Corporate social responsibility has entered the mainstream, but what does it take to run a successful purpose-driven business? A Harvard Business School professor examines leaders who put values alongside profits to showcase the challenges and upside of deeply responsible business.
For decades, CEOs have been told that their only responsibility is to the bottom line. But consensus is that companies—and their leaders—must engage with their social and environmental contexts. The man behind one of Harvard Business School's most popular courses, Geoffrey Jones distinguishes deep responsibility, which can deliver radical social and ecological responses, from corporate social responsibility, which is often little more than window dressing.
Deeply Responsible Business offers an invaluable historical perspective, going back to the Quaker capitalism of George Cadbury and the worker solidarity of Edward Filene. Through a series of in-depth profiles of business leaders and their companies, it carries us from India to Japan and from the turmoil of the nineteenth century to the latest developments in impact investing and the B-corps. Jones profiles business leaders from around the world who combined profits with social purpose to confront inequality, inner-city blight, and ecological degradation, while navigating restrictive laws and authoritarian regimes.
He found that these leaders were motivated by bedrock values and sometimes—but not always—driven by faith. They chose to operate in socially productive fields, interacted with humility with stakeholders, and felt a duty to support their communities. While far from perfect—some combined visionary practices with vital flaws—each one showed that profit and purpose could be reconciled. Many of their businesses were highly successful—though financial success was not their only metric of achievement.
As companies seek to coopt ethically sensitized consumers, Jones gives us a new perspective to tackle tough questions. Inspired by these passionate and pragmatic business leaders, he envisions a future in which companies and entrepreneurs can play a key role in healing our communities and protecting the natural world.
Outstanding…Jones challenges head-on the notion that for-profit leaders have never be virtuous while chasing the bottom line…This is a timely and insightful read.
Deeply Responsible Business is a valuable catalog of notable efforts over the past two centuries by profit-seeking businesses to also pursue the common good.
Jones subverts received wisdom about the logic of business and capitalism. He makes a strong case for reimagining capitalism and posits that the first step in this process is to reconceptualize business and its social purpose.
For the last fifty years, Milton Friedman’s idea that businesses should overwhelmingly focus on shareholders has prevailed, and our culture and laws have aligned so closely to this thinking that people have come to believe it is the natural way of doing business. This is why Jones’s book is so important and powerful. It explodes Friedman’s idea and shows how—throughout history, the world over, and in many ways—it is actually more natural for entrepreneurs to have a purpose and mission.
Geoffrey Jones’s outstanding book provides a compelling and readable account of the long and rich history of businesses that conceived of their place in society as profitably benefiting their customers, workers, owners, communities, countries, and planet. Some might think this a new—or even controversial—idea, but its roots are deep and global. Being deeply responsible offers many benefits—but equally many challenges. Jones shows how firms navigated their conflicting responsibilities. Not only business leaders but also leaders in other sectors, will benefit from these insights, which are painfully relevant in our age.
A fascinating and important contribution. Jones profiles companies whose leaders, in one form or another, have promoted responsible business. He records their deep commitment to embedding humane values in their businesses and captures their considerable challenges and failures. In some cases, virtue signaling was not borne out by virtuous practices. The book argues that the presumption that responsible business is good business is simply not the case. Those who behave ethically are undermined by those who do not. Coordinated efforts across multiple companies are more likely to succeed, but ultimately it is government that must lay down the terms on which business needs to act. Insightful and informative.
- 448 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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