Ethics for local businesses

In today’s Sentinel, local business consultant and adjunct teacher at GVSU, Jeff Wincel, writes about businesses that look beyond the profit motive. (“When the bottom line isn’t the only priority” once again I link it in for those of you with the patience to subscribe to the silly Holland Sentinel web site.)

I began reading the article with skeptisim. I don’t see businesses in the current economic environment do much but maximize (usually short term) profit. After all that’s their purpose, right? Here in Holland there is that goofy idea that profits are rewards from God for good behavior (Calvinistic silliness that also teaches that if you’re having problems it’s because you are not living right. Take that you dang homeless and hungry people. In the words of the Hope College graduate and wild-eyed California evangelist, Robert Schuller: what failures and victims in life need is “Posssssssibility Thinking!!!!!!”)

But Wincel caught my attention with this “Once Magna bought Donnelly, the noble cause of stakeholder service was abandoned by a singular focus on share-holder returns. The same happened with Prince and the JCI buyouts.”

I remember when the locally owned Donnelly Corporation sold itself to Magna. An acquantance of mine was on the board of directors. When he mentioned to me what was going on, he couldn’t look me in the eye.

I knew some of the Donnelly family. They are good people and some are even dang liberals who seem to think that homelesss and hungry people could use some help. But when this sale went down it felt like Gordon “Greed is Good” Gecko time.

“This is your wake-up call, pal.”

I think the profit motive pretty much stinks. But at the same time I am amazed to watch businesses seek short term profit at the expense of long term profit and investment. An obvious example is the auto industry. After the seventies oil crisis, it didn’t take too long for SUVs and other gas hogs to become market dominant. Crazy. I’m not saying they shouldn’t have made what sold. I’m saying it would have been nice to have a choice for more responsible gas mileage. Silly me.

I do believe that this is part of the reason for Michigan’s depressed economy: short term thinking.

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