10 Big Bets on
By David Lidsky
At a time when success in business was equated
with ruthlessness, Harvard president Charles Eliot
launched a graduate school to teach executives
to be moral actors in society.
The impact: The Harvard MBA remains a pinnacle
achievement in higher education, and doing good
is now widely considered good business.
John Bogle refused outside investment when
starting his mutual-fund company, Vanguard,
which let him focus on saving clients money
rather than goosing profits for his backers.
The impact: Competitors have had to lower fees
as Vanguard has amassed $4 trillion in assets. Jeff
Bezos is Bogle’s modern-day customer obsessive.
Henry Ford doubled his employees’ pay in the
hope that other mass producers would follow,
establishing a class of consumers who could
afford Ford cars and other goods.
The impact: Ford helped create the middle class,
but globalization and stagnant wages have since
stalled the American flywheel of success.
When advertising legend Jay Chiat opened the
new Chiat/Day offices, he sought to boost creativity by banishing assigned desks in favor of
using laptops and cell phones to work anywhere.
The impact: Ad folks rebelled against the setup,
which was too radical for its time, but Chiat’s idea
lives on at We Work and other coworking spaces.
Kodak CEO George Eastman adopted “welfare
capitalism,” granting benefits that were lavish for
the era, such as life insurance, profit sharing,
tuition assistance, and a retirement annuity.
The impact: As happy employees helped Kodak
thrive, its HR innovations spread and still influence the likes of Whole Foods and Starbucks.
In the same month that Congress banned gay
marriage, IBM extended healthcare benefits to
its employees’ gay and lesbian partners.
The impact: Corporations helped mainstream
LGBTQ rights; in 2015, 379 firms, from Apple to
Disney to Target, formally urged the Supreme
Court to reverse the Defense of Marriage Act.
In an old dairy, 3M management set up the Products Fabrication Laboratory (colloquially known
as the “funny farm”) for lab technicians to dream
big without constraints.
The impact: 3M’s misfits of science invented
such breakthroughs as surgical tape. Xerox PARC
and Google X’s moonshot labs owe 3M a debt.
When GE introduced Ecomagination, a suite of
environmentally friendly products, it seemed like
a joke from the once-notorious polluter.
The impact: GE has generated $270 billion in
revenue from products such as windmills; cut
greenhouse-gas emissions; and inspired Walmart,
PepsiCo, and other giants to be more sustainable.
William Hewlett and David Packard wrote down
their company’s approach to leadership, which
encouraged executives to interact directly with
line workers so each could learn from the other.
The impact: “The HP Way” became the leading
Silicon Valley management style; even non-tech
firms have embraced its flattening of hierarchies.
Beleaguered by assault and abuse in the workplace, women are using social media and other
platforms to shine a light on wrongdoing.
The impact: Prominent serial predators and
bullies have lost their jobs, and enlightened businesses have begun to wrestle with systemic
misogyny and long-standing power dynamics.
Business is about
more than profit
The $5 workday
Calling out sexual
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