A responsible company in a capitalist culture?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve grown increasingly skeptical of capitalism over the past few months. Mind you, I’m not by any means convinced that there’s a better alternative out there, but that’s just an aside.

From the beginning of the banking crisis several months ago to the executive bonuses at AIG, I’ve become more and more convinced that our economy is being driven by greed — greed that is legally justified by “contractual obligations.” Ironic, isn’t it, that the same companies who are culpable for the financial crisis are handing out bonuses with taxpayer money. I guess it’s no secret where I stand on that one.

However, last week I read about a Michigan-based company who is handing bonuses quite differently. Here’s an expert from the blog of Michigan’s First Gentleman:

Al Schultz, CEO of Valassis, a Livonia, Michigan-based company that provides value to consumers through coupons, mailers, and online incentives. For nine straight years Valassis was on the Fortune magazine list of “100 Best Companies to Work For.”* So, what did Al Schultz do?

He did not throw up his hands, powerless in facing these contractual obligations. Instead, he asked – in light of tough times that had included employee layoffs – that the executives offer their bonuses to the board to use in the best interests of the company. Every single executive – through what we can assume were varying mixes of moral duty, corporate commitment, peer pressure, and boss-pleasing behavior – passed on his or her contractually entitled bonus. Many thanked Al for asking them to do what they thought was the right thing. (When Al told this story at our CEO-to-CEO forum at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, I had to ask the crowd to cheer. I couldn’t help but note how quick we all are to wax and wail at the repulsive behavior of AIG executives; yet we’re so slow to laud exemplary behavior.)

So, in the midst of (justified) public outrage, maybe it’s important to recognize those companies who are doing things differently.

First Gentleman – Valassis and a New Capitalism.

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