Ten years ago I issued an invitation to a group of international chief executives to join me in Charleston, South Carolina, for a discussion about the role of businesses as corporate citizens in a changing world. I had become convinced that if the skills, creativity and political and financial muscle of the business community could be harnessed in new ways, the world could, literally, become a better place to live, and I wanted to test the idea on those who could make it happen.
To my amazement, more than 100 people, from 13 countries, attended that meeting, and it quickly became apparent that I had touched a nerve. There was enthusiasm for the idea of a network of Chief Executives committed to operating responsibly, to seeking innovative partnerships, and to sharing their knowledge and experience of good practice.
In the first decade of my Business Leaders Forum, increasing numbers of Chief Executives have demonstrated that they have hearts as well as heads, social consciences as highly developed as their business instincts, and the capacity to look far beyond the next year's financial results.
The whole concept of corporate social responsibility has gained much wider acceptance and I was unsurprised that the poll of European opinion formers released today finds two thirds saying a company's reputation for social responsibility will be crucial for business success, and nearly half saying it will have a direct impact on share prices. I am sure that they are right.
Concerns about globalisation, about treatment of employees, about ethical sourcing and about the environment, with the capacity of the Internet to transmit welcome and unwelcome information to a worldwide audience, have raised the stakes. Companies concerned for their reputations know they must try to understand these new and higher expectations, to listen thoughtfully to what is being said, and to find ways of responding - with actions as well as words.
I am determined that my Business Leaders Forum should stay at the forefront. With members in more than 30 countries and a highly experienced executive team we are well placed to build on our first 10 years. We intend to carry on setting the agenda, providing a steady flow of radical approaches, tried and tested in real communities by visionary business leaders working with a wide range of governmental and non-governmental partners. We will also continue to encourage, cajole and persuade anyone who will listen of the benefits of adopting these approaches.