A co-worker sent me a copy of this email today, which I sent nine years ago to our corporate staff … We had recently concluded a significant “visioning” process, which had affirmed the importance of human values within our company in addition to the financial capital objectives. I then wrote a series of emails to all-staff unpacking the elements of the “vision” that we adopted. This was one of them…
Sent: Friday, April 14, 2000 10:33 AM
Subject: Thoughts and Ideas
In recent weeks, I have reviewed with you the elements of Fiore’s vision statement, and discussed some of the development and investment activities of the company. In the next few memos, I plan to focus on each of the functional divisions in the company. But first I thought I would share with you some food for thought from an address given last fall as part of the executive-in-residence program at the University of Notre Dame by Elmer W. Johnson, who is a former Exec VP and Director of GM. The purpose of his talk was to take moral stock of our economic system. After making a powerful case for capitalism, he went on to discuss several contemporary moral concerns, one of which was the question of “character and the market mentality”:
“In The Battle for Human Nature (1986), Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore College, argues that the disciplines of economics, evolutionary biology, and behavioral theory have converged on a frightening conception of human beings as self-interested, rational, economic individuals living in a world of social Darwinism very much to their liking, a conception that has come to be so widely accepted that it threatens to undermine the traditional conception of humans as moral beings who are obligated to choose the right, regardless of self-interest. As the modern conception becomes ever more pervasive, Schwartz says, our social lives and democracy itself are tainted and transformed by the market mentality: everything becomes a commodity. Thus, a false conception of humans becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yet as Schwartz says, the commercialization of noneconomic goods is ultimately self-destructive. Society cannot hold together, and even the market cannot exist, without conventions of social responsibility and mutual trust.”
So his question is: How do we prevent (both individually and as a society) the all-pervasive “culture of the market” from eroding our institutional and personal lives and frustrating our higher purposes?
I believe, that if we really “buy-in” to our corporate vision and live out these values, it mitigates the worst aspects of this market mentality. And just as some of the early defects of capitalism – such as cartels, investor fraud and exploitation of workers – were remediated by reforms over the past century, we can help to bring about a corrective to these continuing moral concerns by the way in which we carry out our business.
What do you think?
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Fiore Companies
William J. Kunkler, Executive Vice President