Business Now and Then

There’s an interesting story making the (internet) rounds about Apple Corporation’s recent shareholder meeting.

Evidently, some Apple shares had been purchased by an organization devoted to climate-change denial. At the meeting, the group’s representative challenged Apple’s Chairman over the company’s considerable and laudable efforts to minimize its carbon footprint (including the hiring of a former EPA Secretary to oversee Apple’s environmental practices). He objected to the company’s environmental efforts, because they cost money without enhancing the return on investment, and were thus not in the best interests of shareholders.

Apple Chairman Tim Cook basically told the guy to stick it where the sun didn’t shine– that if he didn’t want a socially responsible company, he shouldn’t own the stock.

As gratifying as that response was, the exchange highlighted a major problem with the way far too many businesses operate today.

Most companies aren’t in Apple’s enviable cash and market position. The focus for most publicly traded companies these days is “shareholder value”—as defined by the next quarterly report.

It was not always thus. When most companies were still controlled by those that founded them, when they were operated and managed by people who owned them rather than by hired guns with golden parachutes, having a reputation as a good corporate citizen was a point of pride. Decisions took account of the long-term interests of the enterprise—and long-term was not the next quarterly report. There was recognition of the relationship between the health of the community and the prospects of one’s business.

If you look around Indianapolis today, you can see the difference between businesses run by their owners and those run by professional “managers” who all too often have no connections to the city and are marking time until they are “promoted” elsewhere.

Our civic life is poorer for the loss of people whose own prospects rose and fell with those of their companies and their communities—and who understood that responsible citizenship is good business.


  1. In a recent dissertation, David Gregorich examined corporate social responsibility in a variety of businesses suggested by members of the public who had benefitted from their good will. The big box stores and corporate franchises wouldn’t even talk to him. The locally owned folks did, recognizing their interdependent relationship with the public and how important this was for their survival and the survival of the community. No doubt the corporate franchises had similar beliefs, but lacked the close connection. Giving was important as a business principle, not necessarily for their survival. They could easily go elsewhere, but the locals are tied to the community.

  2. I find this quote by the ever popular Anonymous to fit this situation: “The grizzly bear is huge and wild, it has devoured the infant child. The infant child is unaware, it has been eaten by the bear.” Although the “infant child” in the big business swallow of small business sites is the general public who have accepted the situation and go along to get along with the status quo on all business levels.

  3. As an owner-shareholder of an Indianapolis business now in its 31st year, I know from experience that most banks today still place no value whatsoever on local ownership and commitment to the community.

  4. As a Baby Boomer I have seen the long slow decline. Most larger companies back when I joined the labor force in late 1960’s had Defined Pension Plans, and provided Health Insurance. Golden Parachutes were not invented for the 99%.

  5. Five or so years ago, I got totally fed up with doing business with the big corporate banks, and I moved my accounts to a community bank in Hamilton County and to an out-of-state community bank in a small town where I own property and have immediate family. Both community banks are locally owned by local stockholders and both offer the same level of banking services that the big corporate banks offer, but they offer something better, they know your name if you call them or walk into the bank.

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