Businesses outsource offshore, leaving workers without jobs but improving the corporate bottom line and feathering their own nests. The greed of big oil, big insurance and Wall Street flood the news. The government needs to step in to protect us from the robber barons who own businesses in our country. But, is this an accurate representation of business and its leaders?
While conducting research for our book, Let Go to GROW; why some businesses thrive and others fail to reach their potential, we analyzed more than 100 small and midsize businesses. What emerged was a picture that will surprise many. Sure, companies need to make a profit. Those that don't aren't around very long. However, headlines that portray all business leaders as heartless misers, counting their pennies while their employees toil away in freezing, damp, dark cubicles don't tell the real story. Our experiences, at least with small business leaders, convey a vastly different tale.
Consider the small business owner who drove his employee to several specialists to determine what was causing his severe pain. The employer transported the employee to the doctor, sat in the waiting room, and kept vigil with the family through appointments and finally surgery. This employer then paid the portion of the hospital's bill that the company's health insurance plan didn't cover, personally taking on this burden for the employee and the employee's family.
When an employee of a small construction firm got behind in his rent due to medical expenses associated with the birth of his second child, the company's owner gave the employee an extra amount in his paycheck equal to three months' rent. This allowed the employee to get current on his rent and keep his young family's head above water.
Another employer we know cut his own pay in order to keep from laying-off his employees or reducing their hours. His rational was that he had more disposable income than his workers and could more easily afford the reduction in salary. He told us that most of his employees lived paycheck to paycheck and would not be able to pay their bills with a reduced income.
In one tragic case, an employer we know paid all of the funeral expenses for her employee's son who passed away suddenly after an accident. The employer did this anonymously, not wanting the employee to feel beholden to either the business owner or the company.
While charity may begin at home, it does not stop there. Businesses play a large role in supporting their communities with both cash and non-cash gifts and donations. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that businesses gave more than $4.9 billion to charity in 2010. Small businesses may not be able to give large donations like the more than $300 million given by Walmart in 2010. But, The Small Business Administration reports that there are 22.9 million small businesses, many give a lot back to the community for their size. That makes a tremendous difference in the lives of less fortunate people.
Companies we know support the Boys and Girls Clubs, Junior Achievement, Toys for Tots, and our local Christmas Mother. They run annual drives for United Way and build homes for Habitat for Humanity. One business owner told us that she goes to her local retailer each year and buys a dozen or so bicycles. She loads them in the back of her truck and carries them to the Salvation Army to be distributed to needy families at Christmas.
Not all gifts are in cash or merchandise. Many businesses not only allow, but encourage their employees to volunteer on company time to support charitable organizations, community projects and youth sports. Several businesses we work with pay their employees while they work for non-profit organizations on the company clock. These efforts include supplying mentors to elementary- and middle-school children, working at the local food bank and wrapping packages for needy children during the holidays. They organize walking and running teams for a myriad of charities. They donate blood. They gather goodies from home for our military heroes and clothing for the victims of hurricanes, earthquakes and floods.
Many business owners and their managers sit on the boards or donate their time directly to non-profit organizations, lending their business experience and knowhow to help these worthy causes make good business decisions. We know of business leaders who sit on the boards of their churches, local colleges and various other non-profit organizations.
The motivation of these good-hearted individuals is simply to give back to their communities. There is no profit incentive. Many gifts are made anonymously - it's not about generating favorable PR for them or their firms. No, these people are genuinely thankful for the success that their hard work has brought them. Their desire is simply to help others who, through whatever set of circumstances, have been less fortunate.
We could give other examples of kindness and selflessness displayed by business leaders and their organizations, but you get our point. Of course, we agree that there are some Scrooges in corporate America, but for every Grinch, we can show you ten business leaders who give with a generosity of spirit that is felt during the holidays and year-round. The next time you see a headline crying out against corporate greed; don't get sucked in to the us-versus-them mentality. Instead, remember how much good business organizations do in your community - you probably work for one.