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.