Every six months, or so, I manage to secure a slot in the diary of Sir Kenneth Olisa for a catch-up. Sometimes the world seems to have completely changed between our meetings. If his name doesn't ring any bells, allow me to bring you up to speed. Sir Ken is a businessman, an entrepreneur, and a philanthropist, who has founded two technology merchant banks. He was the first British-born black man to serve as a Director of a FTSE-100 company, Reuters. Over the past year, he has been busy, playing a critical role as the Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London during a pivotal transition of the monarchy. This position, with its historical roots dating back to the 16th century, involves representing the monarch at official and ceremonial occasions within Greater London.
I often find myself fielding questions about whether I've had mentors or role models who've guided me, or inspired me through my life. My parents were my role models and I've never had a formal mentor. I charted my own course, learning on the job and, quite often, from my mistakes. Yet, I must admit that my work with Sir Ken over many years, on a variety of entrepreneurial and philanthropic initiatives, has provided a form of mentorship in an informal, yet invaluable way. In the past, even a few pointed words such as, "self-pity doesn't suit you", delivered with an irritate look, have given me the kick I needed after a moan about several challenges.
To truly understand Sir Ken's journey, it's crucial to appreciate his origins. Born to a Nigerian father and a white mother, he grew up in a modest home in Nottingham before his academic ability took him to Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. He went on to carve out a name for himself in technology, consulting, and 'proper' merchant banking. When you see him in his uniform, seamlessly blending into the fabric of the establishment, remember his journey - a journey that is truly remarkable. I had a chance to visit his former college during a day out in Cambridge to see The Olisa Library This was the result of a sizeable endowment and is a testament to Sir Ken's generosity and his desire to give back and establish a lasting legacy.
History and coats of arms
Sir Ken has a coat of arms. It resonates with a simple, yet profound motto: 'Do well, do good.' A motto that we could all strive to live by and we don't need to endow a library to make a difference.
Many great, and often ruthless, entrepreneurs since the first industrial revolution and since, have supported or provided access to education, healthcare, clean water, the arts, research and better quality housing.
They've left an indelible mark with their philanthropy. and their names adorn the doors of galleries, theatres, parks, music halls, libraries, research labs, and social housing. The likes of Coutts, Cadbury, Peabody, Rowntree, Carnegie, and Rockefeller come to mind, along with contemporary philanthropists like Gates, Buffett, and Zuckerberg.
The Giving Pledge
The Giving Pledge is a movement initiated by Bill Gates, which is designed to continue the tradition of philanthropy to encourage the world's wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to charitable causes. The profiles of these modern-day philanthropists, each with a unique story, can be found hon the web site.
I have had the pleasure of spending time with British billionaire, John Caudwell, who has pledged to give away 70% of his net worth to good causes, ramping up his commitment from 50% as his wealth has increased. He has committed his life to good causes and to generating more wealth that will do good into the future.
Everyone can do good
You don't have to be a billionaire to make a difference. Whether you aspire to amass great wealth or not, you hold the power to make a significant impact. Extend your hand to those still making their way up the ladder or those who don't have a ladder at all. Share your social and financial capital. Give back, pay it forward, call it what you will - we each hold the potential to change lives, open doors, and smooth the path for others.
I do my bit, from supporting and founding charities such as the Aleto Foundation, which Sir Ken continues to chair, to donating significant sums over the years. I align myself with charities that resonate with my values, like Virgin Unite (Richard Branson is also a signatory to The Giving Pledge), known for its focus on harnessing business as a force for good.
I also strive to offer guidance and support to individuals, hoping to improve their life trajectory or business, even if it means spending just 20 minutes chatting with someone who has reached out to me, or making a helpful connection via email.
If you are doing well, are you doing good?
I urge you to consider extending a helping hand to those with limited or no access to capital, support, or networks, as a way to enhance social mobility within society. Your passion may lie elsewhere and could be the climate or supporting access to clean water in remote villages. You can always make a difference and remember that the view from the top is so much more rewarding when we can share it with others. As I was reading John Caudwell’s pledge letter to The Giving Pledge, one sentence in particular struck me: “My message to those who have not yet found philanthropy is that they may well find it becomes a drug that gives far more pleasure than the creation of wealth.”
In the weeks ahead, I encourage you to reflect on Sir Ken’s motto: 'Do well, do good.' Let it serve as a beacon, inspiring you to make a positive difference in the world, irrespective of how big or small that contribution may be. Each act of kindness, each act of giving back, ripples out into the world, creating a cascade of change. And remember, as we navigate through our own lives, the greatest legacy we can leave behind is not just the wealth we accumulate, but the difference we make in the lives of others.