How can business navigate the twin pillars of profit and purpose? That was the focus of a special gathering last week, when senior leaders from Social Business Trust’s corporate partners and other businesses came together for a Purposeful Leadership Masterclass.

Attendees, including representatives from Clifford Chance, EY, Getronics and Thomson Reuters, heard from business leaders and academics about the future of business and its role in the 21st century.

Professor Colin Mayer from Said Business School, Oxford, shared insights from his work on The Future of the Corporation and Prince Max von und zu Liechtenstein, CEO of LGT Lightstone, spoke about his work backing innovative business models across the world.

The Masterclass was run by SBT Trustee Simon Milton, Founder of Pulse and hosted by fellow Trustee Michael Crossan, Partner at Clifford Chance, with proceeds from the event going to SBT.

Participants reflected on their personal passions and how those related to their organisation’s purpose, before joining roundtable discussions about what navigating profit and purpose means in practice for different stakeholders.

Conversations continued with a lively group discussion with panellists including: Cheryl Potter, Partner at Permira and Chair of the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association; Lord Stone of Blackheath, Chair of DIPEx and former joint Managing Director of Marks & Spencer; and Karl Havers, Partner, EY and leader of the Long Term Value project, helping businesses shift their focus from short-term performance.

They were joined by SBT CEO Adele Blakebrough MBE, who said that charities are strong on purpose but often lacking business expertise, whilst commercial businesses must ensure their adoption of purpose is authentic: “Built-in cynicism in products and services will be called out.”

Cheryl Potter said she was optimistic about the future of business because: “Today’s consumers are focused on doing the right thing. If you don’t have a purpose, they don’t want to buy from you.”

Lord Stone explained that the whole purpose of M&S had been to make people happy and he suggested that, alongside directors, boards should have trustees “who look after the soul of the business.”

Adele Blakebrough said: “It was brilliant to be part of an important debate with a thoughtful and influential group. We’re grateful to Simon and Mike for organising the Masterclass and to everyone who made it such a success.”