If good businesses are all run by bad men society is screwed

By on July 9, 2015

By Natalie Campbell 

Luke Johnson is wrong – social enterprises can be successful, profitable businesses too.

My fellow columnist, Luke Johnson, wrote about what makes businesses successful in last weekend’s Sunday Times. The summary is thus: bad men make for good business as their companies are profitable and their shareholders love them for it. He went on to explain that one executive was guilty of both rape and fraud, but continues to be hired and lead companies. I felt sick to my stomach.

I must say this in every column, but call me an idealist because a) it’s not just men that run businesses, b) not all businesses are run entirely for shareholder gain, and c) if bad men always prosper then society is royally screwed. It’s not that I don’t see the truth in what Johnson has said. Yes there are some tyrants out there who are driven to build companies for nothing other than financial reward and the lifestyle that brings. But it’s the broad-brush sentiment of the piece that irks me so much.

There is such a thing as the ‘non-megalomaniac-led-business-model’. It’s a business model that favours social and environmental impact over purchasing G7 private planes. Community investment over doing-over supply chains. And profit that is made based on having a positive social impact on customers, not selling them stuff they don’t need. These businesses contribute at least R333-billion to the UK economy according to Social Enterprise UK and government data estimates that there are approximately 70 000 social enterprises in the UK. In addition to this they employ a million people.

If you add in the newer dimension of ‘profit-with-purpose’ businesses springing up and businesses led by women then you get an altogether different picture. Or does Johnson believe that all people turn into megalomaniacs, given a bit of power – including the women and the socially-minded ones?

I hope not, as that would mean all of the women on the 35 Women Under 35 list are evil, aggressive, bad people in the making. Or not.

On the whole, social ventures are built with a different DNA from the outset. It’s not about scaring the outside world with litigation, cultivating a bullying culture or intense, oppressive management structures. There is too much at stake – primarily driving change than creates a better world for us all. What the bad men would consider ‘do-gooding’ doesn’t come at the expense of being profitable or financially viable either.

If we have been told the truth about how certain businesses operate, then I believe we should make sure more money is given to morally conscious businesses that actually invest back into society, rather than paying their executives to splash the cash on supercars and yachts.

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