What makes Stewardship so powerful? At its core, Egisly is promoting what, at first glance, seems little more than a change of perspective. Ownership focuses on what you take out, whereas Stewardship focuses on what you put in, but both are concerned with effectively the same transaction. In both cases, we still have inputs and outputs. However, the power comes in how that change of focus shifts our priorities and affects our decision making; often leading to radically different approaches, and unexpected success. Today, I want to illustrate that point with a practical example.
I have always been passionate about the importance of supporting the arts. In particular, the performing arts provide an opportunity for our communities to come together for no other purpose than to produce something beautiful together. In that way, they align with the drive towards Stewardship Trusts.
In 1885 Oldham gained a theatre, the Oldham Coliseum. The subsequent 135 years saw many trials and tribulations, along with performances from such greats as Charlie Chaplin and Ralph Fiennes. A hidden gem in the heart of our community, it gained a reputation for being the most haunted in Britain. Most importantly, it inspired generations of young people in our town to go on to great acting heights.
“We shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us.”Winston Church, Member of Parliament for Oldham, 1900-1906.
As an owner of an IT company, how could I justify supporting a theatre? Where’s the profit in that? When we focus on what we take out such questions become fundamental in our decision-making process. After all, boards of directors are ultimately accountable to their owners, not their ethos. Owners invariably look to maximising their return.
As a steward of an IT company, I was keen to see us support our community and institutions like the Coliseum. Instead of focusing on how I could increase our profits, I instead concentrated on how we could fulfil our ethos. Making money was not the goal.
Motivated by a desire to see the Coliseum supported, I worked hard to think of ways I could sell the idea to the rest of the company and the other shareholders. The first idea was to launch a Theatre Club. The Coliseum always has quieter nights on most of its runs where it doesn’t sell out seats, so I suggested we pay a fixed fee in support, in return for which we’d get a block of tickets on a quiet night which we’d give to staff. The Theatre Club would allow us to provide another benefit for staff, provide them with an activity over which to bond, and, importantly, build up more support for the Coliseum itself, and for our support of it.
For the second idea, I remembered back to my first years as a consultant when I had received some presentation training. One of the things that had stayed with me was watching myself on a recording during the course. Though the presentation skills would prove invaluable, seeing myself on video exposed me to the idea of how valuable the perceptions of others would be in driving self-improvement. Who better to provide advice and guidance on body language and presentation skills than directors and actors? Working with the Coliseum, we identified a gap in their production schedule, and we put on a training course, on the stage, for our fresh recruits as part of their induction. It was a huge success, and we have continued to run the course each year. Not only did it allow us to support the Coliseum by paying for the training, but it also provided them with a new revenue stream they could sell to other businesses. In return, we received invaluable training and a unique experience for our staff.
The lesson of this story is easy to miss; after all, we benefited from supporting the Coliseum. Why didn’t we give the Coliseum money, rather than asking for something in return? People are rightly suspicious of the motivations of companies – after all, the evidence continues to pile up against our businesses. I know there will be sceptics who will find the above perspective unbelievable, and some people will never be convinced regardless. In defence against such views, I would point out that the benefits accrued are only apparent in hindsight. Any IT business owner fixated on their core business would not look towards a local theatre to increase their productivity or profitability.
Instead, by focusing on our ethos first, by looking at what we could contribute, we found success in a place no one else was looking. Stewardship drives innovation. When I was looking for ways to support the Coliseum, I wasn’t thinking about my potential for success which proves –
“Success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”Viktor E. Frankl, “Man’s search for meaning”.