I was very excited to read Richard Branson’s “Screw Business As Usual” as it examines how entrepreneurs can be successful while still helping out causes for the greater good of mankind. Branson says: “I constantly meet a growing army of entrepreneurs around the world, and when they ask me if I have one single message which will help them, I tell them it’s this: doing good can help improve your prospects, your profits and your business; and it can change the world.” Throughout the book, Branson discusses a wide range of types of causes, such as environmental issues, human rights, poverty, cancer, and many more.
Photo Credit: Victoria Dawe
Branson believes that by the 1970's business were focused on maximizing profits, at any expense. He states that he has:
“belief that people are basically good and, if you can only give them the opportunity to do the right thing they will. This applies to businesses as well. One of the more devastating theories of the 1970s was that no matter what it took to achieve it, the primary purpose of business was to maximize value for its shareholders. This principle has led to a variety of social ills where businesses discard employees (at the drop of a hat), pollute our air and waters, or create short-term gains that are unsustainable. It is important for people in business to recognize that long-term shareholder value is more likely to be created by companies that value their employees, act as good environmental stewards and think long term in general.”
The above quote probably best sums up the underlying argument of the entire book, and the bulk of the book contains various examples of businesses that are doing well by doing good.
It is great if large organizations (such as the hundreds of companies that Branson manages) can operate in ways that value employees, and look at ways the business can help the environment or proactively how they may help out charitable organizations.
He references certain companies that are built around positive principles, and have done very well financially, such as companies that make organic food products.
He notes that GE and Walmart are proactively taking steps that will both be financially rewarding and help out the environment.
It is definitely a worthy goal for businesses to improve mankind, and at the same time generate enough profits to put food on the table for their families, and the families of their employees. However, given the economic situation that so many of American businesses are experiencing right now—especially small businesses, I don’t know to what extent many of Branson’s larger than life projects/examples are relevant to small business owners.
I would say the most important takeaway, and believe Branson would agree, no matter how big or small, it is important to make the attempt to “do better.” For my law office, my wife and I attempt to participate in local community events and charities, such as offering a scholarship to a local senior (the law office donated to a Palm Desert High School senior). We attend fundraising events and in general attempt to assist a handful of charities that we feel strongest to support. I believe business owners can find ways to participate in their own communities-assisting with their time, money or knowledge.
Branson’s book provides an optimistic point of view of the future of entrepreneurship—mainly that businesses will naturally operate in ways that are more environmentally friendly, employee friendly, and in cooperation or benefit to communities. However, being in California, I also recognize that sometimes the regulatory environment (in this state) can be stifling to businesses, and in the current economic climate that is not the best situation either.