The businesses of the past were concerned with one thing - profit. Executives were isolated and removed, owners were introverted and what happened in the corporate board room, like Vegas, stayed in the corporate board room. Self-congratulatory press-releases were our only insight into the bellies of big business. Employees were just that, employees. They were names or social security numbers who had little or no input on the way business was done. The status quo could and should not be broken or compromised. Unwritten rules and behavioral expectancies hovered overhead like a toxic cloud. The business' only concern remained meeting the numbers.
A corporation had no posture, or an insensitivity, if I may, to anything that did not increase the profit margin. Social issues like world poverty, resource depletion, human life quality, safe and healthy working conditions, environmental impact, were viewed as unnecessary obstacles on the road of business, to be explained away, avoided, and disregarded. Mention of any of the aforementioned could lead to labels of fanatic, trouble-maker, rebel and workplace malcontent.
A browse through the past curriculums of business institutes would identify very little, if any, mention of the environment or of doing good. Business courses dealt chiefly with number crunching, getting the deal done, making the money, product to market and return on investment. We have all been witnesses to corporations doing day to day business where society is viewed as that place outside.
Today, I am glad to say, the tables have finally beginning to turn. No longer will a business succeed on the past etiquette of linear capitalism. It is refreshing to note that this radical change began back in the 70's but would not have gathered the momentum it has had it not been for the compassion, bravery, commitment, fellowship and leadership of men like Mr. Ray Anderson(Interface); Mr. John Browne(BP), yes BP; Amber and Dick Sabot(Eziba) and Mr. Gary Hirshberg (Stonyfield Farms).
Although there are hundreds more of this ilk, these pioneers have captured my imagination of what could be possible in a world of cyclic capitalism. What propelled these leaders forward was the undaunting realization that business needs the environment, not the other way around.
A much debated topic has been transparency. Some businesses owners adopted the concept that 'what you don't know won't hurt you.' The human capital, the people, the community, has little "need to know". These leaders failed miserably in recognizing the embedded flaws in an economic system that disregards environment and social issues.
As we move forward into our new century, with the ready availability of information, innovative, questioning and world aware populace, the approach to doing business has finally gained some measure of sanity. Customers and stakeholders are asking questions, Googling, blogging, tweeting, writing reviews and they are now self publishers. The opaque business is suspect. The world has assigned a brand value to transparency, they are curious about the board room, verbal about unfair practices and are not afraid to create a global uproar which in most instances are untolerable.
Today the successful business must sell more than a product. They must include in their business model, people and policy. The successful business as we see today has a public face that says "we care". This allows the organization to be accepted into the world community, viewed as a global citizen, add brand value, attract and retain top level employees, create a heathier and rewarding environment, and finally, reduce the cost of doing business, reaping huge profits, simply by giving back.