At our 2018 HR Awards on 19 July, Greg Solomon – CEO of McDonald’s SA – gave a frank and heartfelt Keynote Speech that resonated with all present long after the night, as it articulated the power of culture to build unity in both business and our society. Greg’s speech in full:

“So let’s start off with the world we currently live in.

As we face economic and social difficulties, as we confront the harsh realities of change and as we grapple to balance competing needs, our national unity is starting to fracture, our identity is starting to fade and our society is starting to polarise.

These fractures manifest themselves in different ways; sometimes race and religion, sometimes
it’s rich versus poor; sometimes it’s the ruler and the people and sometimes it’s the students and teachers. As we shout at one another, as we hurl insults, humiliate each other and inflict pain the cracks grow wider, the differences become more glaring and the bonds that have held us together weaken. It often not one thing, it’s the thousand little things that don’t get our attention.

The point of leading is not to cross the finish line first.
It’s to take people across the finish line with you.

And as employers and organisations we are no different – except that we are a smaller ecosystem of a larger issue. Those that will stand out will have been able to unlock the power of people working together for a common purpose and not for the direct trade and sales they are employed for.

This led us to study culture in our business intensely and to place it at the centre of our strategy, which we soon learned was one of the most misunderstood and under-documented principles.

We are now leveraging it as our competitive advantage. Strategy is about choices, however culture is about the way we do things. What makes a strong business culture is the differences of our characters; the diversity of our backgrounds and skills – but also the similarities of our beliefs and values. That is the power of a culture. The power to repair the imbalances.

The voices of doom are starting to take centre-stage and the dream of a successful rainbow nation, a peaceful world, looks more like a mirage every day. Critics and sceptics alike are starting to fall over themselves to pronounce our beautiful country a ‘failed state’; our world a ‘broken, unsustainable world’. In such an environment, it may seem safer to remain quiet, a passenger, or what I call passive aggressive; below the radar screen. But this is not the right thing to do.

The harsh reality is that these are our challenges, our common problems. Problems that we have the opportunity to solve. This is our country and each one of us has to play a role in building this society. I have a role to play – as a citizen, as a father, as a husband, as a leader and as a member of my community. Silence, indifference and lack of interest would be a betrayal of my upbringing, my beliefs and my aspirations for this great land – and certainly a betrayal to the people of this country.

This is our country and each one of us has to play a role in building this society.

I am not talking about giving an opinion, complaining from the sidelines; I’m talking about acting, doing and getting on with building this nation, and our business relationships. Responsibility for me is a ‘privilege’ and not an ‘obligation’.

Learning to successfully lead yourself is one of the most important things you’ll ever do as a leader. The point of leading is not to cross the finish line first; it’s to take people across the finish line with you. Leaders – and human capital leaders in particular – must be the catalyst to harvest cultural champions. It is not a policy, not a procedure, nor a manual … it’s simply the shadow we leave every day. A rosebud contains all the petals of the opened rose, but a rose in full bloom is far more beautiful than a bud, just like culture is to strategy.

So it’s clear to me that the power of a team with shared values and culture can accomplish much more than many brilliant individuals alone. Our journey continues, with learning along the way.

One step at a time, closer and closer to the perfect combination of success, alignment and pride. Maybe a common vision, maybe a common goal – but certainly a common purpose.”