Black and white portrait of Sir Ove Arup, a philosopher and engineer who founded Arup in 1946. Copyright Arup.

+ How does a company maintain that direction once its visionary founder has gone?

The death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs has focussed attention on how one person’s values can drive a business. But how does a company maintain that direction once its visionary founder has gone?

The fact is that we all have values; they affect what we do and why we do it. We often think of them in a philosophical way, but they shape how we behave every day — whether we know it or not.

What distinguishes a clear, strong leader is that they know what their values are and how they’re going to use them. Just as Apple had a strong leader in Steve Jobs, Arup had a strong leader in its founder, Ove Arup. The challenge for leaders at Arup today is to embody the values Ove set out in a way that makes sense to each of them, here and now.

An interesting illustration of what happens when leaders fail to embody a firm's values is the story of Arthur Andersen. Here, it could be argued, the gap between the leaders' values and the firm's values undid over a hundred years of work.

Arthur Andersen was once one of the 'big five' accounting firms and one of its values was integrity. But ten years ago, some of its leaders gave the impression that shredding evidence relating to its audit of Enron might have been the right thing to do, and the resulting scandal brought down the the entire firm.

At Arup, our values are clear because Ove Arup set them out in his key speech . He wrote about recruiting the best people and giving them the freedom to be creative and to learn. This personal freedom – with an accountability to the firm – drives some typical Arup behaviours; networking, collaboration and knowledge sharing are all the result of that element of the values.

At Arup, new directors are the present and future custodians of our values and culture. And our new programme – the Arup Leader – sees them working with senior leaders to understand how they will use their values to make a positive contribution to the firm.

Do you work for a firm with strong values? How are they maintained? Please do share your experience in the comments below.