Value System

As reported in the New York Times on 19th August, 2019, “Chief executives from the Business Roundtable, including the leaders of Apple and JPMorgan Chase, argued that companies must also invest in employees and deliver value to customers.”

And if you don’t believe that such a day would ever dawn, CLICK HERE for proof, sorry URL. Is there a difference between the two?

And Pepsi and Walmart too. And not just employees and customers, suppliers too will be dealt with fairly and ethically. “While each of our individual companies serves its own corporate purpose, we share a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders.

The Business Roundtable, incidentally, is a lobbying organization that represents many of America’s largest companies.

Revolutionary, isn’t it? And not a moment too soon. It is important these views are articulated because such things have never been done in the past.

After all, in a competitive world, driven by free-market principles, a business could be successful without delivering value to customers. What businesses in the free-market driven world do is not deliver value to customers. And no competitor would be ready to step-in and deliver value. Nor would customers notice the absence of value. 

The reasons customers buy from businesses are well known. At least from what we may call successful businesses. They buy because they don’t get value. They buy because they are forced to; they don’t have choices. They buy only things they don’t need. They buy because they are weak-willed with a low self-esteem and unable to withstand relentless messaging of big companies that tells them they are losers if they don’t have the product. If customers queue up overnight to be amongst the first to buy a device in the morning, it must be the fault of the maker that the offered device does not deliver value.

After all, in a competitive world, driven by free-market principles, a business could be successful without bothering to invest in employees, or worrying about their aspirations. That is what businesses in the free-market driven world do. And no competitor would notice. Nor would their employees.

The reasons employees work for a business are well known. At least for what we may call a successful business. They work for a particular business because they have better opportunities elsewhere. They work because their qualifications make them suitable for better jobs. They work because they prefer the risk of a monthly salary over the security of self-employment. They work for the enrichment of the employing business and not their own compensation and advancement. They work so that they can walk out on a whim if they get a better opportunity. This is why jobseekers claim they cannot find jobs and businesses claim they cannot find employees.

After all, in a competitive world, a business could be successful without treating its suppliers fairly and ethically and destroying value for them. That is what businesses in the free-market driven world do. And no competitor would notice. Nor would the suppliers. 

The reasons suppliers work with a business are well known. At least for what we may call a successful business. They work for a business because it treats its suppliers unfairly by paying less than what has been contracted and agreed. They work because the business will pay much later than the timeframe for payment agreed in the contract. They work because they don’t salivate at the prospect of large future orders from that business. They work because they don’t dream of some day making their business as big and successful as the business they are supplying to. They work because they are forced to. And a situation where a big company is a supplier to another big company, or a small company, just cannot exist.

The rising global discontent over income inequality, harmful products, domination that hurts competition and unethical practices cannot be the fault of our lawmakers whose job it is to ensure equity and fairness and justice. It must be the fault of business corporations since they are not representatives of the people voted into office to safeguard the interest of the common man. Since they have been able to establish themselves as a force in the world of business earning a lot of money, they can be trusted to create value for customers, invest in employees and deal fairly and ethically with suppliers. And work for the upliftment of the downtrodden in society. And world hunger. And global peace. And environmental conservation.

Can someone please tell me why we spend billions on elections in India, and in many countries around the world. If it is the large business corporation that is going to deliver value to customers, invest in employees and treat suppliers fairly, and work towards global peace and world hunger and environmental conservation, why exactly do we need elected representatives? 

In an explicit rebuke of the notion that the role of the corporation is to maximize profits at all costs that has held sway over the last hundred years, leaders of the Roundtable have ruled out obvious options like cutting executive compensation, or paying higher taxes, or increasing wage levels. They believe that their noble ideals can be achieved without doing any of these. They believe that their noble ideals can be achieved without doing anything.

But I am being unfair. It is not without doing anything their ideals will be achieved. After much deliberation, and as an example to the world of their commitment to achieving their ideals, the Roundtable has developed a Vision Statement for all members which is to be prominently displayed in the CEO’s office:

‘The purpose of our corporation is no longer to advance only the interests of shareholders. Instead, we will create value for customers, invest in employees and deal fairly and ethically with suppliers. We vow to protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses and foster diversity and inclusion, dignity and respect. We will work for the upliftment of the downtrodden in society. And world hunger. And global peace. And…’

And now that the problems of the common man have been effectively solved by the Roundtable and its members, our political leaders are counting the days to the next election when they will be able to tell us how they will solve our problems.

Golf with CEO

I recently got the opportunity to participate in an out-of-town golf meet arranged by a popular travel company, as part of their efforts at promoting a beautiful part of the country as a tourist destination. In my post-Corporate life, since I now do not have influence over spending a large company’s large budget and resources in favour of a particular service-provider, for valid reasons of course, such opportunities are few and far between. Being a considerate person, I considered whether it would be fair to accept the offer or not, since I may not be in a position to influence the movement of a large corporate’s large budget towards a particular vendor, for valid reasons of course. And since, like any normal self-respecting male, I don’t suffer from debilitating diseases like scruples and morality, after due reflection, I grabbed it eagerly.

The four-ball (a group of four people who play a game of golf together) groupings were decided based on handicap (indicator of competence, or incompetence in my case, in golf), as they normally are for such a motley collection of people. My four-ball included some people. I mean regular folks. Like me. And, it included the CEO of a large company, controlling revenues of over a billion dollars which, by any standard, is BIG.

I was, obviously, thrilled to be playing with the CEO of a large company. You don’t do that every other day. I was also equally apprehensive. I had to be on my best behaviour lest he put me in his proverbial “little black book” effectively ruling out future employment with a large corporation.

He apparently had the same handicap as me which is why we had been clubbed together in the same four-ball. I was surprised at first, me sharing a handicap with a CEO, but I am sure stranger things have happened. Rather than worry about the how and why of it, I figured it would make more sense to look at the positive aspects of the situation. I made a mental note to make a mention of this on my Resume as soon as I got back home, so that potential hirers would know that with a handicap like that, I could also be in the running for the next CEO role becoming available.

But back to the game.

I was looking forward to valuable golf lessons on the course. Everyone knows golf lessons are expensive and cost an arm and a leg which is why I have stayed away from them, and from driving-ranges of all shapes and sizes, lest a roving coach coax me into believing that I need lessons. Here was an opportunity to get lessons for free. Even though the level of his game was the same as mine, I was looking forward to all the great tips he would give me on the course. CEOs, we all know, are good at telling others what to do without having a clue of how to do it themselves. I emptied a full packet of earbuds cleaning out my ear-wax so that I did not miss any of his tips through a stray collision of his nuggets with lingering ear-wax before they reached the eardrum.

On my part, I was planning to give the CEO lessons in counting. Quid pro quo. Fair deal. He gives me golf lessons. I give him counting lessons. One to eight, since beyond eight in golf it ceases to count, or matter. As CEOs have people for doing most of the mundane and menial tasks for them, it has been reported that they sometimes become deficient in basic areas of human knowledge. Like counting. This becomes more evident on the golf course where they have to count the number of strokes they took to complete the hole and normally forget to count a few. I was certain the CEO would need help with counting and I was eager to show my knowledge by helping him count correctly and make a lasting impression with my counting prowess.

Besides, we would not need to worry about having to wait for the four-ball ahead of us to finish a hole so that we could tee-off. Surely the CEO would have important business to conduct which can only be done when he is on a golf-course, while informing the caller about that fact (of him being on the golf course). This would clearly open up a distance between us and the four-ball ahead. Of course the group behind us might complain but surely they would see the need for the CEO to conduct business on the course. The benefit for me was that we could take our time over shots and walk slowly. Since I was just getting over a bout of fever it was a big benefit, especially since carts were not available.

Anyone who has strayed onto a course (different from straying on a course which most of us do between tee and pin), and who has played the game knows that at any point there are probably a million things one needs to keep in mind while addressing the ball. Like “keep your head down”. Like “take a slow backswing”. Like “complete your follow through”. Like “keep the left elbow straight”. And, at any time, any one of these million can go wrong, leading to unintended consequences for the ball. The ball either going anywhere but where intended, or stubbornly not going anywhere at all.

To this was added item no. one million and one, “ignore the ringing mobile phone”. Of the CEO naturally. Conducting business on the golf course. Though a challenge to handle the one million and oneth item, the eternal optimist in me was looking forward to this opportunity as a learning experience which would stand me in good stead in future life when I would be playing with more CEOs. Most people get stuck at the million. I was boldly going to go where few had gone before. I was whistling a joyful tune and striding boldly.

By the end of the game, I was thoroughly disenchanted and in a foul mood. I did not once get an opportunity to correct his counting. He could count correctly upto eight. Not just eight, but, can you believe it, he could count well into two digits, which is what he did on three holes and had to be told to stick to eight. He did not seem very happy about being told what to do. While readying to strike the ball, I was providing for ignoring the last-minute mobilephone ring as I was preparing to hit a shot, and I was distracted because that ring never rang. How do you ignore something that is not there? I got no lessons on the course. On the contrary he asked for help with his swing after a few mishits. We had to walk fast and keep playing as he did not do any business on the course. In fact, to rub salt into my wounds, he said that he had not brought his mobile along as it might be a disturbance on the course, and had left it in the locker.

I looked at him, aghast. Who was this guy? Was this a CEO I just played a round of golf with? What right did he have to play with the persona and image of CEOs that has been so carefully constructed, polished and maintained by a long sequence of legendary CEOs before him.

If this is what CEOs are like, I don’t want to play with them ever again. It is like playing with a person. I may as well play with any person.

Immediately after the game I invited the other “persons” at the meet for a beer and a discussion. This was important. I narrated the events on the course to the group. There was disbelief at first, then widespread condemnation of his behaviour, followed by concerns that this was a disease that could spread and destroy the ideals set by his illustrious predecessors. One person in the group wanted to know if it was a contagious disease in which case we would need to take immediate steps as the CEO in question was interacting with others at the meet. Another expressed that our youngsters will not have any role-models to look up to. We will have a generation bereft of direction.

At a personal level, I was also concerned that the reputation I have built as a writer of corporate satire, will be in tatters. I will have nothing to write about.

Back from the meet, we, as a group of responsible citizens with the interest of society at heart, have petitioned our local councillor for setting up some basic standards for CEO hiring, for the sake of the development of the nation. The councillor came across as a reasonable man and joined us in expressing concern. He was a golfer himself. He has promised to take up the matter at the right forum.

I am also planning to send the CEO an invoice for the advice he asked for on the course.

More suggestions are welcome. This is important.

Quake with benefits

The northern parts of India were rocked by an earthquake around 1 PM on 5th March, 2012. Almost immediately after, the event was on the news, with channels outdoing each other in bringing meaningful and informative coverage to viewers.

The Daily News channel reported :

The earthquake was felt by people. People in cities and towns across the length and breadth of the impacted area felt the earthquake. People felt the earthquake in both offices and homes. In fact, the earthquake was felt even in tea-shops and restaurants and malls. The quake lasted for ten seconds. People felt the earth shake for close to ten seconds. The shaking felt by people lasted between eight and twelve seconds in most places. Not only did it last for ten seconds inside offices and homes, even on the road it could be felt for eighth to twelve seconds. The quake was felt in Delhi and adjoining states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The quake was also felt in Haryana and adjoining states like Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.

This broadcast was repeated every five minutes so that the many different messages could sink in.

The Now or Never channel reported :

People ran out of their offices. People also ran out of their homes. In fact, people ran out of wherever they were to someplace else. People in offices ran into homes. People inside homes ran onto roads. People on the road ran into offices. Not only did they shake themselves, people could also see things shaking. In offices people could see that things that were normally stationary were shaking. What finally convinced them that this was a quake was that all the old stuff inside the office, like ceiling fans, old furniture, cabinets, etc. which creak and shake in daily use, stopped creaking and shaking all of a sudden. The emergency preparedness of the local government, last tested less than two weeks back, should be lauded. People ran here and there as soon as the earthquake struck.

In keeping with the information that was being provided at different levels of detail, and in view of the informative nature of the content, this broadcast was repeated every three minutes.

In a remarkable demonstration of maturity and restraint, religious leaders of different faiths, in places where the quake caused destruction and damage, otherwise always at loggerheads, spoke in one voice and blamed it on people’s lack of reverence for God and their habits of wanton greed and excess. According to them this act of God had been unleashed to punish them that even they, leaders of faith with a hotline to God, were powerless to control.

In places where the temblor did not cause any damage, religious leaders of different faiths have claimed that death and destruction had been averted because of the proactive measures they undertook and their invocation of divine help. As leaders of different faiths have claimed credit for the non-destruction to their own measures, communal riots have broken out between followers of different faiths in support of their leaders’ claims. The death and destruction toll in these places is far higher than any place damaged by the earthquake.

In a news conference called by The Fictitious Company Ltd., their spokesperson has lauded the vision and decision-making skills of their CEO who has managed to save hundreds of lives of employees and millions in damage to company property.

This momentous saving has been achieved by not deciding to move the headquarters of the company, where a large number of people work, from Mumbai to Bahadurgarh, a small dusty town in the state of Haryana where the epicentre of the temblor lay and where damage has been caused by the quake, almost a thousand miles away from the glitz and glamour of Mumbai, the country’s financial services and movie-making capital.

This large saving assumes special significance in view of the fact that it has been realised despite the move to shift to Bahadurgarh never ever having been considered by The Fictitious Co. Ltd.

The Fictitious Company has also announced the relocation from Bahadurgarh of the factory that was never going to be set-up there. The company has also promised shareholders to not take even more decisions, considering that not deciding to move to Bahadurgarh has been such a game-changer.

Other companies, including competitors, have complimented The Fictitious Co. on their achievement and far-sightedness. In fact, after this announcement, many other companies have also discovered their own savings in the form of the factory they did not locate in Bahadurgarh, the Research Centre they located elsewhere, and the Board meeting that was held overseas.

In a late development, it is learnt that the Chamber of Commerce and Industry has planned a celebration on account of the tremendous savings that have accrued to business on account of not having moved anything to Bahadurgarh. The CEO of The Fictitious Company Ltd. will be felicitated at this function for his contribution to industry. The Chamber is said to be considering setting up a high-powered special sub-group with responsibility for petitioning and invoking the wrath of the Gods more often so that more such catastrophic events may be unleashed leading to improvement in companies’ financial position.