“I just wasn’t raised to believe that profit was the ultimate driver. I was raised to believe that ultimately, the purpose of being in business is to build a strong community.”
A Lifelong Mission
I was the “odd-man-out” in the Advanced Management Program at Harvard in 1969. For one thing, I was the only woman in my class with 159 men, and a card-carrying feminist. That didn’t go over too well with my esteemed colleagues. But for another thing, I was very much in the minority when it came to my views about the raison-d’etre of business. We were in the throes of the Vietnam War. People were wearing black armbands to signal that they wanted the U.S. out of the war. Having strong moral values was very much a part of our society at that point. But it seemed to me that more than 90 percent of my class felt that the single reason to be in business was to make a profit. Ken Andrews, one of our professors, would ask about the purpose behind all we had done and all we were hoping to do with our business careers, and the students would, by and large, repeat the “make a profit” refrain. I shake my head now, thinking about that. It never ceases to amaze me.
I just wasn’t raised to believe that profit was the ultimate driver. I was raised to believe that ultimately, the purpose of being in business is to build a strong community. My father taught me that, by example, with his work ethic at Stop & Shop. He, his father, and an uncle bought the business from its founder, my Uncle Julius, in 1917, and brought it back from the brink of bankruptcy. He dropped out of Harvard to do this; a lot of people didn’t think he was making the right choice. But he did, and in the process of rescuing and then building the business, his focus was never solely on profit. It was always more inclusive. Being in business, for him, was about being successful for himself, for the people in the company, and for the community around him. He was totally immersed in the business, and that meant, to him (and to me, from my vantage point as his daughter) that he was totally immersed in community as well.
I think of my work in the non-profit arena in the same way as I think of my work in the commercial world. I’ve never understood the distinction between the two, save for what one does with the surplus money generated. (Except to note that when a for-profit runs out of money, it shuts down, whereas when a non-profit runs out of money, it can keep limping along, which can sometimes be too bad for all concerned!)
To my mind, the purpose of a non-profit enterprise is to improve the lives of the people it touches — the beneficiaries, or “customers,” the employees, the other stakeholders. Isn’t that equally true — or shouldn’t it be equally true of any for-profit company?
|“The purpose of a non-profit enterprise is to improve the lives of the people it touches — the beneficiaries, or ‘customers,’ the employees, the other stakeholders… Shouldn’t it be equally true of any for-profit company?”|
You get more out of both types of work — and you give more — if you don’t make a distinction. If, for example, you take your non-profit sensibilities into your for-profit work, you end up creating companies where people want to work. You enrich their lives; you don’t just provide a paycheck. You get involved in your locality, and you can see the effects of your efforts reflected in the faces of individual people.
And if you take your for-profit sensibilities into the nonprofit arena, the rewards can be even greater. I’ve seen too many successful businesspeople faltering on nonprofit boards. Hesitating to offer advice because they’re not sure their experience is applicable. Of course it’s applicable. If more non-profits were run as if they were for-profit initiatives, a lot more people would see a lot more getting done.
Now I’m used to people in philanthropic circles raising their hands in protest at that. I’m used to people saying “But non-profits are fundamentally different.” Maybe they seem to be. But the same tools and techniques that are used to make a for-profit successful can be tweaked and tailored to great effect for non-profits as well.
Consider how for-profits measure performance. For-profit companies track certain things each year, and measure and compare results to ascertain how successful they are. Now would a non-profit use those same measurements — sales, market share, net profit, and the like? No, it wouldn’t. But a non-profit could identify its own criteria for success and measure them, analyze them, and strive to improve performance in that way. What is success to a non-profit? Well, it has to be tailored to the goals of the initiative. If it’s a literacy program, maybe “success” means an increasing number of children or adults learning to read in a given time period. If it is a program to fund scientific research, maybe “success” is being able to attract more top-level scientists to the field.
Bottom line, the financial stability of a company and a non-profit rest on the same issues. There shouldn’t be a distinction between the two. The organizations we work with and how we work with them should be no different than the companies we work with and how we work with them. Bottom line, I think “seamlessness” is a worthy goal.
About Carol R. Goldberg
Carol Goldberg is President of The AVCAR Group, Ltd., a private investment and consulting firm. She spent 30 years at the family-managed Stop& Shop Companies, Inc., in a male-dominated industry, where she rose from the flower department to President and COO. (The $4 billion company was sold to KKR in 1988.) Her public board service has included the Gillette Company, American Service Group, Inverness Medical Innovations, Cowles Media, The Courier-Journal and The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
From her earliest writings (poetry), to her ponderings about identity as a young working mother, she has been systematically investigating the issue of work and family; making work meaningful; and women’s right to equal access to power. Strategic capacity building for communities and their leaders and empowerment for women are consistent themes. For example, the Carol Goldberg Civic Engagement Initiative (formerly the Goldberg Seminar Series), co-sponsor with Tufts University and the Boston Foundation, is an initiative in community capacity-building by focusing on the structural components underlying social issues including health care, public spaces, childcare/early childhood education, and strengthening non-profit organizations. The series fosters public-private dialogue and action on critical issues in the urban environment, helping prepare leaders to plan long-term and leverage their collective resources for the benefit of their communities.
She has a profound belief that women need to work together, to promote and support other women. She was a founding member of C200, of an International Women’s Forum chapter, of the Boston Combined Jewish Philanthropies Women’s Fund and a founding director of the Commonwealth Institute. Leadership responsibilities include the United Way, Tufts University College of Citizenship and Public Service, the Museum of Fine Arts, Beth Isreal/Deaconness Medical Center, and the Women’s Studies Board at Brandeis University.
In addition to numerous awards and honorary degrees, she is co-author of Members of the Club: The Coming of Age of Executive Women.
This biography is provided courtesy of:
Success to Significance, 2002. Linda Peretsky, editor.
The Committee of 200, Chicago, Il.