This morning I woke up on my fancy high-tech mattress (SNBR), stumbled into the bathroom to watch the market report (CMCSA and T) on my phone (AAPL) while I shaved (PHG) and brushed my teeth (PG). I then soaped up in the shower (UN), dressed for the office (PVH) and grabbed my morning smoothie out of the blender (WSM), climbed into my pickup truck (F) to take my son Ethan to his buddy’s house for carpool. I then stopped for gas (BP), before writing this column at Fluid Coffee Shop in Valpo and going to work.
Just doing simple math, and probably leaving a bunch of things off the list, my morning routine was enhanced by seven major corporations and one small corporation before I even got to work today. Funny, I didn’t feel oppressed by any of them.
Whether we like to admit it or not, all of us have an inherent philosophical or political bias in the way we view the world. One of the intrinsic features of any bias tends to involve the “us versus them” paradigm. For those of us on the right, the “them” tends to be the government, for those on the left, the boogeyman “them” tends to be the “corporation.”
So, what is this public enemy known as the “corporation” feared so much by our friends on the left? Well, the legal definition is too boring for the scope of this column, so let's focus on the operational definition.
A corporation is a group of people coming together to provide a good or service to other people, or even more simply, a corporation is people serving people. In the process of people serving people, we (humanity) get to benefit from the collective work and creativity of others in the form of products, potential investment opportunities and, let's just get it out there, most of us earn a living in some way associated with a corporation.
Now, to be fair to my friends on the left, and I have many, I am sugar-coating this discussion. Of course, some corporations have done wicked things. I would argue this is more likely a symptom of the nature of human organizational structure than it is necessarily related to corporations in particular. It just so happens that the corporate structure is particularly effective at focusing group efforts toward a common purpose, and in my opinion the larger the human organization, the more oriented it becomes to making decisions with potentially adverse individual or local effects, which is certainly true of the government as well.
The interesting thing about interacting with corporations, however, is in truth we don’t have to. I could have slept on a straw mat, bathed with rendered animal fat and walked to work this morning. Of course, without being coerced, I chose convenience, efficiency and a tad bit of comfort instead. I chose to let these corporations serve me, and my life is better because of these choices.
There is an on-going discussion occurring right now about the purpose of corporations. A few weeks ago, a group of corporate leaders produced a statement endorsing the idea that corporations should exist to serve the greater good, not merely to produce profits for investors.
I say the whole conversation is a diversion. For most corporations', profits can’t be the starting point, but rather profits can only be the result of people serving people well. If a corporation doesn't serve its customers it eventually won’t have any, and if it doesn’t serve its employees it eventually won’t have any people to serve its customers. Every organization must exist to serve people.
As someone who invests in corporations, I want the corporations I invest in to serve as many people as possible in the best way possible because I believe this is what will make my investment more profitable over time. Come to think of it, I can’t think of a better definition of the greater good.