There’s a new book out today, The Six New Rules of Business, from Judy Samuelson, who started the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society program in 1998 and remains there today. From that perch, she has watched the evolving role of the corporation over the last two decades. Her book looks at fundamental changes that have occurred as hard assets and financial capital have become less important, and reputation, intellectual property and human capital have become more so.
Like me, she believes those changes have led business to focus more directly on its impact on society—a change reflected in the Business Roundtable’s statement on stakeholder capitalism last year. “The BRT statement was an important marker. It clarified intentions.”
But yesterday, Samuelson told me she also believes there are at least three significant pieces of unfinished business—“blind spots,” she calls them—“that are holding companies back” from making their new stakeholder intentions a reality. The three:
Executive pay. Over the last decade, senior executive pay has gone up 7% a year, she says, while middle managers on down have seen only 3% increases. Why the discrepancy? Because top managers are paid in equity-related rewards, that reflects returns to shareholders. “As long as Total[/hotlink] Shareholder Return is at the center of how we pay executives…that’s the antithesis of what the Business Roundtable said.”
Contract workers. At a time when companies are focusing more on the needs of their employees, their “contract workers remain a blind spot. Contract work “is a huge source of creation of poverty…and that’s a choice companies are making.”
Taxes. “We are going to have another reckoning on taxes,” she says. “The intentions that were set when a lot of us supported reducing [corporate tax] rates was…to make sure we brought everybody up to that rate.” But games played, particularly by global corporations taking advantage of international tax shelters, have undercut that goal.
All three are topics most CEOs are reluctant to discuss. But they will have to be resolved before stakeholder capitalism becomes reality.
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