Question Mark

This post deals with a subject that has been weighing on my mind lately and seems to keep coming up. The idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way that business has been conducted in the past few years and that we need to do something about it.

This past weekend at the Social Entrepreneurship Experience the topic came up once again. One of the MC’s/Speakers Mike Rowlands phrased the issue very eloquently, “our generation feels uncomfortable with the traditional model of business. We know something is wrong but are struggling with what that is.”

Certainly in recent years business has been taking an increasing amount from our society in the blind pursuit of shareholder value. The recent financial meltdown has shown that this system simply does not work. The pursuit of short-term gains will eventually catch up with you.

Additionally, it’s clear that business people don’t exactly have a “good rap” in the community. I was recently speaking with an International Relations student who is pursuing a minor in commerce because she wanted to understand how business people think. She told me that she was expecting that we would be taught strategies for exploiting consumers and the government. Fortunately Advanced Theory of Evil is not in the Sauder curriculum.

At first I was surprised that a fellow student would think that we could be so malicious, however, popular culture seems to share her sentiments. One only has to watch documentaries such as The Corporation or Capitalism: A Love Story to see that this is the case.

Do we want to be painted with the same brush? Do we want to be considered greedy, soulless individuals who dream in dollar signs? I know that I don’t want to be and I’m sure most of you don’t want to be either. But what can we do? We need to change people’s expectations. Business people have a bad reputation because they’ve earned it, and by the same token if we want a good reputation we need to earn it.

What will our new model of business look like? I don’t know to be honest. Maybe it will involved the concept of Stakeholder Value – the triple bottom line approach that emphasizes financial profits, environmental sustainability, and social sustainability. In any event we’re the generation that gets to decide the new face of business and I for one am looking forward to the road ahead.