The Corporate Citizen

In explaining why he grilled Sec’y of State Condoleeza Rice in Davos, Dr. Daniel Vasella, chief executive of Novartis, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, offers these words of wisdom–and perhaps warning–to CEO’s who feel they can and should abdicate their own beliefs and values to further the corporate mission:

The first responsibility of a C.E.O. is to run his company successfully and generate products which are useful to your customers, resulting in economic value creation. We also have to act responsibly, respecting not only the law, but also fulfilling legitimate expectations that society has of us. Today these expectations in most instances go beyond short-term profit maximization. What people want is that businesspeople behave in a responsible way in communities in which they live, that they treat employees fairly, respect the environment and demonstrate sensitivity to the problems of other, disadvantaged people in the world. I think corporate social responsibility has taken a much more important role than it used to.

And later:

…some of my fellow C.E.O.’s believe they should not express themselves on political issues at all. They should just do business. I think that is not the right attitude. First of all, we are citizens of whatever country we are from. We have a citizenship responsibility. Secondly, I do believe we have to examine our own beliefs and value systems regularly. We cannot act in a void. I think there is very clear responsibility.

As global power migrates from nation-states to corporations, the behaviors and expectations of these corporate citizens will become increasingly central to peace and prosperity.