Bitc prepares for new era as Cleverdon steps asideMarch 2008
Julia Cleverdon, one of the UK’s most prominent figures in corporate social responsibility, stepped down this month from her post as head of Business in the Community.
Cleverdon was at the helm of Bitc for 16 years during a period of significant expansion. With 350 staff, 800 corporate members and an annual income of £23.3million ($46m), Bitc is now the world’s largest CSR-related membership organization in terms of staff numbers.
Cleverdon, recently listed by The Times newspaper as one of the 50 most influential women in Britain, will be replaced by her Bitc colleague Stephen Howard, but EP understands she will retain a role as a vice president, spending up to three days a week on various projects. This will allow Cleverdon to devote more time to her new role as a member of the UK prime minister’s National Council for Educational Excellence.
Howard joined Bitc as managing director in 2005 and has experience at the highest level of business. A lawyer by training, he is a former chief executive of Cookson Group, the US-based metals corporation, and of Novar, a global manufacturing company acquired by Honeywell in 2005. His appointment follows eight years as a national partner of Bitc’s Business Action on Homelessness initiative. Born in Massachusetts, he now holds dual US and UK citizenship.
His style is likely to be more sober and low-key than Cleverdon, 57, who is known for her brisk, energetic approach.
David Grayson, head of the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility and an associate director of Bitc, told EP: ‘Julia used her charm and ability as a brilliant networker to get chief executives to pay attention, whereas Stephen’s advantage will be that he can say to business leaders: “I’ve been there myself as a CEO”. Julia is wonderfully effervescent and larger than life, and while Stephen has a forceful personality he is not forceful in the same kind of way.’
Grayson was recently commissioned by Bitc to assess the organization’s first 25 years and has identified a number of priority areas for Howard to consider.
Although his report says Bitc has been ‘a remarkably successful change-agent’ and has ‘helped to institutionalize and mainstream the practice of corporate responsibility’, it warns the organization has ‘sometimes been slow to spot new trends’ particularly as it has grown.
While the focus on local, grassroots community projects is ‘commendable’, Grayson’s report notes that ‘some members may be tempted to get involved in a Bitc programme as the easy option rather than as a precursor to business-wide change’. He argues that ‘the time is now right for the organization to be tougher’ on its members.
The report recommends that Bitc work more with other bodies, including consultancies, to help ‘drive a step change in overall business behaviour’ and suggests that the change of leadership will ‘inevitably prompt fresh examination of…strategy and priorities’.
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