February 2011
Beware of Toxic Profits

Profit is a sticky wicket. I have to constantly work not to be beguiled by its illusions.

When I am in my best self, my take on profit is more in line with the late Peter Drucker’s perspective. To paraphrase, if I recall Drucker correctly, he maintained that profit serves a social role, which was always Drucker’s starting place. He was concerned with a healthy, functioning society. He saw the downside of a poorly functioning, poorly managed society and how it gave rise to fascism, which he experienced as a young Austrian in the 1930s.

Profit is important because it provides resources for companies to do research and development, so they can remain viable in serving society. And profit guarantees a company will stay in business, so it can continue to offer meaningful employment and sustaining income for its workers.

Yet I find it easy to be tempted by the game of the bottom line, to be taken up in the undertow of greed and acquisitiveness. Numbers and comparison can do that to us. It is easy to get caught up in the “game of more.” One way I have found to counteract this proclivity is this: when I catch myself being too concerned about profit, I decide to give something away to a client – to offer an extra service they did not pay for or in any sense deserve or expect. This practice counteracts my drifting toward greed and acquisitiveness, and wakes me from the spell of greed.

I also make a habit of sharing windfalls with clients and suppliers. If we have a windfall from some source, say a price suddenly falls on an item we had budgeted, then even if our client is not aware of this serendipity, we share the benefit of the lowered price by offering an additional service to our client. We don’t keep all the gain for ourselves. We share it.