In 1952, a 25-year-old mother of two young children with no formal education was thrust into one of the most challenging and privileged positions in history. 70 years later, there is a myriad of lessons to be learnt from the reign of Queen Elizabeth ll. I am no royalist, but as a businessman, I have respect for the way in which the Queen has run her ‘corporation’ for an unprecedented seven decades now.
First and foremost, to state the obvious, Her Majesty is a woman and has proved male chauvinist sceptics and doubters wrong repeatedly through the decades. After all, it took the UK almost another three decades to elect its first female Prime Minister. Paradoxically perhaps, the monarch did not always see eye-to-eye with her first female head of government, Margaret Thatcher.
Her relationship with the other 13 Prime Ministers who have served under her has been uneven, but always cordial and professional, irrespective of political stripe and persuasion. It is hard to imagine that her first Prime Minister was none other than Sir Winston Churchill and perhaps this was both a baptism of fire, but also the best possible introduction to understanding the machinations of Westminster and British parliamentary politics. To return to the point of corporate lessons and learning from her majesty’s 70-year reign, is the importance of tenacity and consistency irrespective of the difficulties one faces in one’s business career and in running companies. Relatedly, the ability or facility to deal with the widest range of people is a vital ingredient to personal, professional and corporate success.
While always dignified and often formal, her majesty has a warm personal touch with whomever she meets and interacts. She exhibits loyalty and demands loyalty in return and this has resulted in some notable friendships that have endured over the years through thick and thin. In this regard, one of her favoured friendships and indeed confidants was none other than our very own President Nelson Mandela. Indeed, their friendship blossomed to the point of being on first-name terms and exhibiting a very public mutual affection. This could only be achieved by a shared sense of duty and public service. Again, there is another lesson in one’s role as a businessman and chairman/CEO, which is to remain grounded, yet see the bigger picture and purpose in both business and life.
Despite the enormous global schisms and ruptures that have unfolded over the decades, including numerous regional wars, the fall of communism and the end of empire, the monarch has managed to hold her own multinational corporation (the commonwealth) together and she remains a revered and respected figure globally who is the envy of any global CEO.
What then is the overarching lesson the corporate world we can deduce from Her Majesty’s remarkable 70-year reign? I have enunciated a few, but for me, the primary learning is to ensure that one’s company or corporation has a defined and enduring purpose that adds real value to people’s lives day after day.