Corporate Imperialism: The Root Of Anti-Business Sentiment

John Kane CEO, Race 13.1
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The ranks of Americans who are hostile toward business, executives, job creators, and the increasingly targeted ‘one percent’ seems to increase in size and intensity every day. Until a month ago when America’s largest utility company, Duke Energy, sued my family to cut down a willow tree in our front yard, I credited the growing power of this movement to the divisive, liberal campaign rhetoric that fuels it.

I was wrong. This campaign rhetoric is a result of a larger root cause: corporate imperialism.

Duke Energy’s lawsuit claims they must chop down our tree in order to safely deliver power along the lines that transverse our property. Their easement requires them to “do the least amount of harm.” Despite this they will not accept that trimming the tree would suffice, even by the standards provided on their own website. They refuse for one reason: chopping down trees and leaving stumps behind for their customers to deal with is far cheaper for Duke Energy.

Their approach is unscrupulous and imperialistic: they take what they want, when they want, how they want with complete disregard for the customers they exist to serve. With their brazen, bullying, holier-than-thou approach they provide ammunition to the growing ranks of Americans who resent businesses and executives, the vast majority of whom perform their work and serve their customers well.

Every great American business was founded by a person or small collective of businessmen like James Buchanan Duke, Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan and Steve Jobs who sought to solve a problem for their future customers, either by providing a product or service. Every person employed by and every family supported by a large corporation is enabled by a founder’s vision and hard work as well as the business sentiment and environment that existed when that company was founded.

When America’s largest companies forget that they exist to serve their customers, their customers do not exist to serve them, corporate imperialism takes root, grows and serves as fodder for anti-business rhetoric. Over time this anti-business rhetoric translates into grass-roots sentiment and then public policy which creates a negative landscape for business creation and economic growth.

Many of America’s greatest companies that are 50 and 100 years old could never have been established in today’s environment. In 2010, Kenneth Langone, a co-founder of Home Depot said it well: “If we tried to start Home Depot today, under the kind of onerous regulatory controls… it’s a stone cold certainty that our business would never get off the ground, much less thrive.” Today, Home Depot employs upwards of 350,000 people and has returned well over $100 billion dollars to shareholders since going public.

As a twenty-nine year old entrepreneur and small business owner, my American Dream is to build a great company that will make life better for its customers and provide gainful employment for thousands of Americans long after I am gone. Executives of America’s largest companies have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders. They also have an important responsibility to conduct their business in a way that does not fan the flames of corporate imperialism. These two responsibilities are not exclusive of each other.  The unfortunate predictable result of such imperialism is this: anti-business legislation creates a stifling headwind for entrepreneurs across our country seeking to build America’s next great companies. Corporate executives must remember that they are American citizens, not corporate citizens, first. Duke Energy has forgotten this important truth. When the American Dream is no longer attainable and free market capitalism ceases to exist, the United States of America can no longer remain the most extraordinary country in the world where Americans can dream great dreams, dreams that can come true.