A corporation actively involved in efforts to improve society

The occasion that prompted us to interview Titan’s managing director Theodoros Papalexopoulos was the choice of «corporate social responsibility» as the main theme of the cement company’s celebration of its first 100 years in business. Titan chose an employee-centered management strategy decades ago, when very few businessmen appeared to embrace the idea of «peaceful labor relations» as a result of anything but coercion. Titan has provided organized social services for its employees for over 35 years, through the presence of social counselors, complementary insurance programs, preventive medicine programs extended to personnel family members and career advisory services. It has been a pioneering company in Greece in this respect. Papalexopoulos also served as president of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV)in the 1980s. many believed that his time there marked a turning point in SEV’s economic and political interventions. What can corporate social responsibility achieve at a time of great uncertainty for businesses? There are several kinds of uncertainties: financial, currency, technological, commercial, political and social, not to mention the recent security issues arising from heightened terrorist activity. There is no recipe for dealing with all of them. The entrepreneurs and the managers must be quick to distinguish the new dangers, as well as the new trends, in order to apply a strategy that will minimize the negative consequences of a severely disrupted equilibrium. The main reason we chose corporate social responsibility in the events commemorating Titan’s 100 years was the fact that we see negative developments in certain social phenomena appearing on a global scale. The problems we are going to face – mass immigration, persistent unemployment, widening and ever-so-provocative inequalities – will be on such a scale that traditional political means, and traditional administrative practices, will be inadequate to solve them. Everyday life problems are already growing on such a scale that we need the efforts of the whole of society to tackle them. The business community, made up of the most innovative and effective elements in society, must make its own contribution in the collective effort, in cooperation with civil society. The vision of sustainable development will not be possible without corporate social responsibility. What we need, then, is for all businesses to incorporate this notion of responsibility in their business vision, much as they have incorporated employee rights and environmental protection. Currently, corporate social responsibility is urged on businesses by all big international organizations, such as the United Nations. In the future, all of society will demand it of us. For this reason, the European Union declared 2005 to be the Year of Corporate Social Responsibility. What is the practical side to all this? There are three main categories. First, a company may choose to contribute toward a certain activity and sponsor it. We, for example, have been extensively involved with tree planting. We have given trees to local authorities and charity institutions, but also to interested private citizens. Second, a company may contribute knowledge. Over the past two years, Titan has led a campaign in the city of Patras on accident prevention in schools. As you know, the law only obliges corporations and public contractors to declare accidents; nobody else, not even in tourist enterprises. We found out that little is done on accident prevention in schools. When we asked: «What does a teacher do in case of an accident?» the reply was «Whatever God guides him to do.» When we began the campaign, we had decided to train 12 teachers, so that they, in turn, could train others. Because of the large demand, we ended up training 112. We also surveyed school buildings’ deficiencies and contributed toward upgrading them. This is an example of how corporate initiatives can help ameliorate problems. We are also considering giving local authority officials the chance to follow the thematic seminars reserved for our managers. Titan is probably the only Greek enterprise with a «social budget.» What are the benefits of this move? Titan first drew up a social budget 20 years ago, along with a few other enterprises. At that point, Greek companies were the target of intensely negative criticism, most of it unwarranted, in our opinion. So, we had to find a way to communicate our views to society, in a transparent and responsible manner. We also wanted to emphasize the increasing importance of the human factor in enterprises. Transparency has a number of benefits. It imposes self-discipline in an enterprise and gradually transfers the enterprise’s thinking to its cadres and the society as a whole. I will not answer your question about the results of this effort. It is up to society to do so.