If it’s true the culture of a business or organisation is the outgrowth of its founder’s or CEO’s personality, it’s fair to say there are many well meaning and ‘woke’ leaders in Australia today.
But it wasn’t always so.
Historically, practices that would fill a company’s coffers could alienate wider society — the very people on whom businesses needed to trade with and work for them.
Smart business leaders now know we need a ‘social licence’—broad, public acceptance of the legitimacy and credibility of their organisation’s operations and outputs—to maximise success. And so the 2020s is a time of corporate activism when empowered CEOs stamp their personal brands and business logos on social debates. Philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and triple-bottom-line accounting are now part of mainstream business consciousness.
When I started OBT 20 years ago, it was to realise an existential belief that my business must have a ‘soul’ — to improve the lives of others who could offer no prospect of worldly return. I don’t mean to say that OBT has a soul in a metaphysical or spiritual sense—and we must satisfy shareholders and customers—but we understood from the outset that it’s a vehicle to make the world a better place.
At the time, some people considered that to be a fringe and even a radical concept. So over stakeholder opposition, I established a charitable organisation with key objectives. I didn’t even know how to spell ‘philanthropy’ let alone attain such lofty ideals, caught up in the thorny matters that assail every entrepreneur such as just meeting payroll or finding the next customer. But right from the outset, I intended OBT to ‘do good’ although it took time to learn how to ‘make good’ on the promise.
That ethical foundation animated our purpose and cemented our nascent corporate culture. It sustains us—and me, especially—through the peaks and troughs while informing our attitude to activities ranging from hiring to pursuing business opportunities.
I’m thankful we persisted because the struggle shaped me and, in turn, shaped what OBT became. And, as the charitable work grew, it propelled me personally through tough times in the business when I might otherwise have surrendered.
What’s the difference between a corporate culture and conscience?
The Australian Human Resources Institute defines corporate culture as “values and behaviours that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organisation”. But that says nothing about whether a culture is beneficial, toxic or indifferent.
Every organisation has a culture. It emerges with every decision it makes, at every public outing and when it hires (or fires). That culture or personality may be haphazard or a conscious choice of its founders or executives—and, increasingly, its employees. Sometimes, clues to it are a motto or code of conduct such as Google’s, “Don’t be Evil” (the restructured Alphabet replaced it in 2015 with, “Do the right thing”).
“Don’t be evil,” Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote in 2004.
“We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.”
Like Google/Alphabet, our culture is our DNA. It’s what separates us from other businesses because it’s what we stand for. We express it in our behaviours as individuals and collectively as a team. Culture is what makes us OBT distinctly us.
We believe in our duty to improve the world for people who don’t work, trade or buy from us. This conscious and conscientious understanding informs how we touch the lives of people who come to depend on us.
Why we support three causes bringing light into the world
A phrase I heard as a teen stuck with me: “Work as if you’ll live forever and have the energy to make a large impact. But live as if you’ll pass away tomorrow, so value your relationships and be OK with making even a small difference in the world now.” Together with my faith, it guides my approach to life and which causes to support.
Since inception, OBT has contributed to our causes even through the tough years when we didn’t make a profit. And while our goal is to touch a million lives we realise that each individual person means the world to themselves, their family and community. So rather than focusing on numbers, we value each and every life that we reach.
We also understand our limitations, and so we seek causes where we make a measurable and significant difference. When I was growing up, computers were easy but personal relationships challenged me, so I focused on the human elements as I grew OBT. You’ll seldom see the causes we support on the news but they mean the world to the lives of the people we touch and they matter to us at OBT. The three causes we support are:
Modern life tears at the family relationships we most hold dear and that knit society. In the IT industry, we often hear of the importance of ‘relationships’ but to us at OBT it’s not an abstract concept — we believe in the power of relationships to improve the world. So we support organisations that foster, build and restore family relationships including feeding and caring for people in immediate need.
Impoverished children —
More children under the age of five die each year than people who live in Sydney! And while mortality has halved from 12.6 million in 1990 to 5.4 million children today, that’s still 3.9% of births or 11 children a minute perishing from mostly preventable causes such as pneumonia (15%), preterm births and neonatal disorders (12%) and diarrhoea (10%). Working with our primary partner, Compassion Australia, we seek to heal, educate and lend emotional support to 15,000 orphaned and underprivileged children around the world to help them reach adulthood when they can build resilient communities to further cut child and infant mortality. We believe in these children, that they deserve opportunities and we believe that we are part of the answer. Our commitment extends to a biannual, all-staff letter-writing session that shows each child that we care.
Teenage single mothers —
Mums do an amazing job but teenage, single mums who may be isolated or estranged from family, friends and support networks have everything stacked against them, which leads to high rates of depression and self-harm. And children growing up in these homes are also at great disadvantage to their peers emotionally, physically and financially. We collaborate with organisations that support these mothers and nurture their children to care for their physical health and emotional wellbeing.
How to start caring for people who need us?
There is no template to start caring for people and every business owner will wrestle with their choices.
But if I could offer any comfort or guidance it would be: Don't wait for a payday.
Don't wait until you have a certain turnover, profit, scale or some other metric to touch lives beyond your business’s walls.
That day when it’s comfortable to act for good will never come. Or, as we all know, comes a lot later than we hoped. And all the while, our impact is on ice, waiting in hope for the payday.
So do your good works along your journey and be satisfied by touching, say, two people rather than spend 20 years gearing up to reach a million people. Just be satisfied with the smaller numbers because you build character when you don't despise those days of very small steps and humble beginnings.
That’s when you grow traits, habits, and commitments that matter. And when you have greater resources, you’ll be poised to touch even more people than you could have dreamed possible had you not started small all those years ago.
But don’t rush into supporting a cause, either, because you think it’s expected of you. Ensure you connect with the cause and it’s meaningful for you and your business. Don’t support something because it’s popular.
Although we started down this path to help others 20 years ago, it feels as if we have only just begun. There are so many more lives as yet unborn or unknowing for us to touch.
We wish you well on your journey.