“The act of willing refers to the self”

Alexander Pfander

To will is to want. A company is a universe of acts of will. What does this mean? Let’s break it down by word. Act relates to action; a company is a living organism that acts. However, it is not the company that acts but rather the people that comprise it. A company gains substance and a place on the map when its people act in unison. In a passage from the treatise Of the Social Contract, Rousseau makes a critical distinction between what truly constitutes the will of a group of people. While the general will looks out for the common good, the will of all looks out for private interests and is simply the sum of these competing interests. When dealing with the will of all, the content or scope of the agents’ objectives is necessarily narrow or limited and, moreover, there is no coordination to bring about their delivery. When dealing with the general will, however, the overriding objective is the common good and everyone cooperates to achieve it.

In today’s businesses, things tend to operate taking the will of all approach. And many believe that this is an acceptable model or even the best of the alternatives. At the end of the day, just as there is an ‘invisible hand’ in the economy that mobilises private interests and maximises output, this hand is also at play at companies to maximise profit. At a group such as N+1, the managing partners are duty-bound to shape and nurture a culture in which the general will comes to the fore. There is nothing more harmful for a company such as ours than the imposition of private interests or the prevalence of conduct such as the free-rider phenomenon whereby certain individuals seek to share in the rewards of an organisation united around a common goal but are not willing to put in the work or make the sacrifices this entails.

Lastly, the will cannot be directed at the abstract, an act of will must have a target. In the case of the universe of acts of will that comprises a company, that target is its common good. In our capitalist world, the common good is typically defined as the maximisation of profit (or, to put it another way, the maximisation of shareholders value). Here again we stumble across a core underlying problem, one which is increasingly sparking dissonance and contradiction in the world of business. First of all, maximisation implies a limit, a ceiling, and this is incompatible with the business spirit. Secondly, it refers to a very narrowly-defined limit, usually profit or the worth of the company’s owners. Lastly, and most importantly, the attitude of constantly maximising is simply inhuman, it implies an attitude of constant calculation, obsessive use of cost-benefit analysis in all decision-making, and it ends up blunting our ability to evaluate, to reflect or to tap our emotions, all of which are important to a company’s conduct and decisions.

“The company we want to be has as its common goal that of creating sufficient value on a sustainable basis for our customers, shareholders, partners and professionals”

The company we want to be has as its common goal that of creating sufficient value on a sustainable basis for our customers, shareholders, partners and professionals. In so doing we will also create wealth for society. And we want to articulate this general will around three cornerstones: international expansion, specialisation and scale. The three are mutually beneficial. By offering increasingly specialised services and products we add more value for our customers and build scale. Greater scale facilitates further international expansion, and this benefits our service standards and customers. These factors combine to make the company more attractive to our human capital and that makes it easier to attract talent, creativity and diversity (partners and professionals of 15 different nationalities currently work for our group).

Well then, we have merged N+1 and Dinamia in order to achieve all of the above. We have added two key instruments to our ambitious investment banking and asset management endeavours: a stock market listing and capital. Our two companies combine almost 35 years in existence. At this important juncture, therefore, we would like to thank all of you whom have supported us during this time: customers, investors, partners and shareholders, professionals, suppliers, institutions, the media, indeed everyone who has worked with us. Our project has been institutionalised and that was our intention from the outset. Now we must remain true to our culture, principles and strategic objectives and implement the new combined strategic plan.