India's family owned firms navigate uncertain environment well says APCO's Brad Staples

It's almost a cliche to say that we live in uncertain and volatile times. This puts great pressure on CEOs to communicate. They are expected to have a view on a range of everyday issues in a world of 'insta opinion'.

Brad Staples, CEO, APCO Worldwide, was in India last week. He sat down with PRmoment India and shared his views on how the C-suite can crack this challenge. He also spoke about the shape of the new economic and political order influencing the operating environment for companies today and why saying and doing the unthinkable by leaders has been thrown out of the ''Overton Window'.

APCO globally is a women-owned business (majority shareholders are women) and has been present in India for 14 years.

CEOs:  Don't engage in day to day issues

Staples believes that some of the family businesses in India have demonstrated quite inspirational leadership in showing their commitment to the communities they work in and therefore navigating the current onslaught of social, political and economic change well.

He flags off Godrej as one such firm that demonstrates strong social engagement with issues that concern society. The India Culture Lab at Godrej, for example, regularly discusses issues around LGBTQAI. 

Staples says, "The danger is getting caught up in commenting on day to day issues. When there is a broad and diverse population, supporting and opposing a wide range of issues there is pressure on the leadership to get entangled in daily issues."

Staples recommends instead taking a sustained stand on broad issues of social and environmental good, that resonates with the community of an organisation.

The socio-political-economic operating environment for companies today 

Brad Staples points out that the last 30 years have been unusually stable in terms of economic and political trends. In the cyclical nature of such trends, Staples believes that the current period of change globally is here to stay.

He says, "There is no going back to the work defined by the Bretton Woods system. While there is consensus on the value of globalisation, what we have today is globalisation with a rich vein of nationalism."

As a result, politicians says Staples, "Are beginning to think beyond the unthinkable. Earlier, for example, BREXIT was unthinkable. It was something a small group of people talked about. Today, everything that may have been considered too sensitive is up for discussion. Facts, truth and data are all manipulated consistently. The new paradigm (for companies) is how to respond to this use of data and facts, this is critical for clients."

Tech-lash: Are the governments' more protectionist?

Staples says, "Governments and Silicon Valley are yet to find a conversation that resonates with each other and meets one another's expectations. There are developments. Many tech firms are hiring external advisors to guide them on how to handle this challenge. Google, for example, has recognised that AI needs to be regulated. If you look at surveys 90% of people believe that tech needs to be regulated. The government will drive this. However, the danger also lies in how to prevent it from stifling innovation and stopping the entrepreneurial drive."

Healthcare sector a priority

With the rolling out of the 'Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Scheme' by the Government of India, the healthcare sector is back in focus in India. The healthcare sector, socially public health, is an area of emerging communication challenges. Globally the trend is to focus on patient rights, an often neglected area in India.  

Staples said, "The healthcare work we do globally is also a core part of what we do in India as well. Working for foundations that take the most marginalised people in the community and support and help them in practical ways."

Elaborating, Staples said that globally healthcare is 25% of its' business. This includes both big pharma and local healthcare on the ground.