I’ve been pretty hard on big corporations in several blog posts, and I stand by my criticisms of the behaviors I’ve identified.
That said, the Washington Post recently published an interview with Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, and it reminded me of the danger of political rhetoric–including my own– that oversimplifies and labels.
On the right, the villains are Muslims, immigrants–actually, pretty much anyone who isn’t a white Christian. On the left, it’s big corporations and rich people.
It’s not that simple.
There are certainly decisions that Apple and other corporate behemoths have made that I personally question, but in many ways, Apple has been a pretty exemplary corporate citizen. As the introduction to the interview notes, Cook has been credited with making the company more systematic, transparent, and team-oriented.
He has engaged on social issues more than most CEOs, writing op-eds on legislation that limits gay rights and making the extraordinary decision earlier this year to oppose the FBI’s request to unlock the San Bernardino killer’s phone.
Cook–like many other thoughtful businesspeople–understands that a focus on short-term profits can undermine the elements of corporate culture than are essential to long-term prosperity. (There’s that “self-interest properly understood” theme again…)
I also think that the traditional CEO believes his or her job is the profit and loss, is the revenue statement, the income and expense, the balance sheet. Those are important, but I don’t think they’re all that’s important. There’s an incredible responsibility to the employees of the company, to the communities and the countries that the company operates in, to people who assemble its products, to developers, to the whole ecosystem of the company. And so I have a maybe nontraditional view there. I get criticized for it some, I recognize. If you care about long-term shareholder return, all of these other things are really critical.
The lesson here isn’t about Apple, or Cook.
Those of us who deplore “us versus them” politics, who remind our fellow citizens that the American constitution requires evaluating our neighbors as individuals, rather than members of groups, need to practice what we preach.
Every corporation is not Koch Industries or Walmart. Every billionaire is not Donald Trump.
When Freedom Indiana was fighting efforts to marginalize the gay community, the most persuasive voices against bias were those of Eli Lilly, Emmis, Cummins and other large companies. When Costco demonstrates that better pay and employee benefits translate into higher profits, employers who would never listen to social “do gooders” take note. When billionaires like Nick Hanauer insist that the real job creators are consumers, and that only by paying workers more can we grow the economy, people listen who would never listen to me, or to other “pointy head” academics.
We need to work toward a culture that recognizes the differences between the responsible and the irresponsible; a culture that rewards good corporate citizenship, and shames the profiteers.
Prejudice is the tendency to paint with a too-broad brush; it is failure to draw appropriate distinctions.