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This chapter is from the book

The FoE Way

FoEs take an expansive worldview. Instead of seeing the world in narrow, constricted terms, they see its infinite positive possibilities. They believe deeply in the possibility of a rising tide that raises all boats. Faced with a competitive threat, they don’t look to cut prices and costs and employees, but to add greater value.

FoEs are bathed in the glow of timeless wisdom. Their “softness” in a hard world comes not because they are weak or lack courage, but from their leaders’ knowledge of self, psychological maturity, and magnanimity of the soul. These companies are forceful and resolute in standing up for their principles. FoE leaders have the courage to defend and act decisively on their convictions: Jeff Bezos at Amazon, Jim Sinegal at Costco, Jim Goodnight at SAS Institute, Sergey Brin and Larry Page at Google, Barry and Eliot Tatelman at Jordan’s Furniture, Jim and Anne Davis at New Balance, Herb Kelleher at Southwest, Jeff Swartz at Timberland, John Mackey and Walter Robb at Whole Foods, Kip Tindell at The Container Store, Ron Shaich at Panera, Bob Chapman at Barry-Wehmiller, Danny Meyer at Union Square Hospitality Group, Yusuf Hamied at Cipla, Terri Kelly at W.L. Gore—the list goes on and on. These FoE leaders have built extraordinary, industry-transforming companies despite carping from some Wall Street critics who reflexively view their “capitalism with a human face” as a threat to shareholders’ interests. The view that competitive advantage can be gained through a business model whereby all stakeholders add value and benefit from gains in value simply runs counter to the views of many analysts. Such critics are fundamentally myopic; they tend to view any stakeholders other than stockholders as net drainers of value, rather than a broader and deeper set of resources that can be leveraged to create even greater value than a company could otherwise create when it treats them merely as a means to the ultimate end of maximizing shareholder returns.

To be best prepared for doing business in the twenty-first century, business executives, especially those of companies that are leaders in their categories, would do well to ask themselves the ultimate existential question: “What are we here for?” They should ponder such nontraditional (in business) propositions as, “We are not here just to enrich investors; we have no culturally legitimized license to corrupt minds, bodies, and the environment; we cannot justify under the rubric of capitalism actions that are intended to tempt, seduce, and mislead customers into doing what can harm them; we have no right under any legitimate credo to dehumanize employees or to squeeze the financial life out of suppliers with unreasonable demands.” As leaders of FoEs do, companies of every type and size should consciously shape their cultures around the idea that we are here to help others live their lives with greater satisfaction, to spread joy and well-being, to elevate and educate, and to help employees and customers fulfill their natural potential. As leaders in companies—and other institutions of public purpose—is it too much to accept as one’s mandate the obligation to listen and to see, to open eyes and minds, to help people focus on what matters most? These sentiments are captured in our own words, but they are the sentiments of the leadership in every truly great business.

If FoEs can be described by any one characteristic, it is that they possess a humanistic soul. It is from the depths of this soul that their determination to render uncommon service to all stakeholders flows. These companies are imbued with the joy of service—to the community, to society, to the environment, to customers, to colleagues. The leaders of these great companies, as we define “greatness,” intuitively recognize the inherent need that most people above subsistence level have to serve others. These companies—their leaders, their people—have the courage to buck hallowed traditions in capitalistic theory. They are succeeding, indeed thriving, against long odds in the face of often ill-conceived, onerous regulations and unscrupulous competitors. They are holding on to their humanity in the face of overwhelming short-term pressures. We should rejoice in their success, and spread their message of caring for their fellow beings and their bottomless optimism far and wide. We have written this book to do precisely that.

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