Brexit result, many business leaders including city ‘grandee’ and BT Chairman Sir Mike Rake, said this was a wakeup call for UK business and a rejection by the public of their current ways of doing business.


I agree and really feel that Brexit is a strong message from the public to UK big business – carry on as you are and you’ll go the way of our membership of the EU, the then prime minister David Cameron and Hilary Clinton – Hilary who!?

Trump, a petulant child?

As for Trump, the schoolboy images I imagined earlier came back to mind when I read the novelist Ian McEwan assessing Trump in last Saturday’s Guardian – “He’s a petulant, ignorant child, strangely promoted above the grownups”. Could the same be said of the afforementioned UK business leaders and if so, what do we do in a world where business and political leaders are petulant children?


It’s too early to say if US businesses will see this as a slap in the face and realise that they are part of the problem and part of what electorates across the world are rejecting. Will Trump’s victory will lead to the likes of Apple and Starbucks realising that they have a moral obligation to pay fair taxes where they trade? Alright, that may be a stretch too far, but in amongst the crazy fear based reactionary lurch to the right, maybe, just maybe some businesses will swim against the tide, ‘grow up’ and learn that in fact taking a heartful approach is far better for all their stakeholders and the world in general – and that the stakeholder that all the forcus seems to be on (the shareholder) will actually do better from this approach.


And while Trump’s stated desire to pull out of the Paris Climate Change agreement that came into being 4 days before his election is very worrying for the future of our planet, I do hope that US businesses will start to make similar noises to UK ones and consider more heartful ways of being.