Millennials Driving Change in Business – For the Better

Student-run Doing Good Doing Well hears about business with purpose from Tesla, Caixabank and non-profits

29/02/2016 Barcelona

Jelle Vastert

Business Driven by Purpose. Building a Sustainable Future

Changing the core business of every company to build a sustainable future: this is the major challenge for future leaders. The Doing Good Doing Well Conference 2016 gathered some of the brightest minds from across Europe and around the world to discuss innovative business models that create meaningful impact.

“It’s key to have a clear sense of purpose” Jelle Vastert, Head of EV at Tesla / Photo: Edu Ferrer

By 2020 it is estimated that half of the world’s workforce will be made up by millennials.

Generation Y – a generation of “digital natives” born between the 80s and the year 2000 – think differently than Gen X and the Boomers.

For a start, this is the generation poised to fully inherit the Fourth Industrial Revolution – the exponential digitization of our world that is disrupting every industry and transforming the way that we live, communicate and work.

But it’s not only the digital transformation that Gen Y is set to drive.

With a worldview and value systems motivated by more than just money, tomorrow’s tech-savvy leaders are poised not only to radically affect the way we work – but why we work at all.

Millennials entering management positions today are looking for companies and organizations that offer meaning and purpose; a workplace characterized by flexibility, innovation, transparency and environmental consciousness.

As Forbes puts it: “Money is important and they do enjoy making it, however, they long to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

This is the backdrop against which IESE’s own Gen Y community – our MBA students – organized and delivered the Doing Good Doing Well Conference. Europe’s premier student-run conference on responsible business, this year's DGDW took a focus on innovative business models that are creating real impact.

Among the keynote speakers, the conference heard from the automotive industry, the financial sector which is experiencing radical disruption with the emergence of fintech organizations, and from non-profits and charities who have key lessons for the corporate sector.

Tesla: On a Mission to End Fossil Fuels

Jelle Vastert, Head of EV Infrastructure at Tesla, opened the conference, reiterating his company’s “master plan.”

“We set out to build a sports car; use that money to build an affordable car; use that money to build an even more affordable car. And while doing the above, we would provide zero-emission electric power generation options.”

It’s an ambitious project. But one that appears to be paying off.

Tesla is experiencing “exponential growth” across Europe, Vastert says. As the brand disrupts the market, estimates put production into the hundreds of thousands of vehicles in the next few years: “In July of 2015 we saw more than 20 million kilometers driven by owners of Teslas.”

Driving this kind of growth, says Vastert, means cleaving to a simple principle.

“Of course it’s very important to strategize right at the outset. But it’s key to have a clear sense of purpose. Everything we do at Tesla is built around our mission.”

Pushing the Boundaries

“We have created a real alternative to the combustion engine. Tesla is right at the forefront of innovation in mobility, and at pushing the boundaries on what cars can do. And we are changing perceptions about electric mobility.”

At the end of the day, says Vastert, it’s about sustainability and the value proposition it delivers.

“Imagine driving for free. That’s what we are offering consumers. We have the sustainable energy infrastructure and what we’re driving is a step change in simplification of design – with huge pay offs in servicing and maintenance.”

Open Sourcing Innovation

“It’s part of our mission to share what we do and not to be alone in this space. In fact, it’s a core part of our mission. We are a young company still, with a startup mentality and a clear purpose. We believe in opening up patents, motivating others to get involved, and steering clear of ring-fencing.”

Open sourcing technology and collaboration are key elements of the digital transformation in the financial sector, too.

Mariona Vicens, Head of Innovation at CaixaBank, delivered a conference keynote on “fintech” organizations – newcomers which are leveraging technology to the make financial services more efficient.

The established banks, or “incumbents,” are increasingly partnering with fintechs, says Vicens, to improve services and reach underserved markets.

But not only are these new collaborations driving innovation, she says, they are built on greater transparency – a defining feature of the fintech model and a huge gain for a sector that is still grappling with acute reputation issues.

“With the advance of digital and smartphones, we’re seeing these younger companies coming into the space and leveraging penetration. But they are bringing with them a push for greater transparency, for more personalization and for lower costs.”

The flow of knowledge and expertise is an “attractive” development that will have positive impact on sector-wide issues such as risk, regulation and, of course, reputation.

Traditional banks have “a lot to learn” from new models, says Vicens.

Learning From Charities

The flow and exchange of expertise between entities can and should take place between sectors.

This was the contention of a panel discussion chaired by Forbes contributor, Dina Medland.

Unicef's Sally Burnheim and Three Hands Managing Director, Jan Levy (MBA ’01), met with Truus Huisman of Unilever to discuss how big business can interact with charities and social enterprises to create impact.

“Unicef is working at the forefront of understanding what people really need,” said Burnheim. “Of course, building products and services that people really need yields business opportunities.”

Huisman agreed: “We are leveraging our work with non-profits to identify new opportunities and to drive new models of sustainability. Partnerships are helping us to take new ideas to scale and drive innovation for impact. And in the broader context, it’s an approach that makes business sense. After all, we only have one planet.”

Unilever is seeing substantial growth in its sustainable brands, she added. “Sustainable brands are currently accounting for 50 percent of Unilever's growth.”

Challenging the concept of “giving back” as the exclusive province of the third sector, Jan Levy called for a “fully equitable relationship between business and the community.”

“Businesses can and do innovate by gathering social information from the non-profit environment. But the equation needs to widen,” he said. “We believe it’s the role of business to do right by its entire community of stakeholders – from shareholders, to employees, to customers to the community.”