The reputation of business needs repair
Without a doubt, the reputation of business is getting hammered. The upcoming political conventions will have their pitchforks out in this increasingly anti-business, anti-Wall Street environment. It should only grow worse. Right now business is seen as greedy, dishonest, arrogant and for most Americans, as having stacked the deck against the average citizen with job outsourcing and tax loopholes that benefit the rich.
This anti-business, populist sentiment has been on my mind of late. I was invited to be a subject expert at the WSJ CFO Network annual meeting on what business can do to improve its reputation. At first, I thought that should not be too hard to propose how business can be a source for good. But the more I looked into what I should say for my opening remarks, the harder it was to come up with recommendations to change the public’s current opinion. Business is red meat for politicians and it is only becoming rawer.
The painful truth is that no one is speaking up on behalf of business or has a convincing argument that might reinforce the benefits that business brings. No one is telling the story of businesses’ contributions to economic growth, job creation, social responsibility and employee safety and well being. The discussion on business reputation was off the record but here are the recommendations from the break-out session.
Ultimately, the challenge is showing that business cares. It is not just about the facts and the figures because that has been drowned out in this election cycle. Big business has to begin considering how to help small businesses and entrepreneurs make their way, improve employees’ financial wellbeing by, for example, offering instruction on saving for college or making a budget, and even enlisting the support of retired CEOs. There has to be a way to make sure that business gets credit for what it has done and have a voice on its own reputation. Someone has to take the first step.