Can we have successful businesses that are good for everyone?

February 26th, 2010

As I was again listening to today’s program, I found myself thinking of a conversation I had seven years ago with a very successful professor turned corporate guru. During our dinner discussion, he turned to me and said, “I don’t think its possible to operate a successful business based upon love. I wish I wasn’t right about this.” As conversations do, we drifted on to other topics, yet this portion of our conversation has stuck with me like a seed waiting for the right conditions to sprout.

For the past few months germination of this thought has slowly been erupting. You may remember our program of January 15th where we talked about worker-owned cooperatives. I am impressed by the ability of people to come together in mutual interest and create businesses that seem to be great for everyone.

I wondered if this was a peek into an answer of the question I had been considering, ‘What does it mean to have a business based upon love?” Often we think of love in terms that come from literature or the media. It is soft and feels good and warm.  You know, the kind of love that makes great sayings on greeting cards and is filled with emotion. Many business leaders would say that businesses can’t be operated in this emotional backdrop. I agree.

I have never thought this was the kind of love that we were talking about at our dinner conversation seven years ago. It felt more like agape, which means selfless love. We have become cynical. We believe that if we don’t take care of ourself no one will. Yet those that are the loudest advocates of this intense focus on self-interest don’t seem any happier because of it.

On February 23, I was driving around tuned in to our local NPR station when I heard a story that was like giving a shot of fertilizer to this notion of businesses based upon love. The story was about Macy’s European Coffee House, Bakery and Vegetarian Restaurant. They are in Flagstaff Arizona and are celebrating their 30th anniversary.

In the interview, Tim Macy, who calls himself the caretaker of the business, rather than owner, said, “The whole dream was that we wanted it to be a microcosm of the way the world could be”

Listening further to the radio piece, I found that those that work at Macy’s are referred to as family rather than employee and one family member remarked that Tim writes “love you” on every pay check.

Now I don’t know if Macy’s is the model for a business based upon love. I will go there and find out for myself. What this story did, though, is further my consideration that a business based upon love is not only possible, but can flourish. What do you think about that?

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