In my usual meanderings through the Internet I’ve recently come across work from Jeffrey Van Duzer, the business school dean at Seattle Pacific University and a former corporate attorney. He has some interesting things to say, including that maximising profit is not the top priority of business.
In today’s culture, that’s quite a statement! It seems that you really only have two choices when it comes to work and business: (1) Make a lot of money or, (2) If making money doesn’t appeal to you, do something else.
For many, many people, they are very good at what they do but they struggle to buy fully into the culture of the day, and for good reason! It seems, however, that sensible people who are sensible about business and money often feel as if maybe they’re called to something else, since they can’t “play the game” as the world plays it. This leads to us also viewing work and business in a negative light.
But Van Duzer doesn’t say this without offering a healthier alternative worth pondering:
“Probably the most controversial aspect of this view of business is that it relegates profit maximization or increasing shareholder wealth to a means and a constraint rather than a purpose. That doesn’t mean profit is not important. In the business school, we still teach how to run profitable businesses, but profitability is what you need in order to attract the capital that enables the business to do what it should be doing, which is to serve in the ways I mentioned.
“(These are: business… helps provide meaningful and creative work for people to do, which is part of how people express their God-given identity. Two, it produces goods and services that enable communities to flourish.)
“The dominant paradigm says the purpose of business is to maximize profit and increase shareholder value. This approach turns that upside down.
“Profit is like blood in a body. If blood isn’t pumping through your body, we don’t have to talk about your purpose, because you’re dead. Similarly, if profit isn’t flowing through a business, we don’t have to talk about the business’ purpose, because it’s bankrupt. Few of us get up in the morning and say, “Today I’m going to live to circulate blood.” Blood is important, but it’s not our purpose, and similarly for profit.
(Quoted from the website Faith and Leadership)
With my craft, ghostwriting, I’ve often wondered how I can run a profitable business when my heart is actually to just serve people; do stuff for people; use my talents for the community; and enjoy meaningful work. I’ve never been that excited about the bottom-line, about making the money, but more about all that other stuff. But yet I’ve known, somehow, that making money is something I should be interested in doing. Van Duzer’s putting this in a way that really makes sense to me.
It’s worth exploring this more, I think!