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The nature of enterprise, not just profits

The bottom line. In the black. The business imperative: to make a profit. Without profit, there are no wages, no investment, no new jobs, no income for the business owner or the shareholders (“create shareholder value”, as the recent mantra in business goes). Profits, of course. No question there. If anything, the question is how to get there (by obeying the law, the rules of the market, respecting the rights of the workers and all those who interact with the business, protecting the environment, ensuring safety, and so on). And what else a good business needs to be, apart from profitable.  This is what Adriano Olivetti had to say in a speech to Olivetti workers in Pozzuoli in 1955: “Can industry find a purpose? Is it to be found only in profit ratios? Is there not something more intriguing beyond outward performance? A destination? A vocation in the day-to-day workings of the factory?” Rhetorical questions that point to values, dignity, pride in a job well done, in a job that is of use to the community. And that’s the operative word: “community”. In the new Edizioni di Comunità (“Community Editions”, a republication of a project called for by Olivetti in 1946), in a short book entitled Ai lavoratori (To the workers) after a lovely preface by Luciano Gallino, we find the republication of both the Pozzuoli speech and a similar one given in 1954 to employees in Ivrea. The factory and society. Industry and general responsibility. Beyond mere profits. Nearly sixty years later, the same views can be found in the work of Marina Capizzi and Ulderico Capucci and their interviews with sixty business leaders for the Assolombarda-Bocconi Observatory. They speak of “value”, and when asked for whom, this is the conclusion reached: “The strategy of value that emerges as a new path to competitiveness is founded on the concept of mutual benefit and on the production of benefits for others that are either directly or indirectly involved. In order to be long-lasting, the generation of profit must come through the production of benefits for others. Benefits that do not concern only buyers or the shareholders, but also the end users, the suppliers, the community, etc.” So long-term profitability in the hands of all stakeholders. Good advice – neither old nor new – for combating the crisis.