Podcast: Justin Stead, CEO of Radley London
March 23, 2023 •Sophie Colquhoun
For our latest podcast episode, we spoke to CEO of Radley London, Justin Stead.
This episode is quite different to our usual as we dive into stoicism and particularly, how Justin uses the philosophy in business. He discusses the 4 principles of stoicism and how this helps people get through tougher times and helps them live happier personal and professional lives.
Justin also shares his best pieces of advice, doing the greater good at Radley London, their ESG initiatives, and we find out more about his charity, The Aurelius Foundation.
We hope you enjoy this episode!
Listen to the full episode below:
Or, if you prefer you can read the transcript below:
Sorcha O’Boyle: Hello and welcome to the Industry Leaders Podcast, where we talk to the leaders of some of the most exciting direct and retail brands and learn the real stories behind their success, their challenges, and their plans for the future. I’m Sorcha O’Boyle and this podcast is brought to you by More2, the marketing science people.
‘Our life is what are thoughts make it’ so said Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome and now one of the most well-known Stoics in history. Now Stoicism for those who are a little bit unsure is a branch of philosophy from the classical age. It takes its name from the colonnades or the stoa of Athens where it’s founder Zeno first discussed the philosophy with his followers. Today, I think we may associate the word Stoicism with a certain emotionlessness or ‘stiff upper lip’ way of living your life and that I think is an unfair representation of a philosophy which has been adopted by some of the most famous names in history including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and more recently the actor Tom Hiddleston.
Now in the classical sense Stoics aim to cultivate human flourishing and happiness by living a life based on the four virtues of temperance, courage, wisdom, and justice. Now that can sound a bit lofty and maybe a little bit vague but Stoicism by it’s nature is a deeply practical and pragmatic philosophy and on the show with me to tell us a little bit more about Stoicism and how you can apply it to your life, your business and everything really is Justin Stead who’s the CEO of Radley London and is also a Stoic. So, Justin, I am really happy to have you on the show today and to dig into your understanding and your use of Stoicism. Before we get onto that though, how are you doing?
Justin Stead: I am really well and your opening dialogue there Sorcha was very well put in terms of what’s Stoicism and it’s history but also what it really is. And there is that misconception of Stoicism and how it really operates, and I think you highlighted that very nicely there.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Thank you, yeah, it’s interesting. It kind of is a philosophy I had been aware of and had been interested in, but I think had never really read much about. So, I really enjoyed doing a little bit of research about this. But I wonder if you could maybe tell us a little bit about your understanding of Stoicism first. How would you define it? For yourself firstly and also maybe in a more classical or pure sense maybe.
Justin Stead: I’ll put that at a number of different spheres and context, if you will. I think we as human beings we start to think about to do things we have this really, almost, bizarre expectation that we should wake up every day and just feel good, that we should feel happy. That my emotions and my feelings should be coordinated naturally into a position of calmness, of clarity, of joy, of love, all these things that we want to have and we just kind of think, “Well, why aren’t they happening?” or these types of emotions and rolling with them. And the Stoics believe that you’re born with these different attributes, these different things but you have a responsibility to put yourself, your emotions, your life into good working order to have a purpose and what drives that purpose are the four great cardinal virtues of wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage. So, it’s really bizarre when you think about it that if I wanted to be, learn to be a good tennis player I would go, you know, get a tennis coach. If I want to learn to do how to trade the stock market, I’d go get someone to teach me how to trade the stock market and learn about it. If I want to be a good professional or go to university I want to do, anything that I want to do in life that I want to be good at, I apply myself or go seek that understanding. But the most important thing in life is to live with purpose and happiness but we kind of expect to default it and the Stoics figured out starting with Zeno two and a half thousand years ago and he was a failed businessman. His whole venture was destroyed coming to Athens when he was looking to sell unique cloth at that time, and he was wiped out. So, he had to start from ground zero with his whole business destroyed. But the Stoics started working on, well there is a way to find happiness through a system, through a tool kit that requires discipline and approach.
Now Sorcha, I might be a little controversial here but where I believe that if you take some of the modern gurus of self-help and wellbeing, Anthony Robbins, Norman Vincent Peale, Stephen Covey, they’re wonderful, I would never diminish them, wonderful. But I would say this as well there’s an old adage that says ‘Steal with Pride’ and I would say that in the last hundred years the whole self-help, wellbeing mantra it’s all repackaged Stoicism and this great system of living, provide people a toolkit to not only endure life but thrive in life was invented by the Stoics two and a half thousand years ago. And as long as there are humans beings in this universe, they’ll always need Stoicism to find their happiness and their purpose.
Sorcha O’Boyle: And I wonder can you tell me how do you go about defining that happiness and that purpose for yourself?
Justin Stead: Well first of all I think it’s important. I was recently ‘behind bars’ so to speak with a very unique situation which we might, we get onto later. But I was behind with prison officers and inmates talking about Stoicism with our present leader in Stoicism, Andy Small, and we went up to Her Majesty’s Prison in Huntercombe in Oxfordshire and I was explaining to those inmates and those officers that life has happened right. So if you’re sitting here it’s really hard and you are atoning for some mistakes that you bring and you’re now in this and you’re rebuilding your life trying to find purpose. But Andy who leads our Stoic initiative, we were in Athens 60 days before that, for three and a half days with 75 CEO’s and their partners in a three and a half day deep submersion in Stoicism across the great aspects of Athens and various envirments for Stoic speakers in all the world and guess what? Their life is hard too. So it doesn’t matter where you sit and what you’re doing, how rich you are, how poor you are, how successful you are, you are facing into life’s realities and the Stoics have an opportunity to give you a sense of purpose, well being and coping. And if you can cope in life, if you can navigate in life and if you can lift your higher purpose to your character because the most important thing for the Stoic is to develop character and use that character when it’s good, bad, or indifferent and that is the ultimate goal. And if you’re focusing on that then things like success, reputation, money, influence, power, these are what we call in the Stoic world, indifference. They come; they go. But your character is consistent and enduring if you’re continually working on it and will provide you great peace and harmony no matter what winds you’re walking into and that is the real purpose of Stoicism, which is to develop that character over a lifetime and continually refine it through the virtues.
Sorcha O’Boyle: And tell me how did you come across the philosophy?
Justin Stead: I was very fortunate I grew up in West Queensland in Australia in a place called Toowoomba and when I was very young, when I was 13, I came across a great uber man I would call him. He was a Canadian academic and a businessman and he had been very successful in life, and he toured around the world at various points during the year and he was a Stoic. And him and I just each year when he would come into my community, he and I would play tennis together and go running together and do sports together and all this sort of stuff at my high school and he started me on the awareness of Stoicism very slowly and through that relationship he gave me things to read which eventually led me to the meditations which then set me on my journey of Stoic pursuit, if you will. But it was a great influence, a great mentoring partner who started that journey for me.
Sorcha O’Boyle: And you mentioned the meditations there, could you tell us, for anyone who hasn’t heard of them, what they are and who wrote them? What do they say? What do they teach?
Justin Stead: The meditations are a private journal from the great Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Now I’m a great fan of Roman history and particularly the emperors and I think in most circles of academic review the top five emperors or the top three emperors, Marcus Aurelius would be right there. Augustus, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius for different reasons and everyone will have their own opinions. But Marcus was very interesting because he was a philosopher King. Most of those emperors, how they landed in that role had to do all sorts of interesting things to land that role from all sorts of conspiracies to civil war, to political intrigue and so forth. But Marcus was targeted by Hadrian at a very young age to become the Roman emperor. They knew something very special about Marcus and it was a very stable period in the Roman Empire, very stable. So, it was a fortunate period for Rome, and they say that in that second century of Rome in that historical period is one of the greatest times to be alive as a human being. Because the progression of everything, the stability that was provided during that era. But Hadrian identified Marcus very young to be the emperor but when Hadrian died there was a period when Marcus was a little bit too young. So there was an interim emperor called Antoninus Pius and his was mandated to be the Emperor at that point. But his sole instruction, one of his most important instructions from Hadrian was to ensure that Marcus ultimately lands on the throne. Now that took a little bit longer than everyone thought because Antoninus Pius lived a little bit longer. But Marcus was a trained Stoic, and he developed all the Stoic traits, was very disciplined in about how he dressed, how he ate, how he exercised, how he conducted himself and how he moved into the political arena. So, during that whole time when Marcus eventually took over as a Roman emperor, he had to deal almost from day one with pretty much one of the most difficult periods again in Roman history, but he kept it together so remarkably well and I think his Stoicism framework was so important for him to deal with the challenges that he had. The plague which ravaged the empire at that point which had huge economic impact. He had various northern tribes on the Danube that were compelling, he did have a rebellion at one point, but he goes down in history as one of the great emperors. And during that time he had a private journal and he started writing in this journal at the end of his life so he would have been a middle-aged, older guy writing these journals and the journal was ultimately the meditations and it was his recluse into his inner sanctum every day where he would write musings about his conduct, his friends, his leadership style, his recriminations about his own behaviour, his self-assessment and everyone says that it was not for the public domain. I personally disagree. Because even though he was one of the greatest Roman emperors if you said to most people studying history just give me some Roman emperors, you know, they might say Julius Caesar, Augustus, but Aurelius may not come up so fast or so quick but those in the know, know how good he was. But we’re still here talking today almost two thousand years later about Marcus Aurelius and the meditations. So for whatever reason that book after his death was protected, was republished, and is one of the most important books in the western cannon that people still turn to and its renaissance year after year, period after period is quite remarkable. So, I think in the back of my mind that although Marcus was doing it for himself there may have been a tiny bit, “well this is my truest legacy to myself and the person that I was.”
Sorcha O’Boyle: And when you talk about truth that’s something that really kind of jumps out at me about Stoicism and I think it’s taking Plato’s view as well isn’t it, kind of the View from Above and trying to see everything that’s, you’ll probably have better explanation for this, but taking yourself out of the situation, being to look from above and look at all the moving parts that are going on. How do you apply the teachings of Stoicism in your day-to-day life? Do you journal as well? Or what do you use and how do you put it into place
Justin Stead: Well, I think, you know, just touching on your question before, what is the meditations? Well, it’s a guidepost of moral and ethical living through the Stoic lens and I personally think Stoicism is the greatest system to find purpose and happiness in life. That’s my own opinion and is it perfect? No, it is not. But in the grand scheme of things of approaching life over a long-extended period I think it provides through all aspects of your life. Your relationships, your conduct, your inner feelings, your engagement in your professional world. I think it provides a huge foundation for productive and purposeful living and engagement. So I use the principles of Stoicism in business every single day and have for a very long time and I hope I have a reputation of that in, people may not know that I’m a Stoic, but I hope that my reputation. Now that is an indifferent, but to me that’s important that how I conduct myself as a CEO, Investor, as a Chairman or working with my partners, working with my banking relationships, working with my commercial interests all over the world, that people have a high level of trust, that they hear the truth, that is a win-win situation and that if it doesn’t work, he’s willing to walk away. But he won’t put me into a differential position and he’s not looking to. And I would rather walk away from a lucrative opportunity for me, but it could be detrimental to someone else. And I do not subscribe to as a Stoic that the old adage if you will, ‘That’s just business’ and I don’t subscribe to that at all. I think your conduct as an individual and how you approach your personal life and how you want to live your life should not be divorced from your conduct in the business world. And to say that it’s just business, well I’m sorry, I acted differently there, and I took my leave. I personally don’t subscribe to that. And so, if you take some examples of, you know, the four cardinal virtues and you said it before Sorcha about they sounded kind of high and mighty, right? Well, you can bring them into very practical application, wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage. Well, what is wisdom? Wisdom is using your experience over time, sensibly. You know, if you’re looking at temperance, what is temperance? Well, it’s moderation, balance, good decision making, taking on balance and making more sensible decisions. What is justice? Justice to me is fairness. What is fair? What is win-win? How do we make this work for everyone? And courage, the final of the great cardinal virtue is the confidence to do the right thing and if it’s not right you’re willing to stand up and say, “I’m not going to do this”, or “I’m recommending not to do this”. So that lens, those four pillars of going into every negotiation, every situation, dealing with employees or difficult circumstances under any situation. Those different parts of those four foundations can come in more strongly depending on the situation. But the other Stoic principles are really important as well and there’s many of them. But just an example, the great View from Above, that the more difficult it gets to rise above and really understand the View from Above. What is that? Well, that’s great strategic thinking. You know if you maintaining as a CEO or a Chairman and you’ve got the great View from Above into your business, you’re looking at all over your business but you’re looking at strategically into the world, how your business applies and you’re staying at the right level. If you look at memento mori, you know, which is understanding the time that you have left in your life or that death is forthcoming. So that can be perceived as very negative. I don’t perceive it that way. I look at that as something along the lines of really good time management, really good focus management, be efficient. You don’t have a lot of time in your life, and you certainly don’t have a lot of time in your professional engagements. These are some of the principles of Stoicism the Dichotomy of Control. Everyone thinks the CEO, or the Chairman can just wave the magic wand and all things happen. No, you cannot and understanding what you can control and what you can’t and what you can influence in the middle. So, the Dichotomy of Control is one of the most important aspects of Stoicism. So, these principles of Stoicism come into the business world in decision making, negotiations, people management, leadership, setting strategy, ESG. Stoics are great proponents of the environment and being a part of nature. So ESG strategy and sustainability is a massive, massive important priority for businesses at the moment and on that basis the Stoics play and it's force around ESG management is hugely, hugely, relevant.
Sorcha O’Boyle: I’m really glad you brought up ESG actually because I’d love to hear what does your ESG strategy at Radley look like and how do the four virtues in Stoicism, how do you work with your team? I mean I’m sure there are people in your team who aren’t strong Stoics, that’s not the philosophy they live by, you know, in particular. But how do you work to create the right ESG for the people that you have, for the company that you have, you know, for the customers that you have. How do you drill down into that because I think what is important with these philosophies is to get down to the practical level because that is something that when you talk about philosophy people turn off a little bit, they say, “That’s not for me”. But how do you bring Stoicism into the nuts and bolts of the business?
Justin Stead: So, one of the things we do and we do it across business in general but we do it generally once a year in most of my ventures. Radley’s just one venture but there are other ventures that I’m involved in. What we do is we have a Stoic Wellbeing Week. So, we have a five-day course, and we do each day focused on one principle of Stoicism. So, it can be Dichotomy of Control, View From Above, being a part of nature. And we go through and we kind of rejuvenate everyone’s thought process. We’re not advocating coming down the hill with, you know, with a burning bush saying, “Stoicism ra ra rah Oh my God!” That’s not what we do. We think these principles are universal and we also think that they bring very positive teamwork engagement into our environments and our interests. So, we do that once a year, so that, that’s just to get good harmony in the business and what we often find from running the wellbeing course once a year is it opens up other conversations within the team and the business with individuals that maybe they wouldn’t normally talk about and what that does is get a closer understanding of the person next to me. That person in that department. “I never knew that. That was very good of you to share with me”. And that brings people closer together. So, the Wellbeing Week does rejuvenate greater, good, discussion but it also opens up people to get to know each other better or new people that have come into the business. And we find that if we have a more, harmonious group of polite people working together it just creates a better culture and therefore that business thrives on that nature. And you raise a good point Sorcha that often people say to me “Well, how do I use this stuff?” Philosophy is not about reading a book on Sunday and having a nice coffee and then okay, I feel good, and I go out and I act differently. If you go through the meditations, you go through the Stoic there are so many wonderful examples of how to use it. And one of the things that we do on our ESG strategy is, you know, in our business, we are on the front edge of taking responsibility as a corporate citizen to make sure that our products are sustainable, our sourcing through our partners is very well orchestrated, it’s in the greater good of our business but it’s in the greater good of the planet. We do lots of offset work just in case in areas where we may not be as ESG compliant yet, but in the next 12 months we will be carbon net zero. So, we’re working through all of those applications and through our Stoic lens in that we realise that not only it’s individuals but as our business using Radley’s as an example, we are part of the global community of businesses and therefore we have a corporate citizen responsibility to act in the greater good of where we play all over the world and we take that very, very, seriously and we’re very concerned about that. So, all of our activities do come back to, is this aligning to our greater good commitment, to climate change, to sustainability, to good social engagement, to good governance? All these things from a Stoic lens we address it from a business perspective but it’s also got a high quotient of moral and personal responsibility that we as all, certainly as our boards are concerned, that we take very seriously.
Sorcha O’Boyle: As I speak to you Justin you come across as a very clear, a very reflective person and obviously also you’re a high achiever in terms of business and all of that. I wonder have there been times in business or on a more personal level where you’ve struggled, where you’ve had a wobble, where maybe you’ve kind of, you know, either questioned the Stoic principles of philosophy or how has it guided you through difficult times like that?
Justin Stead: I would adjust that question slightly and I think it’s a very, very, good question. I would put it this way Sorcha in the sense that as follows. When I have over my lifetime turned away from Stoicism or taken a short cut into a decision away from Stoic principles or less focus on it that’s when I’ve had more difficulty. So, the older I have gotten over the years, obviously now, I stay even more close to Stoicism because it keeps me more harmonious, more calm, more balanced, more sensible in my decision making. And I look over the years it’s not that Stoicism has faulted, it’s that I’ve faulted because I moved away from it. And so, I’ve stayed closer and become more disciplined in my approach and thinking, in how I approach my days of putting my Stoic practice into work. Because it is for me and Co-founder of the foundation John Sellars one of the most important academics in Stoicism today. He approaches his Stoic discipline very different from mine. I’m a very rigid Stoic in my habits that I deploy every day and John’s quite different, he’s not, but we still live very Stoic lives together. So, to answer your question it’s been me moving away from it that’s caused myself issues versus Stoicism letting me down because it never really has.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Okay, not many things you can say that, I don’t think you can say that about. You mentioned the foundation there can you tell us a bit about the foundation?
Justin Stead: Yeah, the foundation was formed in 2019 almost right before Covid-19 and on a larger scale I think if you’re fortunate to have a little bit of success in life then I think again with the Stoic, you’ve got an important obligation to give back. And my wife and I decided what was our give back to society and what’s a project that we would like to get behind over the next 25 years. And so, we had a long discussion, it’s just I have an opinion that it’s easy to give money, it’s hard to give time and if you’re going to do both then you really need to be right into that initiative into that charity stream. And so, we started the Aurelius Foundation in 2019 and it is our give back as a family to what we would like to do all sorts of interesting things through the Stoic vehicle over the next decades. And there’s a number of strategic areas where we work at. One we support all things within Stoicism that we believe align to, to the most authentic Stoic work out there and the system that it is and the philosophy that it is. If you go, you touched on a little bit earlier Sorcha, in that you go onto look up Stoicism on the web today and you’ll come up with a gazillion links and so forth and half of it is just incorrect. And you touched on it a little bit there’s a total misconception that Stoics are a bunch of stiff upper lip, no emotions and we just carry on no matter what goes. That is not what Stoicism is about at all and I can touch on that in a little moment. So that’s point one and we want to build this brand that you’ve seen, just to my right here, as I sit here, into a very authentic, trusted brand in Stoicism over the next decades. So, when you see that marker and you see that’s it an event put on the Aurelius Foundation or you see it in business or you see it in the prison system, or you see it at the university communities that we’re building or you see it anywhere you go, that’s an authentic source of Stoicism and it’s a build of brand of trust and awareness [TBC in it? 00:23:28] so that’s point one. Number two is youth, as mentioned I was very fortunate to come across Stoicism when I was very young, so we want to introduce Stoic thought to younger people and allow them to make a choice if it’s something of interest to them or not. I think being a young person today is really difficult. When I was younger there was less opportunity growing up in West Queensland, but I had lots of structure around me. Now there’s so much opportunity for every young person in the world today but there’s less structure and there’s more distraction and the echo chambers of social media. So, we feel that bringing a modern, contemporary voice into Stoicism could be something that we want to show young people, here is something that may help you to consider how to approach your life. And then third, as a businessman as we’ve touched on and talked a little bit about, bringing Stoicism into the boardroom and help set strategy, teamwork, culture, and engagement for businesses. How they can conduct themselves as a corporate citizen we feel like that Stoicism can play a very positive role there as well.
Sorcha O’Boyle: And I think you also do quiet donations in the background as well, which you haven’t mentioned.
Justin Stead: We do, we give very quiet financial gifts to things that may not be in the Stoic world but are a Stoic principle or have contributed to the greater good. It’s lowkey but from time to time we’ve had some very interesting and surprising people that we just said we think that is a wonderful thing and we believe it’s very Stoic in nature and therefore we wanted to support that financially.
Sorcha O’Boyle: And since you’re a couple of years now into the foundation has there been anything that’s surprised you at how people have responded to it?
Justin Stead: Mostly positively and the diversity. If you look at our foundation advisory group we have a whole host of cultures, gender, ethnicities, and I am always delighted when young people come across it for the first time. And we’ve had wonderful events that we’ve done globally but I remember one over the Covid period, during one of those breaks, and we had an event and very quickly at the end of the event it was like two hours long and there was a young lady from Newcastle, and she came up to me at the end of the event and was talking to my wife and I and said, “Mr Stead” and I said “No just call me Justin.” And she said “I want to thank you for todays event”. And I said “Sure, my pleasure. Anything you wanted to talk about further, anything that’s stimulating.” She said, “No. That’s for me to digest but you gave me the strength to go back into the arena with some things that will allow me to be courageous”. And my wife was there, and we were very touched by that and the effect on that very young girl from Newcastle that was obviously going through something but came down to London to put herself through a Stoic awareness over a couple of hours on a particular topic. So that was very, very, powerful but then recently going into Huntercombe prison and talking with Boris Becker, Wimbledon champion who had everything and Boris will say this himself. Money, fame, influence, power, everything, celebrity, one of the most famous athletes in the world in his day and to lose it all and have to start again and he said to me very kindly he said, “Boy, if I’d have known about Stoicism all those years ago, when my life was beginning, it could have been very, very, different”. And I think that’s fascinating. So, it doesn’t matter where you sit in my humble opinion, Sorcha, Stoicism can play a very important part in anyone’s life whether things are good or bad. And I think that’s the other thing as well often we find Stoicism when the wheels are falling off, it just has a natural tendency where do I search for a source of rejuvenation, power, come back or whatever and people naturally for whatever reason tend to find Stoicism. But Stoicism is also hugely powerful when you’re on top, when things are going well, that you keep it in a good balance of understanding.
Sorcha O’Boyle: From what you’ve been saying and I’m really, really enjoying the conversation, I feel like I’m learning a lot. One jump side is that Stoicism it really gives you the tools to build resilience in yourself and I think to set your own parameters and better your understanding of yourself and what your motivations and your needs are. I wonder if you were asked to give one or two pieces of advice to somebody and that could be someone at the top of the game in business or somebody whose had a load of knocks in their life, whose had a tough time and is trying to rebuild and create, you know, conditions to happen, that create a happier life for themselves, what would you say to them?
Justin Stead: First I’d ask them to look at Stoicism and take a view of reading about it, it’s historical context, the people that were involved that originated the philosophy. So, to take an objective view it’s a very positive philosophy, it’s very proactive, the Stoics were very energetic and in the data that we take, through the foundation we have a data component that we track what we’re doing and how Stoicism works in peoples lives and we work with modern Stoicism society as well. And one of the most important things in Stoicism that people probably don’t realise is that the number one thing that comes back about practising Stoics is within our, what we call our Stoic Behavioural Survey, is that Stoics are really zestful. People don’t get that because they think “Oh Stoics, stiff upper lip, they’re boring, they have no fun. Oh my God. He’s a Stoic!” It’s actually the opposite, Stoics are so zestful and one of the reasons they’re so zestful is because they’re always moving forward because they have such command of the Dichotomy of Control that what works and what doesn’t and they don’t waste time too long in things that don’t work, that they’re moving forward and therefore if you move, and feel like you’re moving forward in life all the time and you’re proactively moving in a way that is positive then you’re energy levels are high. You’re not some boring Stoic going, “I’m just going to sit there and suffer through this”. No, you’re redefining your strategy. Because Stoicism in my mind, Sorcha, focuses on a packaging. It repackages your past really well. So, I fell out with my brother five years ago or I had a divorce, or the relationship of the business fell over, you can have all these calamities in your life that you can put a Stoic lens on the past and go, “What are my learnings? Where were my failures? How was I responsible? How was some of that completely out of my remit and therefore I’m not responsible?” So, you get a real fantastic repackaging of your history so that’s great. Next you look, with that understanding, you look forward. I’m not going to make that mistake again. I’m not going to enter into an agreement like that again. I’m not going to have a relationship like that again. So therefore, you repackage your past, you set your future of at least planning and what does give you, the power? It gives you the power that you’re living in the moment now more really than ever before, but it does take application. So, I’d be saying to people that come across Stoicism for the first time where is it power line? What lies is power and packaging and self-understanding which comes back to the Great Oracle of Delphi. The Oracle of Delphi has a thousand amazing sayings over that period but the most powerful one? “Know thyself” and Stoicism gives you the great ability to really understand yourself and I think if you can understand yourself, the good, the bad, the ugly of yourself - which we all have - then your ability to make really competent decisions in your relationships, in your family, in your businesses, in what you do, how you spend your time. I think you’ve got a better chance to find purpose and happiness and therefore calmness in life.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Before we go if you were to recommend any reading for anybody who maybe wants to learn more or go into more depth than we have here, what would you recommend?
Justin Stead: Yeah, it’s a really important question because Marcus Aurelius and the Meditations get the big headline for many different reasons based on who he was and so forth. But Epictetus and the Discourses, very traditional. I find them very good but not as easily digestible as the meditations. But my favourite Stoic actually, Sorcha, is Seneca and the reason I like Seneca is because if you look at Zeno, he started the whole thing in Athens. Epictetus was a slave who looked up into the world and had to overcome all of that difficult challenge. Aurelius was ultimately at the top as the Roman emperor looking down and navigating a whole empire and people and everything. But Seneca I think is really interesting because one he was fabulously wealthy; he was the Elon Musk of his day. He was the wealthiest guy in Rome outside of Nero. But Seneca was an intriguing politician and had two periods of his life where he was exiled. So, he was one of the most influential people in his day and for two periods he's, “You’re out of here, you die, or you leave”. And he went to different parts of Corsica and different places where he had to spend ten years, he’s out of the game, that’s lost time and during that time he wrote his wonderful letters to Lucilius and I like Seneca because he’s seeing the clinical intrigue of working and trying to be a productive human being, contributing to the greater good, but he’s working in all these really interesting dynamics and trying to live up to his Stoic ideals and boy did he do wonderful things but he had some shockers too. So, he’s got a lot to answer for and I think that’s an intriguing read because every single human emotion and event is pretty much covered in those letters which are a number of the ones that are available to us are about 130. So, I find Seneca. A long-winded answer, forgive me, but I find Seneca very interesting.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Why do you think he resonates with you particularly and why did you not call it the Seneca Foundation?
Justin Stead: Well, being a businessman, I think Aurelius Foundation would resonate more, you know, sort of marketing standpoint. Seneca I just find him, because he was so influential, but he wasn’t the emperor. He has to deal with all of these complicated political, military, economic matters and he was dealing with an out-of-control CEO. I mean he’s a member of the board, but the CEO is just loosing it. Now the first three years of Nero’s reign he was quite calm, he was young, he was more impressionable in a positive way but the longer he went after three of four years he was just becoming and history, you know, history is written by winners but clearly he was just becoming unmanageable and for Seneca to navigate that and work through that and still do some positive contribution was quite remarkable and the end of the day he was ordered by Nero himself to commit suicide and he did it but he was fabulously wealthy as well but, you know, he was a thin man, he didn’t eat much, he walked a lot, you know he had good discipline in his life where as we often see and certainly in Roman history the wealthier someone became the more excess and out of control it went and that’s also very evident today. And we touched a little bit on that before, I find it just amazing where you see someone like Boris Becker come across Stoicism and just had a dramatic effect on him. But then we hold up in society actors and you know you look at a guy like I’ll just say recent headlines Johnny Depp and Amber Heard could there be any more two more miserable people on the planet? To me they have no way of living except driving for fame, at least now. Maybe they were loving their acting, their passion at that point but then somewhere along the line it’s gone off track and you see these human beings, you know, excessive, out of control, emotionally not developed and then we applaud it. I just did a podcast on the weekend with some fellow Stoics about the problem with political engagement and political discourse and civility and the effect that Stoicism could bring into that arena and one of the things which will never happen but, you know, Donald Trump as a businessman if he was to come out of the private environment would not be qualified to run a public company, because of his personal conduct, his administrations, his bankruptcies, etc. But he’s qualified to be the President of the United States and we have MP’s that their behaviour etc., is reprehensible and why is the American President, these guys that run [Inaudible [00:35:08] and Trump, why is it only qualified to the rich. Bloomberg. We have a system now that’s lost it’s way and I think that Stoicism for example if we said [Inaudible [00:35:17] one of the goals of the foundation Sorcha is to have five UK MP’s who are Stoics in the next 20 years and one US Senator who’s a Stoic. Because they can’t be brought, they will always do the right thing, they’re immune to the wrong criticism and they will always do the right thing on the greater good and carry the 80/20 90/10. Somewhere in democracy in the last 50 years we’ve got to a situation where the 2% run the 98% and that’s where we’ve lost our way. Now if we had a mechanism or a filter that if you’re going to be an MP and Billy Connolly said it best. “Anyone that wants to be a politician should be automatically disqualified for being allowed to be a politician”. And we’re not drawing the best of humanity and leadership into the political arena we end up with people like Boris Johnson and Trump. Now look at Johnson yesterday he had a great opportunity to stand up and say, “I’m going to back Rishi’s deal”. But it’s not about the deal it’s always about you Boris. You can’t do what is for the greater good and I think we’ve got this big problem. So long winded but why don’t we have a system of ethical, moral, emotional, testing before anyone can become a politician? You know, we just want good people, we don’t have to have them perfect but we need good people going to these roles that are going to be more collaborative, who will listen, who will pause, who will reflect and less emphasis on themselves and the problem is that the politic arena has just got a shocking highest percentage of narcissists that are looking for their fame, they come in for short periods of time, they go on and the carnage they leave is significant.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah, I think you’re right and looking back at the very, very origins of democracy, you know, it was completely random, it was a lottery. Nobody was allowed to campaign; nobody was allowed to put themselves forward and I don’t think your ambition of having five MP’s and one Senator I don’t think that’s at all beyond the realm of possibilities. Especially when you think back for Zeno, the ancient guru of Greece at that time was going through a period of huge difficulty and various tumultuous times and that, Stoicism was born. So yeah, I mean I think if even if we could start applying the Stoic principles, I think we would be a lot better.
Justin Stead: We have a stream of the, there’s a guy whose heading this stream of the foundation his name is Mick Mulroy, he’s worked for both democratic and republican administrations. He was most recently in the Trump administration under General Mattis and Mick was one of the first guys, Navy Seal, CEO Operative who landed in Afghanistan when the Americans went there after 9/11. And this guy is a Stoic through and through and one of the most interesting people you’ll ever meet and a real gentleman and cares about the right things. Make him President. And he was telling me stories recently when we, we were together in Greece, you know, General Mattis and others at that point there was great fear of what this President would do and so to have some adults in the room who were just keeping a steady hand on the runner with really high values, greater good interest, strong ethics and the ability to think calmly through challenging situation was, you know obviously in the background, incredibly important considering the type of leadership that was in the seat.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Yeah, absolutely. Okay Justin thank you so much that was absolutely fascinating to talk to you.
Justin Stead: Thanks again Sorcha, really enjoyed the conversation and look forward to talking again at some point. Thank you for your support around the Aurelius Foundation.
Sorcha O’Boyle: Absolutely. Take care. That was Justin Stead CEO of Radley London and co-founder of the Aurelius Foundation. I hope you found our conversation as interesting as I did and if you would like to learn more about Stoicism check out aureliusfoundation.com for more information.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Industry Leaders Podcast and don’t forget you can listen back to all our previous episodes wherever you get your podcasts. That’s it for now so from me, Sorcha O’Boyle and everyone at More2, take care and bye.