Have you ever considered whether the saying, “history repeats itself,” applies to business? Certainly every decade has its innovations that dramatically change how business operates, what the buyer wants and most certainly the tools for getting the job done. Without waxing philosophical with a trip down memory lane – really, I’m just as modern as the next gal – it did actually cross my mind recently to ponder the changing obligations of business today. I mean, has it really changed?
Bear with me on the short history lesson but it was exactly 100 years ago that John H. Patterson, CEO of the then National Cash Register Company (now NCR), turned the mighty NCR factory power over to the community. You see, Dayton, Ohio in 1913 experienced a flood of record proportions and Patterson – be he community do-gooder or out for some ulterior motive (depending on who you ask) – quickly approved the building of boats in his factories instead of cash registers. In desperate times, he stepped up to lead the community re-building effort. And a massive effort it was, complete with unparalleled local fundraising. I don’t think they had FEMA in those days, but don’t quote me on that.
Now, I know you have to agree that the world has seen some wallops of natural (and sadly, even at the hand of man) disasters and crises of late. Just turn on the news. But isn’t it downright amazing and absolutely fabulous that in every situation – from hurricanes to tornados, from earthquakes to kidnapping, from shootings of children to bomb explosions (and the list goes on) – isn’t is inspiring that people do step up and pitch in? Fear and cynicism may reign in many day-to-day lives, but come disaster, the true good in mankind really does come out.
So, what do these disasters have to do with business? Well, I was just wondering if any company CEO today would do what Patterson did. Would they stop producing the widget to produce whatever their community needed? And is that sales motivated or community-minded if they do so? Would we ever again turn over factories to the government for war priorities? (Heaven forbid, what an awful thought!).
From that respect, business has changed dramatically and history is not likely to repeat itself. (Not to mention that we don’t have nearly as much onshore manufacturing stealth these days.) Yet, countless companies and their employees do step up when disasters strike. Fundraising for disasters certainly is breaking new records all the time. People do want to give. And the companies, just like Patterson’s NCR, likewise find either an obligation or a motive to be involved in big ways. That’s a good thing. And the really good news is more companies than ever are stepping up.
All of this is, indeed, part of the social responsibility movement. If a company is not operating in a responsible way – certainly from ecological and ethical standpoints alone – the customer, shareholder or community stakeholder will call them on it. We see this more every day. The obligation to do right by the environment, shareholders and stakeholders alike and the global community is stronger, and in some cases more regulated than ever.
Patterson and those of his era may or may not have had different motivations, but the history of businesses helping their communities has repeated itself. It haunts you if you do wrong. It rewards you with customers and great employees when you do right. It’s a good idea to be on the right side of history.
So, here’s a take on 3 Obligations of Modern Business:
- Do right by your shareholders.
History will never change the fact that business is in the business of making money. Of course, that means making it ethically and hopefully being wise financial stewards. Today’s shareholders are just one of many stakeholders, but they are a vocal bunch. Balancing profitability with responsibility is a critical element in meeting modern business obligations.
- Do right by the environment.
Whether you believe in global warming or not, there are regs out there and standards that you are obligated to follow. Contrary to historical beliefs, our natural resources are not unlimited. Be the one that figures out how to do right by the environment without being forced to. You’ll be ahead of the regulators and in step with all the others who will reward your company for ensuring we can live on Earth for the foreseeable future.
- Do right by your community.
What is community anyway? It is where you live, where you work, the people who help you do business, and those who are impacted in any way by the way you operate – whether they are around the corner or around the world. It is those who respect you and those who don’t. It is a far-reaching and growing group that can have small and major impact on your reputation. Doing right by your community means making sure that stepping up for the betterment of the greater good is, in fact, a part of history that is always worth repeating.