On August 19 the Business Roundtable issued an open letter titled “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation.” One of the preeminent business lobbies in the United States, the Business Roundtable (BR) includes the CEOs of leading U.S. companies from Apple to Walmart. Sandwiched between the spare title and 181 signatures was a one-page declaration that ended as follows: “Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”
On its own, this sentence is indistinguishable from the anodyne commentary that fills the annual reports of many Business Roundtable members. For those actively following this topic, however, it represents a very public rebuke of the Milton Friedman worldview that guides business decisions behind closed doors. Friedman, the renowned University of Chicago economics professor, penned a famous 1970 New York Times essay, “The Social Responsibility Of Business Is to Increase Its Profits,” that helped launch a half century of “shareholder capitalism.” In this worldview, the business of business is business, and the sole focus of the CEO is to maximize the profits of that business.