“If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”
OK, this is going to be something of a rant so hang in there.
I left my position in corporate life just over thirty five years ago. One of the reasons I left was for what at the time I perceived as a basic conflict between my understanding of capitalism, more accurately “for-profit” pursuits and what I saw in practice. It seemed to me that the short term, quarterly targets, stock price etc. frequently trumped the long term interests, especially those of employees, and often shareholders if they were in for the longer term investment. Somewhere behind the short term moves it was always possible to find a small group of employees, usually senior managers, who benefitted disproportionately from the impact of short term maneuvering.
A second fundamental reason for my leaving was related to the first and it was the apparent inability of many people in power positions, usually managers, to operate consistently with common moral standards when they appeared to be in conflict with the priorities of a for profit enterprise. I saw far too many instances of profit being chosen over principle and it was not possible for me to look at it any other way.
I left with this question; are basic capitalistic principles at odds with the concept of right livelihood and the notion that I should consider my neighbors interest in all my actions? I have been working to resolve this perceived paradox since that time with varying degrees of satisfaction. Most importantly for me, I have turned the question into a declaration of possibility…The basic principles of capitalism, when viewed as guidelines and not rules, are not in conflict with the concepts of right livelihood, standards of human decency, and a world that can work for everyone. What has unfolded in the years following my departure from the corporate position has been my life with its ups and downs. On balance I think that greed is winning but now and again, as I have witnessed recently I see a glimmer of recognition that there are business leaders who do not see always compromise in favor of profit.
I regularly read in a variety of sources about the news in the business world. Quite frankly it is often hard to think that there is any news that is in some way not a reflection of the business world, or at least driven by the background of capitalism that motivates much of human action. But is it capitalism, a system of ideas, or something more basically human, say greed for example that often gives us pause when we think. “What the hell is going on here really?”
On a day in and day out basis is it an adherence to capitalism that has us choose to ignore basic human decency and respect for the other, or greed? For instance when a business is not meeting its objectives and yet employees are doing everything they’ve been instructed to do and maybe more; why is it they who get laid off and senior leaders then collect a bonus for what only appear to be good management? Why isn’t it common practice for management who sits at the controls of business to suffer greater pain in times of decline than front line employees do? That would seem more like capitalism to me.
I am not for anybody necessarily losing their job but often times across the board pay cuts, starting with management, would send a message that we are all in this together. But the message from the greedy seems to be that, “No we are not all in this together and by the way, see you in church sucker, just make sure you sit in the back!”
When I saw the story about Tim Cook taking on a baiting shareholder at Apple’s recent annual shareholder meeting I actually got tears in my eyes. It had been a while since anything in the news from business had been anything but merely interesting. This story came across to me as inspiring. Apple under Steve Jobs, for all his genius, was not the best corporate citizen. I don’t know that in the long run whether Apple under Tim Cook has now assumed a new kind of leadership role, time will tell.
What I do know is that for one moment as Tim Cook addressed his audience I saw a glimpse of a future that calls to me, for the sake of my grandchildren; a future where morality and capitalism co-exist as partners in a world that can work for everyone.
The enemy of the welfare of our future is not capitalism, it is us.