I finally read James O’Toole’s “The enlightened capitalists”. It compiles stories of “business pioneers who tried to do good while doing well” from early 1800s Robert Owen championing human development at New Lanark Mills to Yvon Chouinard promoting environmental activism at Patagonia. It extracts what it takes to be an enlightened capitalist: having a higher purpose for the firm, a strong ethical compass, respect for people, and an unwavering commitment to personal values. And it shows that, unfortunately, the heritage of enlightened capitalists did typically not survive two successions in leadership. When it did, three factors played out: the historical context, the extent to which enlightened practices were institutionalized, and most importantly whether companies were owned by families, trusts, foundations or employees rather than investors. Despite disappointing historical findings, O’Toole’s prospects for the enlightened capitalist movement are quite optimistic due to several trends: the growing number of do-good leaders in the tech world, the rise of social entrepreneurs and B Corps, and changes in investors practices.
If the historical record of CEOs making lasting positive change is not great, who else can transform businesses for the better? Yunus Social Business argues that change can also come from within and, in “Business as unusual”, interviews 50 social intrapreneurs — ie entrepreneurial employees who develop a profitable new product, service, or business model that creates value for society and their company. It shows that social intrapreneurs improve employees’ satisfaction, lead to mindset shifts, spur business innovation, reach new customers and improve corporate brand. It also shows that 90% of successful social intrapreneurs benefited from C-level buy-in. The study does not, however, analyze the risks associated with social intrapreneurship. That side of the story is nicely unpacked in “The intrapreneur” by Gib Bulloch who created and grew Accenture Development Partnerships inside the world’s largest consulting firm. It recounts how his experience of being a successful social intrapreneur eventually led to a burnout.
My graph this week is from Ari Winkleman and Gabrielle Debinski’s “The graphic truth: US jobless claims hit high” putting the 10 million US people who recently filed for unemployment in historical context.
My quote this week is from Scott Galloway: “Things won’t change as much as they will accelerate. While other crises reshaped the future, Covid-19 is just making the future happen faster.”