As I started to think about what I wanted to talk about in this month’s column, the Business Roundtable — an association whose members are CEOs of major U.S. corporations — had just released its Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation.
Signed by 181 CEOs, the statement redefines a corporation’s singular purpose of maximizing shareholder profits to one that includes an economy that serves all. The new statement, according to Alex Gorsky, Johnson & Johnson’s chairman of the board and CEO, and chair of the Business Roundtable Corporate Governance Committee, “better reflects the way corporations can and should operate today. It affirms the essential role corporations can play in improving our society when CEOs are truly committed to meeting the needs of all stakeholders.” (You can read the full release at convn.org/business-roundtable.)
A business plan that benefits all stakeholders — including employees and communities — as this sets out to do, boosts the bottom line. A healthy, balanced workforce is a more productive workforce. And, as the corporate world is realizing, doing good is good for business.
Of course, our association community does not operate under the same for-profit model as the corporations whose leaders signed the pledge. But there’s a lot that we do have in common — and let’s not lose sight of the fact that the Business Roundtable itself is an association exerting influence in the corporate world.
In certain ways, associations can have an even bigger impact because we have the ability to influence larger numbers of people as we speak not only to one industry but span all sectors and professions. That kind of reach is going to be especially important amid the profound changes altering our world.
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, in his most recent book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, talks about three challenges, or global “accelerations”— involving markets, technology, and the climate — that are reshaping our lives. As he said in a lecture late last year at MIT, these challenges put a premium on “learning faster, and governing and operating smarter.”
That view is shared by the Business Roundtable, whose new statement of purpose emphasizes investing in employees by “supporting them through training and education that help develop new skills for a rapidly changing world.”
What does that mean for us? Our role as an industry will take on even greater importance as business events become the main channel for professionals to learn and upskill for the future. Now, more than ever, we need to be several steps ahead, always scanning what’s around the corner for them.