Is the New Social Consciousness of American CEOs Always a Good Thing?

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In a new essay, Michigan Ross Professor Andy Hoffman reflects on Marc Benioff’s new book and the dangers of relying on business to improve society.

As more CEOs publicly declare beliefs that corporations have responsibilities to society as well as shareholders, concerns inevitably arise about whether they really mean it — and the implications if they do.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is one such CEO, and his new book, Trailblazer, “raises challenging questions about the role of the activist CEO in political and civic discourse,” writes Michigan Ross Professor Andy Hoffman in a review of the book for Stanford Social Innovation Review. Part memoir and part call to action, the book is Benioff’s “guide for how enlightened companies and CEOs can cure what ails capitalism,” Hoffman writes.

While offering a critique of the book itself, Hoffman’s SSIR essay also discusses some of the bigger issues it raises: 

“Are we making some kind of Faustian bargain by displacing government politicians with corporate executives? When Benioff took his stand on LGBTQ rights, he said that some ‘chastised me for putting my own values ahead of shareholder value,’ but he defends the action by citing data that customers will pay more for products and services from companies that drive positive social and environmental change. Yet, we should be worried if we evaluate the wisdom of corporate forays into political, social, and environmental issues on the extent to which they increase the bottom line.

“With this conflict of interest, activist CEOs will not always lead wisely,” Hoffman continues. “There are certainly times when business logic can make government run more efficiently. But there are also times when such logic is blind to the ethical scope of our social challenges and therefore effective solutions.”

Andy Hoffman is the Holcim (U.S.) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise, Professor of Management and Organizations, and Professor of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the School for Environment and Sustainability.

READ THE FULL ESSAY

Media Contact: Bridget Vis, Public Relations Specialist, visb@umich.edu