“The value of stewardship” by Cirilo P. Noel (December 20, 2010)

Suits The C-Suite By Cirilo P. Noel
Business World (12/20/2010)

Over time, the meaning of the word, “steward,” has evolved to encompass several characteristics given a particular situation. Whatever the situation may be, the one, true basic characteristic that defines a steward is responsibility with focus on “others,” and being role models for future generations. In essence, stewards are caretakers.

As practiced in other social realms, stewardship covers wide ranging facets, but all these are directed to placing the long-term best interests of a group ahead of personal goals that serve an individual’s self-interests.

Fiscal stewardship, for example, ensures that public spending and tax policies are sustainable through the years.
With the Internet, there is a constant surge in information that may be used by still unknown individuals at a later time.

An information steward manages data to maintain their quality and accessibility for future users. There is also health stewardship, relationship stewardship and other project or cause-specific stewardship roles — evidence that the intrinsic value of stewardship is embedded in practically all human activity.

This leads us now to the role and function of stewardship in organizations. In the business environment, stewardship involves management or leadership’s responsibility to correctly use and develop its resources, property and finances. Stewardship entails taking care of an institution’s assets — both tangible and intangible — such as its people, history, image, reputation, and relationships.

In a paper on promoting organizational stewardship that was published in the Journal of Business Ethics, author Morela Hernandez asserts that stewardship is “an outcome of leadership behaviors that promote a sense of personal responsibility in followers for the long-term well-being of the organization and society.” She further argues that leadership decisions often have enduring effects on future generations. Moreover, leaders have a “tremendous amount of responsibility to act not only as caretakers, but also to act as role models for future generations.”

The distinct characteristic of stewardship is the focus on others rather than oneself. In an organization, stewardship embodies the attitudes and behaviors of leaders that place the long-term interests of a group before personal goals or self-interests. Furthermore, the challenge is to balance this personal responsibility and obligations to both internal and external stakeholders.

However, this is much easier said than done because stewardship is not a product of a rigid set of rules and regulations. Rather, it is a mindset that is ingrained in an organization’s corporate culture — a result of values and structures that help its leadership develop what Ms. Hernandez refers to as “interpersonal and institutional trust, clarity regarding organizational strategy, and intrinsic motivation in its followers, which, in turn, encourages followers to act with moral courage in service to the organization or cause.”

Stewardship, in fact, underpins the recent increased interest and participation in corporate governance, accountability programs, risk management and corporate social responsibility to name a few.

In a service organization like SGV & Co., the ramifications of stewardship are very real and compelling. The fact that it is a partnership already places the Firm in a position of stewardship since partners have finite tenures. During a partner’s term, he or she is expected to preserve and improve the reputation and relationships that previous partners have built with the end view of passing on the same, if not enhanced, legacy to the next generation of professionals.

Stewardship, just like mentorship, is a core value in SGV and has contributed immensely to its longevity and leadership. It is the foundation upon which the Firm has remained relevant to all its stakeholders for the past six decades. There is awareness that the institution does not belong forever to one specific individual or group; that there is a definite moment when the torch will have to be passed on to the next caretaker. As we celebrate our 65th anniversary in 2011, this commitment to stewardship has even become more timely and meaningful.

On this note, I take this very rare opportunity to wish all our Suits the C-Suite readers the best of the holiday season. On behalf of the stewards of SGV & Co., we wish you all the peace, joy and prosperity of the New Year.

(As of publication, Cirilo P. Noel is the Chairman and Managing Partner of SGV & Co.)

This article was originally published in the BusinessWorld newspaper. It is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinion expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.