Politicians often remark that our country must be run more like a business. They are right. But the choices some of these politicians make suggest that they would be lousy businessmen.
In my consulting business, I know I can draw down assets for just so long without replenishing the account. One way I reinvigorate my business is to invest in developing new services and processes. Our clients will continue to hire us only if we provide value and stay one step ahead of the competition.
I also invest in my people by paying them well, training them and providing good benefits, including health care, flex time and retirement contributions. It’s the right thing to do and it makes good business sense. My employees must be well trained to be productive and innovative. And with a fair compensation package, they are able to focus on delivering their best effort everyday. While I could probably make more money this quarter if I changed that model — a year from now I’d be out of business.
My staff and I work hard to make sure that we are as energy and resource efficient as possible. For instance, we’ve invested in technology that enables us to telecommute. This has significantly reduced energy consumption and waste streams. These practices have lowered our costs and the knowledge gained has led to new services that our clients value. Additionally, both staff and clients have made it clear that the company’s commitment to these principles is important to them.
Many political leaders don’t seem to understand the importance of reinvesting. This is why I say they would likely be lousy at business. They refuse to make smart choices that help our nation grow. As the American Sustainable Business Council, an advocate for standards that promote innovation, points out: We can’t have a world-class economy without a world-class educational system that prepares Americans to excel. We can’t have productive workers when they’re worried about how to pay for their family’s healthcare. We can’t have real national security when we depend on critical energy resources beyond our control.
Finally, we can’t allow some companies to pass their costs of doing business onto society (which really means onto consumers, workers, taxpayers and other companies), just to juice up returns for a small group of executives and investors who already do extremely well.
As a small business owner, I, for reasons practical and moral, provide decent pay and benefits, minimize energy use and waste streams and respect the natural resources on which we all depend. Expecting that some or all of those costs should be borne by others would not be tolerated for long by my employees, clients or the communities that support my business. It’s time our elected officials hold big business accountable to do the same.
Entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the U.S. We should encourage capitalism to work its magic to generate profits and all the benefits that follow from that, but let’s invest in ways that build long-term value.
And let’s insist that incentives like tax breaks and subsidies reward companies for shouldering the true cost of doing business, not simply serve as entitlements. That makes good business sense, too.
John Heymann is chief executive of NewLevel Group, a consulting firm based in Napa, Calif., that provides back-office administrative support to social impact organizations.