Cautionary Tales of Business Pioneers Who Tried to Do Well by Doing Good
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A history and analysis of “enlightened capitalists [who] sought to address social problems primarily through their business practices, rather than by acts of charity or philanthropy.”

With the exception of the relatively recent rise of movements like corporate social responsibility, the divide between corporate ambition and philanthropic efforts has been relatively stark. O’Toole (Emeritus, Business/Univ. of Southern California; Creating the Good Life: Applying Aristotle's Wisdom to Find Meaning and Happiness, 2005, etc.), founding director of the Neely Center for Ethical Leadership and Decision Making, gives background and context to the efforts of those who have attempted to challenge one of business’s oldest axioms that it is “hard to be good.” These enlightened capitalists, writes the author, are notable for their strong ethical compasses, respect for other people, and commitment to sticking to their values through good times and bad. The more familiar characters include James Cash Penney, who created a retail empire that’s barely holding on today; and Levi Strauss, whose company has “a jaw-dropping capacity to undertake a corporate volte-face in company policy and strategic direction.” In the second half of the book, O’Toole narrates more modern stories—e.g., the epic battles between William C. Norris and Seymour Cray to create the supercomputer; business mavericks like Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and Bill Gore, who coined the term “unmanagement”; and environmentalists like Anita Lucia Perella Roddick, who genuinely tried to change the culture with her Body Shop chain of natural products. Looking forward, the author examines how some business leaders are changing their tunes on environmental and social challenges, integrating ethical considerations into corporate strategy and using social engagement with customers to gain a competitive advantage. O’Toole writes that his method in performing this social review is simple storytelling, and it works; the book serves as an informative road map for leaders who dare to break the mold.

A tapestry of remarkable characters, high drama, and entertaining story arcs for leaders of businesses large and small.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-06-288024-6
Page count: 592pp
Publisher: Harper Business
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2018


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