Business leaders key to rebuilding trust in society

Former Lloyd’s CEO advocates for a new kind of business

Inga Beale 482x271

Businesses must play a role in repairing a “breakdown in trust in society”, according to former Lloyd’s of London chief executive Inga Beale.

After the UK referendum on Europe in 2016, Beale said she was “troubled” by the vote and began questioning how the UK had become so polarised. At the subsequent World Economic Forum in Davos, Chinese and Indian leaders took centre stage, talking about globalisation and reducing barriers. Meanwhile, the freshly elected President of the US Donald Trump wanted to build walls “metaphorical and otherwise”.

“At Davos, you could see the world turned on its head,” Beale said during her keynote at EUROUT, an event organised by London Business School’s Out in Business club.

In order to move forward, she said leaders in all walks of life need to understand that there has been a breakdown in trust.

“We are not trusted anymore. We've got to talk about policies, we’ve got to start talking to broader society, beyond employee base,” she said.

“This isn’t good enough and our role is going to dramatically change. No longer can business leaders remain quiet.

“I don’t want to go into politics but I do want to influence society as a business leader because we have to build trust again.”

Beale argued that too many businesses pay lip service to issues like gay rights and diversity, while their boards remain old, white and male. Simply throwing money at an issue like diversity is not a solution either, she said. Leaders need to leave their comfort zones to create dialogues on important issues.

Senior individuals can effect lasting change through their own behaviour and a willingness to invest their own time in challenging the status quo, Beale said – but it has to be genuine.

In her tenure at Lloyd’s, Beale is credited with modernising what remains the largest and most successful international insurance market. She oversaw the switch from paper-based trading and the establishment of a Brussels office. Along with almost 50 insurers, her legacy includes an agreement to create a more open and inclusive industry.

A report compiled in 2017 found that only 5% of executive directors in insurance were women compared to 21% in the FTSE100.

At this year’s EUROUT, Beale spoke frankly about being “bisexual” in a traditionally straight male business. EUROUT is Europe’s leading LGBTQ conference for graduate students, MBAs, PhDs and alumni from top business schools.