Corporate Eye

The Best is Understated

The 1968 comedy caper “Hot Millions” is something of an unsung movie.

The plot is relatively straightforward. On his release from prison a convicted embezzler joins a huge multinational conglomerate, where he proceeds to hack the computer and embezzle still more money.

This makes it the first movie to feature computer hacking and to this day it remains one of the best. It also makes embezzlement pretty exciting to watch, no easy feat given the slow drip-drip process the crime usually involves.

However, no matter how much enjoyable it is to see an emotionless box of logic circuits being taken for a ride, the film’s real star is the embezzler himself: Peter Ustinov.

Here is a great British actor at the height of his talents, indulging himself shamelessly in the casual, almost careless throwaway understatement which remained his trademark throughout his career.

The website of Johnson Matthey, the only Chemicals company in the FTSE 100, is reminiscent of Peter Ustinov. Initially understated it hides a talent which is truly exciting once fully revealed.

Forward to 2017!
A good example of the website’s straightforward and unfussy manner is how you can be reading about a whole range of sustainability subjects within a single click of the homepage.

For instance, there’s direct access to many of their policies, stretching from Environment, Health & Safety and Employment to Business Integrity and Ethics. There’s also the sustainability reports since 2003 and news about charitable donations.

In addition, there’s an intriguing item titled “Sustainability 2017”. There are many well known dates marked on the sustainability calendar, but not 2017. Is there some momentous milestone that the rest of the sustainability movement has somehow missed?

Ambition and Commitment
Well, yes and no. 2017 is the 200th Anniversary of the company’s foundation. To mark this milestone, the company announced in December 2007 that they would set themselves the following “challenging and long term” targets:

  • produce zero waste across all operations
  • halve resource use per unit produced
  • double shareholder returns

These show a remarkable understanding of the meaning of sustainability and demonstrate that an increase in efficiency and an elimination of waste can be interwoven with increased financial performance.

This straightforward yet committed approach to sustainability continues in the company’s recently released annual report, which is available in both HTML and PDF formats.

One statutory part of an annual report is the Business Review. This is defined in several pieces of legislation, with companies allowed a certain degree of flexibility when deciding how much to include in it.

Johnson Matthey compare favourably with Royal Dutch Shell, who are often touted as a leader within British sustainability reporting. Each devotes 23% of their Business Review to sustainability issues, far beyond the statutory requirement.

The Best Is Yet To Come
However the most interesting aspect of Johnson Matthey’s Business Review is contained in the final paragraph. This stated that data in the next sustainability report, due out in July 2008, would be independently verified.

The company has been reporting against the GRI standard since 2005 and last year self-verified at application level B. If this level was maintained and independently verified it would move the company to level B+.

Out of 95 companies who report at this level or higher across the world, only two are UK based: Barclays and BP. Johnson Matthey will soon be in a position to strike for the front in UK sustainability reporting.

So, while the website may not have the glitz or be as analyst friendly as others, the company’s resolve is plain for all to see. The years to 2017 should bring out the best in this business, turning understatement into exceptional success.

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A former CTO, Chris has a broad and varied background. He’s been involved with blue chips, consultancies & SMEs across a wide variety of sectors and has worked in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. In 2007 he decided to combine his knowledge of business and IT with his passion for all things sustainable and has been busy writing ever since. However, his greatest ambition remains to brew the perfect cup of coffee.

Hi Chris,

I’m trying to brand myself and my website (in development.) I sent the link. Your article “The Best is Understated,” was enjoyable, insightful and helpful. Can you please recommend a book on branding for a sole-proprietor, consultancy?
Thank you. Best wishes.


Hi Linda

We think that the best books on marketing and branding for anyone trying to learn are:

Kellogg on Branding
The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Alan Ries and Laura Ries
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Alan Ries and Jack Trout
Foundations of Marketing (by Jonathan Groucutt)

We wish you all the best with your new site and with your business.

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