Covering the period 1 September 2007 to 30 June 2009
Message from the Managing Director
The period covered by our second sustainability report was one of growth and challenge for ACCSR.
At the beginning of the reporting period, the business environment for CSR looked more positive than at any time since the emergence of CSR as a management philosophy in this country. The ASX Corporate Governance Principles had just published its second revision, which promoted a broader understanding of responsibility, ethics and risk. The Corporations and Markets Advisory Committee and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Financial Services had both recently published reports making it very plain that CSR is a legitimate and necessary element of good organisational management and governance.
Then the Rudd Government was elected in November 2007. I was hopeful that given the Government’s interest while in Opposition in the responsible business agenda, that sustainability reporting could receive a much-needed boost from Government initiatives. It was a time of optimism, and in 2008 we geared up for the rush of companies wanting more CSR training, more CSR research and strategy services, and more sustainability reporting.
We hired new staff, invested heavily in training and development and engaged the staff in planning a growth strategy. However, our growth strategy was difficult to implement. Transitioning from start-up to an established boutique consulting firm meant that I spent much more time working “on” the business rather than “in” the business. Margins suffered and some of the proposed growth areas proved elusive or unprofitable.
Then the Global Financial Crisis hit. Workshop bookings flattened and even though consulting business grew faster than ever, our costs were escalating even more. We started the reporting period with three staff and grew to seven just before the GFC. The challenge of juggling rapid but uneven growth in a volatile environment led to ultimately to the difficult decision to reduce staff to five and refocus on our core services of training, strategy, stakeholder research and sustainability reporting.
Despite the challenges, there were many highlights during this period. Foremost among them was developing a partnership with La Trobe University Graduate School of Management. Our first project was to help develop Australia’s first university qualification in CSR, the Graduate Certificate in Corporate Responsibility. This is a great step forward in the professionalisation of CSR as a management function in Australia.
We worked with some wonderful clients. We refined our consulting solutions for developing strategy, reporting services and stakeholder network analysis, with very satisfying results for our clients. Our stakeholder research for Alcoa of Australia was presented at an international conference in 2009 and Toyota Australia won an award from ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) for its 2008 Sustainability Report following our work on it.
We provided training for hundreds of managers through an expanded workshop program and continued to run a very successful annual conference. We continued to work with our highly respected international faculty and associates, Paul Hohnen, Dr Robert Boutilier and Ann Svendsen and we established a new program with another leading international expert, Dr Sanjay Sharma.
We built on the success of our 2007 report, Working in CSR: The Role of the CSR Manager (PDF), to launch The State of CSR in Australia Annual Review in 2009, Australia’s largest study into integrating CSR into organisational strategy.
We were recognised by BRW Magazine as one of Australia’s Top 100 “Fast Starters” in 2008. Participating in BRW’s award process made me realise that ACCSR’s business challenges were often associated with our developmental stage as a small business and reaffirmed my confidence in our long term goal of contributing to the success of our clients through corporate social responsibility services.
We provided excellent opportunities for our staff, including attendance at external training such as social network theory at the University of Melbourne and AA1000 training in London. All staff had the chance to work on career-enhancing complex projects with a high level of responsibility and autonomy.
In the next reporting period, we have some ambitious goals. We will continue investing in staff and provide excellent opportunities for career development. We will review the business structure and plan with an eye to facilitating further growth and retaining high-performing staff. We will continue to seek performance improvements in our consulting and training work.
Our aim is to create lasting value through responsible business strategies and productive stakeholder relationships. In the next reporting period, our strong and continuing focus will be on delivering this value for clients, workshop participants, partners, employees, suppliers and shareholders.
Dr Leeora D. Black