“In the Long Run” mused Maynard Keynes “we are all dead” or as someone else once said, “Don’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands, throw something back”. The author of that line is unknown but we can assume that he knew something about baseball and the cut and thrust of business and life. It seems to me that the two are inseparable.
In the consumer society of the developed world in which we live, the lifestyle we enjoy is largely shaped by the extent to which we buy and sell.
A market without anything to sell will be just as ineffective as a market full of merchandise with no one to buy. When we have real financial wealth, we are able to indulge many of our fantasies or dreams. That’s one of the reasons for aspiring to wealth and the independence it brings. For example once you have travelled around the world staying in the world’s most luxurious hotels it’s not necessary to have the 5 star penthouse suite, something more modest will do. Once you’ve tasted the grape it’s not necessary to taste it with every meal.
Success in anything comes at a price and business is no exception. The ability to be disciplined and to persevere no matter what, is possibly the single greatest attribute to be successful in business. As Calvin Coolidge put it “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men and women with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent”.
But perhaps there is another price to which, in a sense, it is not obvious until it hurts and that is the price of integrity. The lack of ability for individual companies and institutions to police themselves, has led to a plethora of regulatory bodies for professions and businesses. We have created a “blame and shame” culture in which so often we prefer to abrogate responsibility and seek litigation, rather than facing up to the challenge ourselves. Integrity perhaps is best summed up as acting in a responsible, honest and fair way no matter what the cost to the individual or company.
We have been given a shocking example by many in authority on how to be economical with the truth, once a civil offence now a well-honed practice is to “spin” the facts to suit a particular agenda of self interest.
Philanthropy, no longer the preserve of the rich and famous, often anonymous, through centuries has made a contribution to the good of many of the underprivileged, as well as aiding education research and science, from which we all have benefited in some way. Many of the wealthy have historically helped the poor and those needier than themselves. Two of the world’s current incurable illnesses are AIDS and cancer, the major problem facing the developing nations is AIDS. Hardest hit are the children with an increasing numbers of orphans born with AIDS. In contrast, the problem facing the developed nations, is one of cancer, and in particular breast cancer. Drug addiction and alcoholism, particularly amongst the young is increasing at an alarming rate in both the most affluent areas of society and amongst the desperately poor, like the street children on Seventh Avenue in Guatemala City.
Huge wealth has been created over the past two decades, not least amongst City of London financiers, many of whom became millionaires on the strength of their bonus payments alone. That we should try and help those less fortunate than ourselves is a desire common to most people. We also know that Charity begins at home. The Stock Market is the barometer of the economy, and the economy is driven by business, and business is the powerhouse that can make a real difference by making a positive contribution to the Society in which we all find ourselves. Working with integrity is perhaps not just about the way we treat our employees, colleagues and competitors but also about how we use the wealth that we create. Whilst financial wealth will mean different things to different people, having more than we need gives us an opportunity to make a difference for others, however small we may think the contribution is, and speaks more about us than the what we are able to give.
Taking off the catcher’s mitt and throwing something back is at the heart of charitable giving and philanthropy and in doing so helping the weakest and most vulnerable in society. “For it is more blessed to give than to receive”. After all, in the long run, we are all dead!