Profit and purpose don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And nowadays, it isn’t just shareholders who have a say in how companies are run. Stakeholder capitalism is redefining business, according to Fortune CEO Alan Murray.
If you’re a reader of his newsletter CEO Daily like I am, you know that stakeholder capitalism is a topic that Murray often delves into. In his new book, Tomorrow’s Capitalist: My Search for the Soul of Business, released on Tuesday, he takes the reader on a journey by discussing what he’s learned from hundreds of interviews and conversations with CEOs over the past several years. There’s a “rethinking of corporate capitalism,” he writes.
I asked Murray if CEOs ever mentioned their strategic partnership with CFOs in these conversations. “The CFO’s role comes up a lot, as the keeper of metrics,” he told me. “If stakeholder capitalism is going to become real, it has to be backed up by rigorous and relatable metrics—on sustainability and human capital, in particular. And that job is likely to fall to the CFO.”
Murray shares in an excerpt of his book how his interest in chronicling stakeholder capitalism began:
For most of my career I have seen my job as explaining the world, not changing it. My journey into the world of stakeholder capitalism was driven more by a journalist’s curiosity than a crusader’s zeal. Over time, however, I have become a believer. Based on what I have had the privilege to see and hear by virtue of my job, it seems absolutely clear to me that something important is happening in the world of business, and its effects on the world are, for the most part, good.
He also shares how writing a daily newsletter frequently provides him with feedback on the topic, sometimes pointed:
Not everyone agrees with my thesis. One of the pleasures of my job is the three hundred words I get to write each day for our newsletter, the CEO Daily. And one of the ancillary pleasures of newsletter writing is that recipients feel free to respond. Over the course of the last couple of years, I suspect I have gotten encouragement, but also heard every argument that anyone with a keyboard can muster.
A reader response: ‘You are so naive, my friend. All this talk about purpose and stakeholders is a head fake, meant to deflect criticism. Greed is still the name of the game.’
As a lifelong journalist, I appreciate skeptics. They are my native tribe. But at some point, I have to accept what my ears hear and my eyes see. Yes, I am certainly aware of CEOs who have gone to their chief marketing officers and demanded, ‘Find me a purpose!’ Indeed, I once worked for one who did exactly that. And I know many stories of companies that pursue good works mainly to deflect attention from their bad works—think of the Sacklers contributing to art galleries while pushing opioid pills on the public.
In his book, Murray also points out that not all CEOs are particularly enthusiastic about the concept of stakeholder capitalism:
Under Armour CEO Patrik Frisk, for instance, said at one of Fortune’s CEO Roundtables that if you had asked him when he first took the job to talk about the CEO’s role in broader social issues, he would have said, ‘What are you talking about? I’m here to run a business.’ But demands from employees, consumers, and investors have changed his view. ‘It’s become the expectation for us, both internally as well as externally.’
You can read the complete excerpt of Murray’s Tomorrow’s Capitalist on Fortune.com. And if you want to read more, you can order the book here.
What do you think about stakeholder capitalism? Let’s continue the conversation.
See you tomorrow.
Quick note: Join me for a LinkedIn Live event on May 16 at 12:30 p.m. ET where I will talk with Michele Tam, expert and associate partner at McKinsey & Company, about building the most effective team to support a CFO. You can register here.
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