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Rethinking the role of the public corporation

November 4, 2020 | Purpose, Strategy

In October, an international group of business historians, government decision-makers and corporate executives convened to explore an issue central to the future of the world’s economy: the purpose and changing nature of the public corporation.

Sponsored by BMO and organized by the Long Run Initiative (LRI), a not-for-profit forum affiliated with Queens University (Belfast) Centre for Economic History, the virtual event’s speakers included: Mona Malone, BMO Chief Human Resources Officer and Head of People and Culture;  BMO Capital Markets CEO Dan Barclay; and Joanna Rotenberg, Group Head, BMO Wealth Management.

According to Mona, the world’s shifting economic, social and political landscape brought a heightened sense of urgency to the discussion. “Globalization, climate change, technology, the uncertain future of work and other challenges have sparked a worldwide debate about the role of the corporation,” says Mona. “As we lay the groundwork for a post-pandemic era, it’s essential that business leaders advance our understanding of these issues and reconceptualise the corporation for the 21st century.”

Here is a look at four key themes that emerged during the event’s panel discussions and one-on-one fireside chats.

The tensions between purpose and performance

In this exchange with Dr. Michael Aldous of Queens University Belfast, Mona offers her thoughts on the relationship between being bold and doing good, and how purpose helps BMO take a long-term perspective while maintaining focus on short-term performance goals.

Operationalizing purpose within an organization

How do we ensure purpose becomes more than a platitude? In this segment, Mona explains the complex web of connections – the corporate “operating system” – that must be engaged to bring purpose to life.  

The evolving definition of a corporate stakeholder

In the last decade corporations have expanded their focus beyond the shareholder, taking a more holistic view of the internal and external stakeholders that influence their business. Dan Barclay provides his perspectives in this panel discussion moderated by David Walmsley, Editor-in-Chief of The Globe and Mail. 

Moving from “big bangs” to constant innovation

Joanna Rotenberg theorizes that we treat capitalism as a mostly static entity that evolves in intense bursts, instead of something that should constantly refresh itself. Building on Mona’s concept of a corporate operating system, Joanna takes inspiration from the frequent, over-air system updates that keep Tesla cars constantly equipped with the very latest technology.

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