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Tech and Innovation

How an oncologist is hitting Big Tobacco where it hurts – in the wallet

The Kubler-Ross Change Curve is well known – the sequence of emotions that we all experience when major change is done to us. But there is another change curve that no-one warns us about. I call it ‘The Quantum Leap Change Curve’. It is the sequence of emotions that we experience when we instigate major change ourselves. Whether the change is getting married, having a baby, getting that promotion or starting your own business, the emotional roller-coaster that we put ourselves through is just as real and equally profound.

When I was writing about the way we react to self-inflicted change for my book, I had the fortune to get to know one of the most impressive people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, whose story is an ideal example of how to cope with and thrive through The Quantum Leap Change Curve: Dr Bronwyn King.

Dr King AO, the 2019 Melburnian of the Year, is an oncologist who was working at Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in 2010. After realising that some of her super money was being invested in tobacco companies, she embarked on a crusade to convince the financial services industry to stop investing in and financing a product that kills 8 million people every year. Tobacco has killed four people in the time it has taken for you to read this paragraph.

Dr King has achieved so much since the formal launch of Tobacco Free Portfolios six years ago. In Australia, the majority of superannuation funds are now tobacco-free, yet it is globally where Dr King’s initiative has made most impact. In 2018, on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly in New York, Dr King led the launch of the Tobacco-Free Finance Pledge, an initiative that now has more than 160 Signatories, including some of the world’s largest financial institutions like BNP Paribas, AXA, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, ABP, ING, Credit Agricole and Amundi. These institutions hail from more than 20 countries and have combined assets under management of US$11.4 trillion. Dr King gained the support of French President Macron, then Australian Prime Minister Turnbull, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, as well as multiple UN agencies, in order to make it happen. But it has not been plain sailing. Nothing worthwhile ever is. Starting a new venture is always full of ups and downs, but in Bronwyn’s case, she launched a not-for-profit organisation to go head-to-toe with the $900bn global tobacco industry – from her home office.

“I have travelled up and down The Quantum Leap Change Curve more times than I care to remember,” Bronwyn admitted. “My very first reaction to the discovery that I was investing in tobacco back in 2010 was ‘disillusionment’, which spurred me into action. Your Change Curve kicked in when Tobacco Free Portfolios was formally established in 2015. I distinctly remember the feeling of ‘excitement’ of creating this new entity to fix something important that needed to be fixed.”

“The apprehension you describe arrived when I realised that I had never done anything like this before. Have I doubted myself? Countless times! And I have definitely been in that trough a few times – wondering whether I have bitten off more than I can chew. But I move myself on as quickly as possible. My years as a competitive swimmer taught me that success is up to me. No-one can do it for me. While an occasional rest in the ‘trough of remorse’, as you call it, may be inevitable; it is unhealthy to linger there for any length of time. So I don’t.”

There so many things we can learn from Bronwyn’s inspirational story but here are the Top 5 lessons I took away, lessons that we could apply to our own businesses:

  1. Be crystal clear about the ‘why’ and the ‘what’. When you jump into a new venture, be crystal clear about why you are doing this and what you are trying to achieve. Be honest with yourself.
  2. Believe in yourself. It’s easy to back yourself when you are doing something you have done many times before. The trick is to believe in yourself when you are venturing into unknown territory. Remind yourself of your key strengths. They will be the basis for your self-confidence.
  3. Never give up. Dr King is both patient and persistent. “I never hear ‘no’ as ‘never’; I hear it as ‘not yet’.”
  4. Be emotional but respectful. To help people to want to change, we need to be respectful of the way they currently think, and we need to engage with them in a way that is free from blame and vitriol. By the way, this is equally true for you, as you are your best agent of change.
  5. Ask yourself: “What could possibly go wrong?” No plan ever goes according to plan. As German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891) proclaimed: “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Mike Tyson explained it a little more colourfully: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Every new strategy, every change, comes with its own set of implications and consequences. Yours will too. Be aware of them upfront.

The Quantum Leap Change Curve is indeed a roller-coaster ride. It is also inevitable. Embrace it and you will be able to overcome the inevitable bumps that will come your way when you embark on significant change.

Commentary by Campbell Macpherson. Here’s what you’ve missed?
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Tech and Innovation - How an oncologist is hitting Big Tobacco where it hurts – in the wallet
Campbell Macpherson
Campbell Macpherson is a sought-after speaker and international business adviser on leadership, strategy and change. He is an Anglicised Australian based in the UK and can be found wherever his clients need him to be. Campbell is an Executive Fellow of Henley Business School and author. His first book, The Change Catalyst (Wiley 2017), won 2018 Business Book of the Year in London. His second book, The Power to Change: How to Harness Change to Make it Work for You (Kogan Page 2020) was a Highly Commended Runner-Up in the 2021 Business Book Awards. His third book, You: Part Two (thriving in the second half of your life) was co-authored with his yogi wife, Jane Macpherson, and was published in 2021 by Hachette. All of his books are available from Amazon US & UK and Booktopia in Australia. More information about Campbell can be found Here.

Campbell Macpherson is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.