Long-Term Capitalism

Five Reads on the BRT Statement, One Month Later

September 23, 2019  • Miguel Padró

“What’s past is prologue.” The bard’s famous line in The Tempest captures how we at the Business & Society Program are looking at the Business Roundtable Statement on Corporate Purpose one month later. It was a milestone, but its impact is “TBD” by hard choices in the real world.

No sooner had the ink dried on the BRT statement than major tests for BRT signatories emerged. Many are asking, “will anything change as a result of the BRT’s statement?” Here are five ongoing stories to watch for early indicators of whether big business will live up to its newly-articulated commitments.

The Battle Between AT&T and Its Angriest Investor Is Just Getting Started. Here’s What to Watch for Next (Geoff Colvin, Fortune) Can a BRT statement signatory stay true to serving its stakeholders while it’s being confronted by a powerful activist hedge fund?

Save Capitalism by Paying People More (Tom Wilson, writing in The New York Times) Allstate CEO Tom Wilson reminded us that the US Chamber of Commerce issued its own statement on corporate purpose focused on the responsibility to create good jobs.

Not Just Purdue: Big Drug Companies Considering Settlements To Resolve Opioid Suits (Brian Mann, Colin Dwyer & Nick Castele, NPR) How will companies address past sins like overly-aggressive marketing and distribution of opioids?

‘Simply Unacceptable’: Executives Demand Senate Action on Gun Violence (Andrew Ross Sorkin, The New York Times) Some CEOs have joined in a call to action on gun control, one of America’s most fraught and complex political issues. What’s the right test for when to speak out?

Have GM’s Shareholders Been Profiting at the Expense of GM Employees? (Tracy Samilton, NPR) Is the BRT statement truly the end of shareholder primacy? The UAW is pointing out that GM has spent more than $20b in stock buybacks and dividends to shareholders since 2015, while idling four US factories last year to cut costs.

Will the BRT statement be an inflection point for business decision making? In different ways, each of these stories represents a test of the hopeful rhetoric reflected in the statement. They will be worth following closely.