Why social purpose is essential to business success
Corporate leader Jane McAloon has a definitive social purpose to her work, and in her latest contribution to Monash she’s honoured the people most important to her.
It’s what Monash University stands for – its outlook and attitude – that have underpinned Jane McAloon’s working life ever since she graduated in 1988 with a Bachelor of Economics, and in 1991 with a Bachelor of Laws.
The University’s focus on social purpose through its teaching has informed her roles through the corporate world, from AGL and BHP to the boards of Energy Australia and Viva Energy, and with corporate advisory firm Brunswick, where she advises on governance and corporate resilience.
“When I moved to the private sector from government, it was really important that I could find a social purpose in the work I was doing,” she says. “And I’ve stayed interested in natural resources and energy for many years, because without it the economy can’t function and people can’t have the essentials in life. It’s absolutely basic to everything we do, and there’s substantial social purpose in that.”
To be successful in the energy or other sectors, a company needs to truly understand the reason it exists, she says. This fundamental purpose will be, for example, solving issues or meeting the needs of customers or communities where its business operates.
“I’m really proud to be associated with what the University stands for. It’s pushing boundaries, but still has a really strong sense of social justice and contribution at its core."
“Just having a purpose around making money isn’t enough to sustain a business,” she says. “You have relationships with customers, communities and employees who have expectations about the kind of organisation you are – one that truly understands what it means to place them at the centre of everyday business decision-making. It isn’t sustainable if customer service or a commitment to understanding impacts on others is not core to the values of your business.”
And it’s an attitude instilled in her by Monash that McAloon believes has only grown under the University’s current governance, led by Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner – an approach that has encouraged her to become involved with her alma mater on a number of levels.
“I’m really proud to be associated with what the University stands for,” she says. “It’s pushing boundaries, but still has a really strong sense of social justice and contribution at its core.”
McAloon is chair of the Monash University Foundation Trust and a member of the Monash Industry Council of Advisers. She was a graduation speaker in 2017, and is also involved with her two former faculties – serving on the external advisory committee for the law school, and giving the keynote address at the business school’s 2019 Celebrating Excellence Awards.
And as a regular participant in the annual Monash Global Leaders’ Summit, she’s a witness to the University’s outward focus – its dynamism in bringing together alumni from around the world with current students and staff to share knowledge and tackle global issues with novel ideas and innovations.
“I’ve walked back into the Monash world, and it’s more sophisticated. It’s still got its purpose of academic endeavour and research, but it’s just so socially focused, and it’s really energising,” she says. “It’s a very ‘happening’ kind of place.”
Now, in her latest contribution, McAloon is giving back on a personal level, taking not one, but three seats in the Alexander Theatre’s Take a Seat campaign.
The initiative invites people to buy a seat in the newly refurbished Alexander Theatre, their contribution honoured with a personal plaque on the back of their chair. For $1000, donors not only support the development of works to be staged in the iconic and much-loved theatre, but dedicate their seat to someone with a personalised, permanent message.
“I think it’s just a lovely idea to create a connection between ‘the Alex’ – that was so important to me at Monash – and the most important people in my life.”
That connection between the arts and the people close to her is reflected in the dedications she’s made on each of her seats. For her mother, Aileen Canning, an accomplished pianist, there’s A Musical Life. Her father, Leo Canning, a Monash alumnus with a master’s in education and a passion for painting, has Rhapsody in Blue, named after one of his artworks and the iconic Gershwin jazz concerto that inspired it. And, for her partner, Dieter Kahsnitz, there’s Rock On – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, in honour of the AC/DC classic. “Bon Scott is his hero,” McAloon says. “He has a tattoo of those words on his arm.”
McAloon says the campaign is an inspired initiative, acknowledging people who have made a contribution in a personalised and lasting way. “The Alexander Theatre is a wonderful resource and has been an institution at Monash for a long, long time,” she says. “And this is a good way of raising money for it and making people feel connected.”