What does sustainability mean to BSkyB?
Sustainability is the way you build a business for the long term. We have to be sustainable; not over dependent on any one thing. And we have to create a brand that people can trust. I grew up in Proctor & Gamble and their customers trust their products. I sit on the board of Marks & Spencers – and their customers trust their brand. That has been built up over a long period and there has been an ethos in the business that has allowed that to happen. In a world where the pace of change is so much more rapid, trust is going to be an ever increasing dimension to customer choice.
How much of Sky’s Bigger Picture sustainability programme is your personal vision?
A lot of it. But it’s not my vision uniquely; it’s a journey shared at all levels of the company. I work closely with our chairman, James Murdoch, who believes in it. And we have elevated sustainability to board level, so it’s on the agenda. We all want to work for businesses that we are proud of and that we think have a bigger contribution to play. Employees respond to that.
Can that happen without leadership?
No. It has to be led from the top. But it has to be authentic and reaffirmed all the time.Surely, not all of your 17,000 staff have bought into this though. So, how do you sell your vision? A lot of communication. You’ve got to get out on the stump and talk to people. You have to engage and explain. As a business gets bigger and more complex, the idea that you can develop a rulebook for 17,000 people in Sky is futile; you can’t. But we have a strong set of values, that is going to be much more effective in putting people in the right place, as opposed to being over prescriptive about what any individual does or thinks.
What about your customers? Do they care about sustainability?
Yes. That’s not to say you can say, ‘You know what, we are going to give you a sub-standard service that is too expensive – but hey, we’re doing some great stuff on the environment’. The business has to be efficient and people are only going to transact with us if they like the products and services we offer. But people are increasingly looking towards brands they can trust. But just as with employees, we have to communicate to them and explain what we’re doing. We have to back that up. And we have to help them understand the issues and encourage them to participate themselves. We do not have a huge environmental footprint, due to the nature of our business. But we are a big communications business, so we can explain the issues and get people involved in a very powerful way. Take the Rainforest Rescue programme, for example. We’ve created a campaign with to say, ‘Here is a big issue, let’s bring it to life, you can get involved, and if you do we’ll match what you do’. It’s a mixture of long-term direction in communication, backed up with lots of short term practical actions that bring it to life and turn ambition into progress.
What is ultimately driving the Bigger Picture?
A belief in building a business for the long term. Success for us is not just good for Sky, it’s good for the environment and communities in which we live and work. When I ultimately hand Sky on to somebody else, I want it to be in a better place than it is today. Part of that will be about business results. But it will be stronger, more durable and have more capability than it did in the past. If I can do that, I’ll be satisfied.
How do you decouple your desire for reaching more and more homes, with your impact on the planet?
We’re going to resist short-termism and start to think about growth with a medium-term lens. We don’t particularly chase quarterly numbers because we’re a long-term subscription based business, so we think more broadly than that. But we always fall on the side of what’s right for the long term. Take our Sky News business, which is scaled for the normal pace of operation. But we’ve just had two huge global news events happening at the same time – in Japan and the Middle East. It is absolutely right that we report those in the right way. That will cost us more to do so, of course. Was that in our forecast three weeks ago? No.
What about your shareholders? Do they get it?
I think they get it. They are challenging and they want to understand the rationale and you have to communicate it. The proportion of shareholders that are purely short term is quite small and they come and go anyway. So if you’re overly focused on that, you’ll bounce all over the place.
Do you feel a weight of responsibility on your shoulders to create a sustainable business?
Yes. And that’s one of the reasons I work for a business like Sky. If you look back on your career, only a part of the memories will be about financial performance. It will be much more satisfying to say I’ve created a business that was good for the broader environment in which I worked.
Why aren’t we seeing the pace of change we need across business?
It requires a leap of faith. It’s difficult to analyse your way through things like this; you’ve got to really believe in it. The demands of performance are not getting any easier either; that is relentless and it’s easy to get trapped by that. For a lot of smaller businesses, it’s difficult to know where to start. But they just need to get going. Don’t overcomplicate it and you’ll be surprised at what you learn.
How do you prioritise your efforts?
The mistake is to do too much across too broad a front because it’s hard to get momentum behind that. We’ve looked at things that are relevant to our customers and relevant to our business. We’re doing a lot of work in schools, using the Sky Sports brand to work with young kids who have behavioural issues – and using sport to get them back on track. We’re also trying to work with large arts organisations and community arts projects in the UK to help bring the arts to more people.
Do these initiatives play into your own personal interests?
Not really. They are driven corporately. If these initiatives are there just because the CEO has an interest in them, they may sustain while the CEO is around, but as soon as he disappears they will fall away. We are doing a huge amount in cycling – supporting the British Olympic team in elite cycling and we’ve created our own road team – but I don’t particularly cycle.
Is it expensive to support these things?
Yes. We’re spending tens of millions every year. We want to keep investing more. At the same time, The Bigger Picture is also delivering lots of savings – efficiency savings from our environmental projects are saved and re-spent in doing more environmental work, creating a cycle that builds. But there’s also a lot of intangible value. It may not manifest itself as pounds, shillings and pence in the short term – but there’s lots of things we do that work like that.
You became the world’s first CarbonNeutral media company in 2006. Is that important to you?
The goal is to get more efficient and to reduce our carbon footprint in absolute terms – a real challenge for us given that we are growing so quickly. There has been a lot of noise about offsets – and a lot of it is just that: noise.
So, is the CarbonNeutral badge no longer important?
The [CarbonNeutral] badge is not a primary motivator or primary way in which we will communicate. We prefer to talk, explain and touch people. For our new broadcast facility [the Harlequin 1, in London], we’ve put in place a schools programme and we think we’re get 12,000 kids through it every year. It’s about bringing them in to Sky and showing them how we go about creating, editing and sharing TV in the modern world. It’s about reaching out to local communities and bringing to life how we built the building, and extract the heat from the studios and use it to heat the rest of building, or vent it away so that it’s naturally cooled. That is a much more powerful way of communicating.
What do you hope to have achieved by the time you leave your CEO position?
At whatever point I leave Sky, I’ll not stop caring about Sky. It’s a really great thing when a business has momentum; you want to keep fuelling that. It’s a bit like rolling a big boulder; it’s a lot easier when it’s moving. When it stops, it can be difficult to get going again. You want to have an appetite for change and improvement that exists all the time. That is what keeps the business on the front foot.
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