Is your company heartless?

by Bruce Kasanoff on October 5, 2011

Free enterprise works beautifully when leaders feel rooted in their communities, beholden to their employees and answerable to their customers. But when these connections fray, the free market slides out of balance and the result is dangerously heartless behavior.

Heartless is laying off thousands of employees when your company has record amounts of cash on hand. American firms are holding $2 trillion in cash, up from $1.39 trillion in 2008. Since 2008, Siemens has fired 12,000 workers and increased its cash holdings from $9.4 billion to $16.4 billion.

Heartless is caring more about a concentrated group of investors than you do your customers.

Heartless is running a company with no loyalty whatsoever, without regard for longstanding, hardworking and effective employees.

Heartless is being willing to abandon a community because one 30 miles down the road offers better tax breaks.

To the degree they have a defined focus, Occupy Wall Street is addressing banks, but the problem is far more widespread than that. Large companies in numerous industries are hoarding cash while they fire workers. It is heartless to have record profits and record layoffs at the same time.

Me first, you last

Many politicians have become heartless, too. They care first about getting re-elected, and second about paying back the party and supporters that keep them in power. Most do not care nearly as much about the citizens they represent or about our country as a whole. I say this because unprecedented numbers of Americans are disenchanted with their politicians.

Heartless politicians are willing to shut down our government and default on our obligations, just because the party line says don’t compromise. Meanwhile, millions of Americans are suffering. That’s heartless.

Globalization has lessened the value of community. Instead of local merchants, we have chain stores that hire sales help for minimum wage. Instead of business leaders rooted in our communities, we have leaders who live far away and who often have never even seen the store that serves your area.

Occupy Wall Street, and then?

Instead of local community, we now have social media communities that have given rise to the Tea Party and now Occupy Wall Street. But for all the media coverage these new communities attract, they fail to root our business and political leaders in anything that touches their hearts. Social media can react to heartless behavior, but does not prevent it.

The only solution I can see to heartless behavior is selfishness.

Yes, selfishness.

Be selfish. Be very selfish

Despite the disappearance of real communities, despite globalization, our leaders need to realize that purely on a selfish level, acting heartless is a deadly and dangerous strategy. Vast numbers of people are suffering, scared and suspicious. They are ready to go out into the streets, to make everyone feel their pain. Occupy Wall Street is a Sunday church social compared to what’s brewing.

I pray that our leaders recognize the desperation that is building, before it explodes. It is in our leaders’ selfish interests to do so. It is in their selfish interests to stop acting heartless, because the alternative is something close to anarchy.

If this sounds extreme, you probably still have your job.

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