Leading figures from politics, religion, and business in Horsham were grilled by students at Tanbridge House School on the relationship between leadership and morality in the business world last Friday.
The panel of Francis Maude, MP for Horsham, Gary Shipton, editor in chief of the County Times, the Rt Revd Mark Sowerby, the bishop of Horsham, Judith Harding, programme director at BT Retail Innovate & Design, and David Corcoran, head of student support and wellbeing at the University of Chichester answered questions from both students and local businesses.
Following the event’s successful launch at Tanbridge last year, students from Millais, Forest, the Weald, Davison and St Wilfrid’s were also invited to attend this year and ask questions.
“It’s the second type that has the best chance of delivering results.”
One student asked: “Should education be taken out of politics so it can’t be used as a political weapon and run by educational experts?”
Mr Corcoran answered that education experts cover a range of people and views, some of which were politicians, and while there should be some flexibility, it was important a framework and a direction was set by Government.
“I want control pushed away from the politicians towards the communities,” Mr Maude added.
“You can never take it all away from politicians as it’s funded by the taxpayer.”
But he thought that with this had to come a rigorous inspection regime, and robust transparency.
Referencing recent events in Birmingham the Rt Rev Sowerby said: “In a wider context if you have a very very local community then you can have communities that are really very severely out of sync with others in a way that our country feels is inappropriate.”
He added: “It’s about keeping a balance about what is nationally accepted by a society and what is locally accepted.”
The Rt Rev Sowerby was asked: “Do you feel the church has a role in teaching morality in schools?”
He replied: “In order for us to have any sense of morality we must first have a world view and an understanding of reality that we individually are committed to.
“Christians believe we should understand right and wrong in the light of Jesus’ life, death and teachings.”
He added: “Historically and culturally much of our laws are down to law rooted in the Christian tradition and schools must be part of that tradition.”
Mr Shipton was asked: “What is more important, is it getting good results or is it how you get results?”
He replied: “Henry Ford, who founded the Ford Motor Company, said: ‘A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business’.
“There are two types of approach in any business organisation. There are those businesses that set out with the goal of making as much money as possible, and there is the second group that has a good business idea and finds a way to make it pay.
Mrs Harding was asked: “Do you find it difficult to keep company morals when trying to bring in as much profit as possible and please the customer?”
She answered: “We do not find it difficult because all the people who work for BT are there to serve the customer and if it makes money we are not going to apologise for that. By making money we are making jobs as well.”
The panel were also asked how to create a moral code.
Mr Corcoran said: “My first thought is about how morality and ethics change. I think morality changes over time and we have these discussions continuously.”
Mr Maude agreed and pointed towards the change in attitude towards gay rights, as they had recently voted to legalise same-sex marriage in the country.
Mr Shipton added: “A local newspaper has to represent everybody and to take them where they are and not to judge them, and give them a voice.
“Respect underpins everything. That basis of respect never changes.”
At the end of the event Jules White, headteacher at Tanbridge, said: “The whole thing about morality is we have got our different views and opinions.
“I hope that you have seen from our panel how important leadership is and leadership is all about influencing people.”