We consider how the social responsibility of business leads to meaningful work.
Greetings from Chicago, where we just recorded two guest interviews for The Tightrope with Dan Smolen Podcast: the first was with entrepreneur and owner of Piece Pizzeria and Brewery Billy Jacobs and the second with his lifelong friend (and mine) founder of and executive producer at Elm City Communications Stu Katz on how the shared overnight camping experience of our youth informed our own meaningful work journeys.
It’s been a fun and inspiring experience. And with Billy, Stu and I took in an afternoon game at Wrigley Field where the Cubs won and rose to first place in the NL Central Division. WOOT!
Our time here got me thinking about the social responsibility of business and how it has changed dramatically in the nearly 50 years since the late University of Chicago economics professor and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman applied to it a narrow, libertarian definition. During September 1970, in the op/ed pages of the New York Times, Professor Friedman wrote this:
“[There is] only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”
At the time of its writing, Friedman’s opinion piece was viewed as a blunt attack on the growing American environmental movement which served to take on corporate malfeasance and industrial disasters such as: oil spills near Catalina Island off of the Southern California coast and the literally on-fire Cuyahoga River in Northeast Ohio. Friedman’s intent was clearly understood: he believed that the responsibility of business was to its shareholders. And to nothing and no one else.
Fast-forward nearly 50 years, and we see that the social responsibility of business has moved well past the financial bottom line: a CEO today must fulfill the interest of shareholders, but also serve the interest of stakeholders: consumers of its products and services, the people in the communities where the company operates, and the talent that drives its growth and success.
On that last point, today’s CEO must drive engagement with people who seek work that is profound, protects the planet, empowers people and communities, and is fun to do—meaningful work. What is more, today’s best talent will steer away from companies and organizations whose missions are devoid of corporate social responsibility.
Professor Friedman’s frame for the social responsibility of business was entirely transactional. Today’s thought-leaders, most especially the former CEO of Unilever Paul Polman, know that the social responsibility of business involves so much more. Polman believes that today’s CEOs must cast off products and services from their brand array that, as a result of their production negatively impact the environment, or, hurt people through exploitative and unsafe labor practices.
Billy Jacobs certainly reflects today’s best practices, especially that the social responsibility of business happens through meaningful work. He has generously invested in time to get to know each team member in his restaurant and brewery operation; they share with him their joys, sorrows, struggles, and dreams. For him, his team members are family. And with Billy’s support and affection, they work hard and joyfully to create a dazzling dining experience.
It is no wonder that Piece Pizzeria and Brewery is the highest-grossing single location pizzeria in the United States. Piece is powered by people doing meaningful work.
The podcast episodes with Billy Jacobs—and Stu Katz—will stream this fall. We look forward to your reactions to their meaningful work stories. And we do hope that you will find in them great inspiration.
Our best days lie ahead when the social responsibility of business leads to meaningful work.
DAN SMOLEN is founder of The Dan Smolen Experience. He is also the executive producer and host of The Tightrope with Dan Smolen podcast. Listen and subscribe to us by keywording “The Tightrope with Dan Smolen” on Apple Podcasts. Also, please rate us and offer suggestions for future guests and topics.
Image credits: Chicago Riverfront, Dan Smolen; Billy Jacobs, Stu Katz, and Dan Smolen at Wrigley Field, Marsha D. Weiss; Pizza and Beer Composite, Piece Pizzeria & Brewery.