The virtues of American business


When I was a young adult, I considered myself a fiscal moderate. I believed the conventional wisdom that big businesses were fundamentally corrupt and were given unfair advantages in the marketplace.

Perhaps this was because growing up in the eighties and nineties, the notion of the evils of capitalism were pumped in the culture through movies like “Wall Street” and “The Insider.”

As I have gotten older, and having worked with some of these companies, however, my views of businesses — particularly big businesses — have evolved.

I feel very fortunate to have worked in large companies like Pfizer and Accenture early in my career. But I must admit that when I began working for them I thought my corporate stereotypes would be confirmed. I thought I would become privy to some of the secrets as to how they got their unfair advantages.

Alas, I found that my perception of these “big businesses” was greatly exaggerated. Instead I found myself surrounded by really hard-working and talented people who were determined to prove themselves in the talent-rich environment.

So, it was not outside the norm for me to work 12- to 16-hour days to produce quality work that would help the company achieve its objectives.

Years later, I worked in a smaller, younger company that was thirsty to prove itself in the marketplace. There, we worked just as hard, but we didn’t have the infrastructure or the attention to process that the larger companies had. In effect, we were just hustling to meet deadlines.

After reflecting on my experiences with both the large and small companies, I have concluded that the larger companies had been around for a long time, and were applying wisdom gained through experience. They learned to remain focused on their objectives, and built the infrastructure and processes necessary to grow. The application of such wisdom is essential for the success of any business, large or small.

For many years I thought companies worked like this, until I worked inside of a franchisor organization. Here, I met franchisees who had teams which were really good — as evidenced by their operations — but then there were a few franchisees who demonstrated the negative stereotypes I would see in those anti-capitalist movies.

I saw complacent workers who seemed to think that the business was simply there to give them a job. I also saw franchisees that did not invest back in the business nor pay their teams well. These franchisees — most of which did not last long — seemed to be pocketing the money and grinding down the business in the process.

When I saw such unfair business practices, I found myself wanting to fight for team members who were not being treated fairly and wanting to fire those team members who were dismissive of customers yet felt entitled to a paycheck. These experiences created a dilemma within me, and I would question the validity of American business and capitalism all together.

It has only been recently that it occurred to me that the defenders of “big business” need to quit denying or ignoring the fact that abuses do sometimes occur. For, as it is in most areas of life, injustices in business do occur.

Rather than deny or ignore these injustices, one should emphasize that these wrongs are the exception to the rule. I have met far more businessmen, for example, who seem to operate out of integrity than those who do not.

Moreover, we ought not move toward a socialist or communist “marketplace” — as some who oppose “big business” seem to advocate — because this oppresses all businesses in the effort to right injustices done by a few. One should not throw out the proverbial baby of “big business” with the bath water of a few nefarious folks.

As we are learning from the ongoing challenges of Obamacare, it is probably best to address particular issues in a system rather than have large-scale government interventions.

As world history and observations of businesses operating in socialist and communist countries reveal, rather than making business “more fair,” turning towards socialist policies tend to reduce motivation and diminish opportunity, further oppressing the people it purports to support.

At this point in my life, I recognize that American businesses are inherently unequal. Some have been around for decades and others for only a couple of years. Some are small; others are big. Businesses have different histories and visions and are comprised of people with different talents and motivations.

But before condemning American businesses because of some news story, or Hollywood production, I choose to reflect on the value that most have added to our society and the many hard-working people I have met within these companies.

Their efforts have created opportunities for people to be successful, developed products and services that benefit others, and more profoundly, these American businesses give more money, and their employees give more time volunteering than any government in the world.

These things, by any standard, are virtues.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]