I would like to share a VERY big idea with you, one that I believe is critical to changing the future of America.
This morning I had breakfast with one of my favorite people on the face of the earth, David Whitney. For two and a half hours we shot the breeze, played idea ping-pong and talked about how to solve all the world’s problems. I told David that there had been an idea bouncing around in my head for nearly 3 years and although I was not quite sure where the idea was leading me, I still felt that it was vitally important. My idea is that I believe our top business leaders need to fully embrace the idea of: Enlightened Self-Interest. I believe that to those who have been given great power… also comes great responsibility and that “doing well by doing good” should be the mantra of top corporate CEOs and successful business owners across our nation.
David looked at me with one of his great, kind, loving smiles and said, “That sounds very nice John, but the problem is that many people in America believe in Entitled Self-Interest not enlightened self-interest. They are more focused on what they “deserve” not on what they can give. I deserve a big house. I deserve a fancy car. I deserve a big income. I deserve, I deserve, I deserve…”
Unfortunately, I think David makes a valid point, but I’m desperately convinced that we must turn that around and change the way we think about how businesses interact with and impact society.
Let Me Give You An Example:
These are a few a pictures of how Detroit looks today, April, 27th 2011…
“The city of Detroit has become the poster child for everything that is wrong with the U.S. economy – and for good reason. It literally looks like it is in the middle of a war zone or like a hurricane has hit it. The truth is that the city of Detroit is dying and it is simply not going to recover.”
A few facts about the Detroit of today:
- The Mayor of Detroit has admitted that while the “official” unemployment rate in Detroit is 27%, the “real” unemployment rate in his city is somewhere around 50%.
- House prices of under $1,000 are quite common in Detroit now, and there are some houses in the city that you can actually buy for just one dollar.
- Emergency financial manager Robert Bobb has announced a plan to close 44 Detroit schools.
- According to one estimate, the city of Detroit has 33,500 empty houses and 91,000 vacant residential lots.
And now for one more extremely important fact:
In 1994 the combined PROFITS of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler = $13.9 billion.
Imagine if just 17 years ago the leaders of these organizations had deeply embraced the idea of enlightened self-interest and understood that because they had such massive profits, they could afford to take a portion of those profits and invest them in the future of the community where their businesses operated. Not a forced investment, not a government directed investment – but an enlightened self-interest investment in the people and the town that formed their corporate community. Imagine further that each of these leaders decided to take $1 billion of their profits and invest them in the school system, in entrepreneurship and innovation programs, in the arts, public transportation and the green spaces of Detroit. THREE billion dollars in a single year. And imagine still further that they did that every year when their profits exceeded a certain level. What Detroit would be today, instead of a war zone, is the single most impressive city on the face of the earth. Detroit would have the best schools, the best arts, the best public transportation and some of the most beautiful parks and green spaces in the world. And the people of Detroit would be some of the most talented and intellectually inspired citizens in the world. And the three car companies headquartered there would then have access to a huge, loyal and grateful population of extremely bright and talented people who were eager to work for one of the companies that had helped to make their life and their hometown so vibrant and special. Talk about your virtuous cycles!
Now I know this is just a dream, and there are lots of other factors that would play out in the real world… but I have to believe that if the leaders of the big three automakers had exercised even a modicum of long-term thinking and truly enlightened self-interest, they would’ve taken some of the billions and billions of dollars in profits and invested them in their communities, not just R&D for their cars. And yes, I do understand that these three companies are very philanthropically generous, they each give money to the arts and education and health care… but I am talking about something on a completely different scale. I am actually suggesting that they forgo some shareholder value today, in order to increase America’s overall value in the marketplace a decade from now. I know it’s a bit of a crazy idea, yet deep down inside I feel this must be one of the key strategies we implement for helping America to regain its prominence as the world leader in business, education and quality of life… to help us rebuild the American dream.
Let’s face it folks, America needs to get its business swagger back. We need to do the hard work necessary and invest the money required to put us back on the path to global economic dominance. And I am not pointing my finger only at the big corporations, it is my firm belief that every successful business and every successful business leader should stop and give some serious thought to how they can take the great wealth they have generated… and voluntarily invest a significant portion of it into the programs that they firmly believe will make the biggest positive impact on the future of our country.
I know it is a BIG idea… but I do believe it is an idea who’s time has come.
The Future of America Depends On Enlightened Self-Interest
I very much look forward to your comments and feedback and hope we can have a robust discussion around this particular blog post. Thanks so much – have a super day – John Spence