By Alan Murray and Geoffrey Smith
May 12, 2017

Good morning.

Lots of rich feedback on my posts this week, here and here, about the two different models of capitalism represented by Unilever—the epitome of corporate social responsibility—and Brazilian private equity firm 3G—cost cutter extraordinaire (or extraordinario). Some of that feedback is off the record, including an early morning phone call from a Fortune 50 CEO who insisted it’s a false choice, and that the world needs both kinds of companies. Some respondents agreed to let me share their feedback. A sampling below:

From B.M.:

“I’m finishing an MBA program this month, and the role of companies in society has swirled in classroom discussion. From these talks, I’ve come away fiercely opposed to 3G’s approach. I think zero-based budgeting has utility, but its repeated application sounds downright exhausting and degrading.

“To be clear, I do not shy away from rigor and a demanding work environment—I’m going to Amazon in Seattle post-MBA—but the strategic alignment matters. So does the long-term view. This is why I’m excited for Amazon and fairly disgusted by 3G.”


From P.V.B.:

“In my view, the whole issue is the appropriate time horizon that we incentivize our companies to work with. If we set up the rules of corporate governance so that this quarter’s results are the highest priority, it seems to me that the 3G approach will always win. One can fire people and cut costs quickly; you can actually affect this quarter’s profit numbers. Investing for longer term profit actually hurts the bottom line this quarter and the payoff is many quarters hence.”


From R.O.:

“A significant problem with the current USA corporate model is that management has taken a disproportionate share of the benefits. Management works for themselves more than shareholders or workers.”


And then the apocalyptic, from F.T.:

“Robotization, digitalization and automation are killing lower and middle class jobs at a speed and scale that is human-traumatic and destructive enough without further legitimizing the process by always putting shareholder interests as the primary goal. This sort of ruthless, class-divisive capitalism has got to stop or we’ll be ultimately having a people’s revolution of unimaginable societal dimensions.”


And similar from I.T.:

“High returns to capital and low returns to labor mean capitalism naturally creates deep inequality. People are deeply discontented—even amidst an economic recovery and 4% unemployment. Without either a) meaningful redistribution via tax code, b) a massive shock (Depression or World War) or c) a shift in mindset toward stakeholder capitalism in which employees are treated as important along with shareholders, customers and society—populist anger seems likely to boil over.”


I vote “c”. More news below.

News below—and enjoy the weekend.

Alan Murray


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