Book Review:
Succeed or Sink: Business Sustainability under Globalisation
Editors: Rowley, C., Saha, J.M. & Ang, D.

Rowley, C., Saha, J.M. & Ang, D. (2012). Succeed or Sink: Business Sustainability under Globalisation Chandos Publishing, UK

Reviewed by: Shaun Ridley

Sustainability is rapidly becoming one of the most overused and least understood phrases in business. For many it is a catch cry for being environmentally responsible whilst others adopt a more holistic perspective of a whole of business view of long term success. Fortunately, the authors of this volume have taken the latter position, and have delivered a wide ranging analysis of how organisations in Singapore view this complex phenomenon.

The authors have compiled a diverse range of case studies from 50 organisations of varying sizes, origins and industries. This rich collection adds credibility to the work and offers a connection for the reader who can identify their own organisation in a number of the cases. The blending of the case studies with details of the research methodology makes the work part research paper and part business book. However, it is written in a very readable style and follows the author’s journey from research to practical application to models of implementation with ease.

The key premise of the book is illustrated by the average life expectancy of organisations being 12 to 15 years, despite some organisations surviving for many hundreds of years. This life expectancy figure is further challenged by economic downturns such as the 2008 global financial crisis that put extra pressure on organisations. Businesses cannot help, but focus on sustainable business practices with this knowledge and with the inevitable unforeseen circumstances that confront every organisation. It is this dual dilemma of managing for today, whilst preparing for tomorrow, that forms the core definition of sustainable. Included in this approach is a focus on the triple bottom lines of economic, social and environmental sustainability.

A great strength and possible weakness of the book is the focus on organisations in Singapore. The stunning success of Singapore as an economic and social powerhouse of Asia (and possibly the world) means many would all like to learn more about the secrets of their success. As an island nation with no natural resources other than a rich cultural mix and the intellect and talents of its people, Singapore has achieved remarkable results for several decades. But the interwoven tapestry of factors that make up this success makes it difficult to isolate individual success factors and makes it difficult to generalise the factors in such a way that could see them implemented in other countries. The authors have recognised this potential shortcoming and have chosen a number of organisations for their study who have foreign parent ownership in Europe, the USA or elsewhere in Asia. That said, the key measures taken by the case study organisations to respond to the global financial crisis would be very consistent with most organisations around the world. Cost management, customer focus, talent management, innovation, learning and development and environmental scanning would be on every leaders list. However, the uniqueness of the business and social culture of Singapore cannot be ignored because this nation’s drive and accountability during the implementation of these measures would rival any country on earth.

The authors suggest a series of strategic, financial and operational assessments enable organisations to position themselves on a Global Sustainability Continuum (GSC). It is upon viewing this continuum that readers are reminded of the complexity of the sustainability concept. The five levels in the continuum are 1. Not Sustainability Aware, 2. Compliance Driven, 3. Cost/Reputation Driven, 4. Competitive Advantage Driven, and 5. Sustainability Leader. It could be argued that this continuum is not linear because each step is made up of a number of dimensions that may or may not be linked to the two points on either side. However, what the continuum does do is encourage organisations to evaluate their sustainability position and to implement measures to improve their position prior to any currently unforeseen events.

Concern over organisational sustainability is here to stay. Individual organisations, industry/professional associations and government regulators around the world are keenly interested in supporting and preserving their business successes. Succeed or Sink adds to the body of knowledge for all these groups and provides a useful catalyst for action to move forward as a more sustainable society.

Dr Shaun Ridley
Deputy Chief Executive Officer
Australian Institute of Management
Western Australia