Philip Kotler is the “father of modern marketing.” He is the S.C. Johnson & Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He was voted the first Leader in Marketing Thought by the American Marketing Association and named The Founder of Modern Marketing Management in the Handbook of Management Thinking. Professor Kotler holds major awards including the American Marketing Association’s (AMA) Distinguished Marketing Educator Award and Distinguished Educator Award from The Academy of Marketing Science. The Sales and Marketing Executives International (SMEI) named him Marketer of the Year and the American Marketing Association described him as “the most influential marketer of all time.” He is in the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame, and is featured as a “guru” in the Economist. He has received 22 honorary degrees from around the world, and published over 70 books. In 2010, Professor Kotler created The World Marketing Summit (WMS), an independent global organization, committed to creating a better world for our future generations through marketing. His latest work is on brand activism, democracy and the common good, and the problems of capitalism.
Let’s start by asking – what does leadership have to do with the common good?
The common good has to do with what is shared and beneficial for all. Aristotle defined it as “common interest,” Thomas Aquinas as “the common good” and in the US, one of our founding fathers, James Madison, tied it to justice, which he viewed as the purpose of government and civil society. In France, Jean-Jacques Rousseau called it le bien commun. In India, there’s a Gandhian ideal called sarvodaya, sarva (all) and udaya (uplift); the good of the individual is contained in the good of all, and vice-versa. It’s really about the highest ideals of a democracy – that we are all one, united people – with liberty, equality and justice for all. Now, where have we heard that before?
So a leader, by definition, is going to be someone who answers the call to nurture the common good. Their lives are lives of service to a higher calling – the public good. In business, we see this sort of leadership amongst the best companies – companies that go well beyond the bottom line – to embrace progressive brand activism, to actually improve the condition of the world. The same can be said for political leadership – leaders who are serving the public, not simply themselves or their friends in high places.
What are the key leadership considerations for the CEO?
Studies show that employees rate their leaders on trust through their actions. In their article Why People Believe in Their Leaders — or Not, Daniel Han Ming Chng, Tae-Yeol Kim, Brad Gilbreath, and Lynne Andersson cite two critical elements lie at the heart of credibility: perceived competence and trustworthiness. The difference between trustworthy and untrustworthy leaders is stark:
- Communicate and act in a consistent manner
- Protect the organization and employees
- Embody the organization’s vision and values
- Consult with and listen to key stakeholders
- Communicate openly with others
- Value employees
- Offer support to employees and key stakeholders
- Promote an unethical climate in the organization
- Communicate dishonestly
- Act in a self-serving manner
- Behave in an inconsistent manner
- Communicate in a guarded or inconsistent manner
- Ignore the input of employees and key stakeholders
- Treat employees as expendable
Trustworthy leaders listen to their employees and key stakeholders. I would go further and say that leaders listen to the voice of the planet – the voices of those who are voiceless.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that as government fails to deliver, business and other areas of society need “to step up.” All businesses benefit from a well-working economy with good infrastructure and well-trained and motivated workers.
What about political leadership?
The leader of a nation is also the brand guardian of the nation. How they behave reflects on the entire country.
Today we have a real challenge for political leaders – they must work to correct the imbalances caused by capitalism as it has been practiced globally.
As we speak, the French Prime Minister, Emmanuel Macron has his hands full with the yellow-jacket revolution.
Why is this happening now? What must leaders do to solve the problems facing so many of their citizens?
In Confronting Capitalism, I pointed out that the current state of capitalism is falling short because:
1. Proposes little or no solution to persistent poverty
2. Generates a growing level of income inequality
3. Fails to pay a living wage to billions of workers
4. Not enough human jobs in the face of growing automation
5. Doesn’t charge businesses with the full social costs of their activities
6. Exploits the environment and natural resources in the absence of regulation
7. Creates business cycles and economic instability
8. Emphasizes individualism and self-interest at the expense of community and the commons
9. Encourages high consumer debt and leads to a growing financially-driven rather than producer-driven economy
10. Lets politicians and business interests collaborate to subvert the economic interests of the majority of citizens
11. Favors short-run profit planning over long-run investment planning
12. Should have regulations regarding product quality, safety, truth in advertising, and anti-competitive behavior
13. Tends to focus narrowly on GDP growth
14. Needs to bring social values, well-being, and happiness into the market equation.
Political leaders must pay attention to these very serious issues. These issues make up the common good.
Without addressing these issues, politicians will not last long in office – certainly not in a democracy.
So who exemplifies this sort of leadership today, in politics and in business?
As you know, I have been very critical of the President of the United States. We are facing a crisis in our democracy.
Across the world, we see a handful of leaders that have brought their countries to the global stage and provide real leadership.
In the political sphere, my organization, the World Marketing Summit (WMS), just presented India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the first Philip Kotler Presidential Leadership Award. The concept underlying the award is to honor a major public leader who has given new life to democracy and economic growth in that nation. A Kotler Leadership Award leader is one who:
- believes in representative government and in social justice.
- believes that a good society will build a healthy business climate.
- encourages businesses to practice the triple bottom line, namely to balance profits, people, and the planet in their deliberations.
- sincerely and wholeheartedly works for the Common Good.
On these criteria, Prime Minister Modi stood the highest. He has improved his country’s image and visibility on the global stage. A committee in the WMS voted on possible leaders given the above criteria. The final decision was mine.
I heard there has been some controversy about the award – what’s that about?
You know India has a robust democracy. The opposition to the Prime Minister started criticizing the award – which is regrettable – since the award honors India, inasmuch as it honors the PM Modi.
Unfortunately, I was not able to make the trip to India. My physician advised that I should not travel all the way to India, not just now. So I asked my lifelong friend, the distinguished Marketing Professor Jagdish Sheth, to do the honors in my place.
We are working on the Philip Kotler Business Leadership Award. I’ll let you know when we have our winner.
Thanks so much.
INTERVIEW by Christian Sarkar