For bank CEO Mervyn Davies, the choice was clear: either stop Standard Chartered bank from bleeding money or get ready for a takeover.
The company was a perennial takeover target. Its own employees described it as “average.” Ask 10 different executives about company priorities, and you’d get 10 different answers.
That’s when Davies and CFO Peter Sands did a thorough portfolio review of every operation in every country to get the company’s finances in order.
Then Davies and Sands reviewed the company’s charitable giving activities, as well. Unusual, yes. But the move allowed the two leaders to refocus the company on a large-scale initiative that could span every country in which the bank operated.
Result? On the bank’s 150th anniversary, Davies launched the “Seeing Is Believing” campaign to combat preventable blindness.
Initially, the goal was to raise enough funds to restore the sight of 28,000 people. The project raised double the amount needed. So they went for raising a million dollars. They hit that goal, too. Now they’re going for $10 million.
As it turns out, surpassing the charitable goal allowed employees to see the bank’s business potential. It was no longer “average.”
By concentrating resources, being focused, and being ambitious, people across the bank realized Standard Chartered could do the same in its businesses.
That’s why, when Davies and Sands fashioned a long-term, highly ambitious vision of where the international bank would go, it wasn’t hard for employees to imagine that they could succeed in getting there.
The approach worked. In 2009, when the rest of the financial industry faced a crisis of legitimacy, Standard Chartered was raising its standing, increasing its overall lending and handing out small and midsize business loans.
Today, the bank’s motto says it all: “Here for good.”
— Adapted from “The Higher-Ambition Leader,” Nathaniel Foote, Russell Eisenstat and Tobias Fredberg, Harvard Business Review.