Several years ago I had the opportunity to work on an acquisition assignment for Mitsubishi Electric, one of the multinational business units of the Mitsubishi group of companies. While doing research to better understand my client’s organization, I found an inspiring article that quoted Tachi Kiuchi, Mitsubishi Electric’s managing director at that time…
“Are the needs of the corporation and the world in conflict? In the long run, they can’t be. Today, 600 million of the Earth’s inhabitants enjoy the material benefits of industrialism. Soon, 2.5 billion more–China, India, the former Soviet republics–will join us. The final 3 billion people will follow. To accommodate all those people in terms of resources today, we would need three planets.
So how can the needs of the world be met in the future? The truth is, we can’t build a sustainable economy. We can only grow one. That’s a lesson I learned from the rain forest. The vitality of nature comes from its capacity to cultivate more advanced forms of life and then support them for billions of years on finite resources and a fixed flow of energy from the sun. That happens through a constant process of feedback and adaptation. In the global economy, the problem is, we are blocking feedback. As companies extend their reach, they become less tied to the communities they serve. Ecological and social costs and benefits never appear on our balance sheets. Feedback only exists in the form of direct financial returns. If there is not adequate feedback, there’s no adaptation. No adaptation, no innovation. It becomes hard to respond effectively to change. We become vulnerable.
People talk about businesses needing to be responsible as if it’s something new we need to do on top of everything else. But the whole essence of business should be responsibility. My philosophy is, we don’t run companies to earn profits. We earn profits to run companies. Our companies need meaning and purpose if they’re to fit into the world, or why should they live at all?”
Tachi Kiuchi went on to serve as CEO and Chairman of Mitsubishi Electric America and is currently Chairman of Future 500. As Managing Director of Mitsubishi Electric, he broke with Japanese corporate norms to champion a “living systems” approach to business that included rapid adaptation, financial transparency, openness, cultural diversity, executive positions for women, and environmental sustainability. Read the January 2004 article in Fast Company.
Every CEO and business owner looking to create a valuable and marketable enterprise would do well to contemplate its fundamental meaning and purpose within the communities it serves, and decide how well positioned the company is to deliver sustainable long-term growth.
Al Statz is an M&A advisor and the founder of California-based Exit Strategies Group, which is celebrating its 15th year in business. Contact Al at 707-781-8580, via Email, or connect with Al on LinkedIn.