- Aug 17, 2007
The FoE Way
FoEs take an expansive worldview. Instead of seeing the world in narrow, constricted terms, they see its infinite positive possibilities. They believe fervently in the scenario of a constantly rising tide that raises all boats to benefit everyone. Faced with a competitive threat, they don't look to cut prices and costs and employees, but to add value.
FoEs are bathed in the glow of timeless wisdom. Their "softness" in a hard world comes not because they are weak or lack courage, but from their leaders' knowledge of the self, psychological maturity, and magnanimity of the soul. These companies are forceful and resolute in standing up for their principles. FoE leaders have the courage to defend and act decisively on their convictions: Bezos at Amazon, Sinegal at Costco, Brin and Page at Google, Neeleman at JetBlue, Barry and Eliot Tatelman at Jordan's Furniture, Davis at New Balance, Kelleher at Southwest, Swartz at Timberland, Mackey at Whole Foods, Askew at UPS—the list goes on and on. These FoE leaders are building extraordinary, industry-transforming companies despite carping from some Wall Street critics who reflexively view capitalism with a human face as a threat to shareholders' interests. The view that competitive advantage can be gained through a business model whereby all stakeholders add value and benefit from gains in value simply runs counter to the views of many analysts. Such critics are myopic in the extreme; they tend to view any stakeholders other than stockholders as net drainers of value, rather than a broader and deeper set of resources that can be leveraged to create even greater value than a company could otherwise create on its own.
To be best prepared for doing business in the twenty-first century, business executives, especially those of companies that are leaders in their categories, would do well to ask themselves the ultimate existential question: "What are we here for?" They should ponder such nontraditional (in business) propositions as, "We are not here just to enrich investors; we have no culturally legitimized license to corrupt minds, bodies, and the environment; we cannot justify under the rubric of capitalism actions that are intended to tempt, seduce, mislead customers into doing what can harm them; we have no right under any legitimate credo to dehumanize employees or to squeeze the financial life out of suppliers with unreasonable demands." As leaders of FoEs do, companies of every type and size should consciously shape their cultures around the idea that they are here to help others live their lives with greater satisfaction, to spread joy and well-being, to elevate and educate, to help employees and customers fulfill their natural potential. As leaders in companies—and other institutions of public purpose—is it too much to accept as one's mandate the obligation to listen and to see, to open eyes and minds, to help people focus on what matters most? These sentiments are captured in our own words, but they are the sentiments of the leadership in every FoE.
If FoEs can be described by any one characteristic, it is that they possess a humanistic soul. From the depths of this soul, the will to render uncommon service to all stakeholders flows. These companies are imbued with the joy of service—to the community, to society, to the environment, to customers, to colleagues. The leaders of great companies, as we define "greatness," intuitively recognize the inherent need that most people above subsistence level have to serve others. FoE leaders facilitate, encourage, reward, recognize, and celebrate their employees for being of service to their communities and the world at large, for no reason other than that it is the right thing to do. The best form of corporate social responsibility is not making monetary donations to charities, but the dedicated involvement of everyone in a company in meaningful pursuits that transcend the bottom line. In FoEs, it is common to see executives, managers, and frontline workers working shoulder to shoulder, forging unshakeable bonds through shared service to others in all stakeholder groups. This fosters a sense of cooperation and support within the company. It gets employees to help each other rather than view each other as rivals for advancement.
These companies—their leaders, their people—have the courage to buck hallowed traditions in capitalistic theory. They are succeeding, even thriving, sometimes against long odds in the face of rapacious and unscrupulous competitors and increasingly ruinous health-care costs imposed on them by a dysfunctional system. They are holding on to their humanity in the face of overwhelming short-term pressures. We should rejoice in their success and spread their message of caring for their fellow beings and their bottomless optimism far and wide. We have written this book in furtherance of that objective.