So yesterday, my Writing Boots piece was focused on the rise, fall and the vaguely suggested resurrection of “stakeholder capitalism.”
Yesterday morning, I happened to be having coffee with a veteran financial analyst and institution investor relations pro—the first such person I think I have ever met. She’s a fan of my book An Effort to Understand, and we realized we shared a lot of values in common. So I asked her to have a look at my post, to see if it held water for her, or was just “the cynicism of the ignorant (like the country bumpkin who thinks the city cab driver is ripping him off).”
Her necessarily anonymous response comes from outside the communications world—but from inside a mind that has been wrestling with this issue far more frequently and personally than I. I present it without comment (but would love to have yours):
LOVED your post today. I am a firm believer that shareholder supremacy is a load of bologna. Simon Sinek’s book, Infinite Game talks about this. The concept of “shareholder as owner” is deeply flawed. Shareholders are contributors, not owners. It is a voluntary contribution, and doesn’t entitle or earn you the right to call the shots at a firm. Leaders do need to be held accountable, but pandering to an ever rising stock price at any cost doesn’t good governance make. My former profession as a sell-side equity analyst is equally as guilty for perpetuating this lie.
The crazy thing is that companies that ignore this notion of managing to a quarterly earnings print, and instead care about standards of ethics (without needed it legislated for them), serving their clients, employees and society actually end up being wildly more profitable and have more dividend/stock price appreciation than their short-sighted peers. It’s the same as a leader seeking power, that when they finally let go of the need for ultimate control, they actually gain more influence and following than had they continued to hold white-knuckled to the reins.
It’s maddening and why I regularly question my life choices to enter the world of Finance … 23 years, a mortgage, and three dependents too late. But I keep coming back to the concept that if all the people who think this way exit the room because it’s a potentially easier path to give up the fight, where will that leave us? There is a poem by Mark Strand called, “Keeping Things Whole” that my husband shared with me. There is a line in Strand’s poem that I’ve adopted as my life mantra (and coincidentally Strand elected to have carved on his own tombstone), “Wherever I am, I am what is missing.”
If I am in the room and at the table, I have an obligation to share my view, however unpopular because I’m what is missing from the conversation. (I also have a responsibility to listen and be open-minded too!)
Our industry has so much opportunity to do good and it kills me that this privilege is so often squandered.