Good corporate citizenship is a theme of the Davos celebrations. Admittedly, even fewer, just 5%, named CSR in its own right as the single most important criterion; but one might add to this the additional 24% who said that the reputation and integrity of the brand, to which good corporate citizenship presumably contributes, matter most. From an ethical point of view, the problem with conscientious CSR is obvious: it is philanthropy at other people’s expense. Advocates of CSR typically respond that this misses the point: corporate virtue is good for profits. The trouble is, CSR that pays dividends, so to speak, is unlikely to impress the people whose complaints first put CSR on the board’s agenda.
Profit-maximising CSR does not silence the critics, which was the initial aim; CSR that is not profit-maximising might silence the critics but is unethical. In a new book, co-written with Karen Southwick, Mr Benioff argues that corporate philanthropy, done right, transforms the culture of the firm concerned*. Unlike some advocates of CSR, Mr Benioff says he opposes government mandates to undertake such activities. In any case, if Mr Benioff is right, and CSR done wisely helps businesses succeed, compulsion should not be needed. Lack of compulsion is exactly what is wrong with current approaches to CSR, say many of the NGOs that first put firms on the spot for their supposedly unethical practices.
CSR was conjured up in the first place because government action was deemed inadequate: orthodox politics was a sham, so pressure had to be put directly on firms by organised protest. Ten years on, instead of declaring victory, as well they might, disenchanted NGOs like Christian Aid are coming to regard CSR as the greater sham, and are calling on governments to resume their duties.
Some 200 guests were wined, dined and entertained among the Old Masters by the great pianist Alfred Brendel, long a friend of Sir Ronald’s. Sir Ronald is altogether more sophisticated and urbane. On both sides of the Atlantic, private-equity firms manage funds that buy big controlling stakes in firms, sometimes taking public firms private. The old differences between America and Europe have vanished as private-equity firms of every nationality fight for the same deals, and the same capital to invest, everywhere. Private-equity firms have mostly struggled with succession, says Josh Lerner of Harvard Business School.
Teddy Forstmann’s failure to find a successor means that his firm, Forstmann Little, is unlikely to survive him. In the late 1990s, he and Apax’s other partners started to discuss how the baton could be handed on to the next generation of leaders in a timely, efficient way that let the departing partners take money out without seriously weakening the firm. They adopted a retirement age ranging from 55 to a mandatory ceiling of 60-against which Sir Ronald has now bumped. It remains to be seen if Apax can thrive without Sir Ronald, for all his efforts to leave it in great shape. A new strategy requiring generalists in Apax’s leveraged transactions group to specialise in a particular industry has not been greeted with universal enthusiasm within the firm.
Sir Ronald is now expected to devote his energy to two causes long close to his heart. Sir Ronald believes that economic growth for the Palestinians is crucial if there is to be lasting peace with Israel.
We just set our salaries by… voting?
The employees aren’t on the same team as each other – some got one number, some got another. When the question first came up for me, I didn’t know how to reliably compute that number, and it felt overly complex for that moment in time. On Monday, the salary of every employee at Figure 53 will be set by a popular vote. In other words, I asked our team to set their own salary. First, the salaries of our current team have all settled down to a single number, across the board.
Everyone knows how much money we’re bringing in each day, and I do periodic status updates of how much we have in the bank, what our expenses are each month, etc. Bigger in talent, bigger in vision, bigger in capacity, bigger in skill, bigger in responsibility. Let’s see what happens if I ask people to choose their own salaries. I ran the numbers, I shared that process with the team, and concluded that, yes, this new number could fit. See, I voted the number I was thinking of choosing, if I had just done it on my own.
Something between my understanding of the state of the company and their understanding of the state of the company placed their valuation just slightly higher than the number I chose. Not much higher, so if I’d just picked a number on my own and declared it by virtue of authority, I doubt anyone would have complained.
Does capitalism work?
It’s the form of capitalism practiced by every democracy in the world, including China (which is not a democracy. Compassionate Capitalism works under the stricture that those individuals who can prosper under the free-enterprise system can keep the fruits of their labor and amass wealth – up to a point. There has to be something left over for those who cannot be entrepreneurs. Pure Capitalism doesnt leave anything or leaves little for the non-capitalists. The trouble starts when capitalists believe that they do not owe the non-capitalists anything when they have amassed their wealth because of them.