Corporations aren't bad. Bad corporations are bad.
People aren’t bad. Bad people are bad. This is evident. Corporations are people under the eyes of the law (Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 1886) in the United States. With the legal precedent of corporate personhood, each company is granted equal protection by the government to act as individual human beings as directed by the 14th Amendment. The definition of “corporation” is a group of individuals united for a common purpose. There is an undeniable tension in the two concepts, of corporation and corporate personhood.
It’s fascinating, and the rise of the corporation in the past several decades, as the power and influence has increased exponentially, is a trend worth watching. Someone should write a book about it. Call it Corporation: A Biography.
People aren’t bad. Bad people are bad. So, if corporations are people, it follows that corporations aren’t bad. Bad corporations are bad.
In with a lot of the anger — warranted anger, I’ll insist, in light of instances of corporate criminal malfeasance, exploitative business practices, and executive greed — that has led to things like the Occupy movement, one thing has been lost in the shuffle: Corporations aren’t bad. Bad corporations are bad. Just because some certain companies, such as the defunct Enron and Lehman Brothers, maybe a few dozen others I don’t want to name and risk libel — have behaved criminally, unethically, and just plain bad, one shouldn’t paint with too broad a brush and lump them all in together.
For the January 2012 Memphis magazine cover story, dedicated to examining 50 years of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, I interviewed Richard Shadyac Jr., CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising arm of the hospital.
I asked Shadyac if his view on mankind had changed any since taking over the job. His answer, “Absolutely yes,” didn’t surprise me, but what he cited as the reason did:
“Corporate America has changed and evolved in a positive direction,” Shadyac said.
“People criticize corporations and CEOs,” he continues. “My experience is that they are incredible supporters of philanthropy. [ALSAC/St. Jude has] some of the best corporate partners in the world. The CEOs I’ve met with and interacted with have wonderful values and are incredible ambassadors for the kids of St. Jude. They take time to come here, they spend substantive time with our kids, and they allow their employees to be engaged here. I hear from CEOs how much it’s done for their employees. I don’t think people realize how engaged Corporate America is.”
Corporate Memphis is a force for good in this community. There is an army of foundations, nonprofits, and charities working every day to fight our societal ills on the local level, and the good people on the frontlines of the battle wouldn’t get far without the money and time Corporate Memphis arms them with.
That doesn’t even take into account the donations that come from private citizens who have had fortune and success in their own lives. CEOs and other corporate executives are double-people: Individual persons and corporate persons. It goes without saying: CEOs aren’t double-bad. Bad CEOs are double-bad.