Image by HBR.
Fifty years ago Milton Friedman famously wrote that “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.” The doctrine of shareholder supremacy was born and, notwithstanding a growing movement towards a more conscious capitalism, continues to reign.
Suddenly, even that axiom feels less self-evidently true than did it a few months ago. We are seeing a rising number of companies showing up in this crisis with humanity. They are stretching themselves to support stakeholders other than their investors: employees, customers, suppliers, and wider society. For businesses facing an existential threat — those in travel or retail, for instance — this may not be an option. At the other end of the spectrum there are, of course, opportunists seeking to profiteer from this tragedy. But in the middle are countless companies — many more than we could have predicted — showing their better side.