Does Capitalism Have a PR Problem?

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Corporate leaders gathered at the Fortune CEO Initiative in New York City argued that was the case at a town hall on trust and transparency on Tuesday afternoon.

“For every one positive article about capitalism, there are 11 negative ones,” said Nathan Rosenberg, founding partner of Insigniam, a management consulting firm. “CEOs should seize their job. Capitalism has created more elevation of [the] human condition than any religion or government ever has. We don’t tell our story. We don’t talk about the benefits. We have to get out and tell our story.”

Tom Wilson, CEO of Allstate, remarked that more companies should be focused on their societal role as job creators, and do more to measure, communicate, and be held accountable for the impact they’re having in terms of job creation. He noted that there were some issues to work out—like how and whether to count contract or gig economy workers that do business with companies—but argued that such an effort could help earn public trust and push businesses to do better. “We need to get organized,” he said.

Business also needs to do a better job, for employees as much as broader society, creating “a level of business literacy,” said Ron Williams, the CEO of RW2 Enterprises. More effort needs to go into explaining how companies make money, where that money goes, and how it serves as an engine for development and transformation, he said. He added that executive compensation—and scrutiny over how high it is—is something that business leaders have to get used to and be prepared to discuss.

Justin Blake, Global Lead for Executive Positioning and Family Enterprises at Edelman, noted that though his firm’s survey showed that nationwide trust in institutions has fallen to all-time lows, businesses perform relatively well.

More than three-quarters of respondents thought that CEOs should take a leading role in societal change, up 11% from the previous year. At the same time, he noted that a significant portion of respondents felt that the CEOs didn’t embody the values their companies tout. The survey also showed that people crave authentic and spontaneous leaders who don’t sound on message, Blake added.



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