A chief executive reconsiders the relationship between a corporation’s success and its commitment to social responsibility.
According to debut author Valenzuela, the business world has been changed by a trio of historical forces: globalization, the digital revolution, and a newfound emphasis on sustainability. These shifts have produced a “New Normal,” an age in which technological innovation demands a strategic accommodation of the extraordinary transparency delivered by a new online community of “collaborative consumers.” This “environment of intense scrutiny,” Valenzuela compellingly argues, demands a radical reassessment of the ways in which companies articulate their responsibilities to stakeholders and their places within society as a whole. The author provides a detailed history, including concrete case studies, of the ways in which companies have accomplished this—some have simply organized themselves around the priority of profit (Apple), tried to combine a commitment to profit and a societal obligation (Unilever), or made their principal mission the satisfaction of some greater good (Patagonia). Valenzuela ultimately proposes a new model that envisions a company’s societal mission deeply embedded within every province of the organization, a pervasive diffusion of its core values. To that end, he recommends the creation of a new position, a connecting leader, a “Society Proxy,” who manages the social contract that delineates a company’s duties not just to consumers, but also to the greater world it inhabits. The author is a visiting professor at the Cass Business School and the founder and chief executive of his own company, and his knowledge of the subject matter is unimpeachable. He thoughtfully and persuasively argues that the old social contract that once defined a business’s sense of its moral obligations is now obsolete, and a new covenant has replaced it. In addition, he writes in accessible prose, largely unencumbered by the turbid MBA-ese that contaminates so many business books. Valenzuela’s discussion of “authenticity,” though, is a touch anodyne—it seems to simply mean an earnest versus purely strategic devotion to a corporation’s societal obligations. It’s unclear how this translates into counsel since sincerity is not so easily willed.
A thorough, incisive account of the changing moral landscape of business.