Magazine

It's Business-Bashing Time


Election after election, there's no cheaper target than the corporation

With all the Presidential candidates out there ranting and raving about corporate greed—all the while feeding at the trough—shouldn't members of the business community be doing a better PR job explaining the basics of capitalism? — Charlie Porten, Weston, Conn.

Not unless they possess the strange and burning desire to get blamed, scorned, disparaged, and excoriated for the next nine months or more—specifically, until Nov. 4. Because as high-pitched and, yes, hypocritical as the "hate corporate" rhetoric is right now, we'd wager that it will pretty much end on Election Day. Then the winners, no matter what their political party, will reembrace a reality that most of them already know perfectly well. Business isn't the enemy of people—it is people. And business doesn't destroy hope. It creates it.

But right now, well, 'tis the season definitely not to say such things. It is, instead, the season for politicians to fire up supporters by vilifying bogeymen, and no bogeyman is more convenient, election season after election season, year after year, than The Corporation. The mere word is so impersonal! It conjures up images of grim concrete fortresses and slick skyscrapers, giving pols free rein to make pronouncements like one we heard just the other night: "For the past seven years, we've had a President who has stood up for corporations. It's time we had a President who stands up for you!"

You, who? Who are these "you" people, we wonder, who aren't part of business in some way? Sure, some portion of the population is made up of students, government employees, and workers in the nonprofit sector. But let's be real: The vast majority of Americans make their livelihoods from business, and not all of them are faceless, bloodless, megabonus-earning executives on Wall Street.

They are the field workers of Big Oil, toiling in some of the harshest conditions on earth, from the oil sands of Canada to the high seas off the coast of Norway. They are the immunologists and oncologists of Big Pharma, hunkered down in their labs trying to find cures for AIDS and cancer. They are immigrants from Ecuador and Vietnam, running the restaurant around the corner or launching a high-tech venture in their garage. Our point is, corporations are not a bunch of buildings. Like all businesses, they are flesh and blood. They are human beings.

And most of the time, they are human beings trying to make the world a better place for their families and employees. Now, we're not going to claim that corporate greed doesn't exist. We're not even going to argue that capitalism is perfect. The system has its flaws, but no other economic structure is better at creating real jobs.

O.K., off the soapbox. You didn't ask for a defense of capitalism; you asked if business should get out there and defend it. And our answer is basically where we started, that in this silly season, it's a thankless task. When normalcy returns on Nov. 5 or thereafter, politicians who want to get anything done and truly want to build a better society will have to acknowledge that business isn't "them." It's everyone.

If you are a new manager with an inexperienced team, what problems should you be worried about? — Irina Bandrabur, Bucharest, Romania

There are two. But first, let's take a moment to think about all the things you've got going for you. Young teams, especially with new managers, have got to be the most excited, energized groups in business. They're usually devoid of the "been there, done that" mindset that afflicts so many experienced teams. They rarely see challenges as impossible. And they often embrace change with gusto. If only you could bottle those qualities!

But you're right: Inexperienced teams have their issues. The first is that they tend to be unfamiliar with the level of risk the organization can absorb. That's why you, even as a new manager yourself, have to make sure your people understand the balance between being strategically bold, which is often good, and respecting the boundaries of acceptable risk, which is always necessary.

The second issue concerns you as team leader. Too often, inexperienced managers like to hire friends, or at least people who feel safe. Fight that urge. Seek out people who are better, smarter, and in every way more talented than you are. They'll push the organization to new heights of performance. And we guarantee your career will follow.

Jack and Suzy Welch await your questions. E-mail them at thewelchway@BusinessWeek.com For their video podcast, go to www.businessweek.com/search/podcasting.htm

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