Beyond the Build

Customer Relationships

The Roots of Morality in Modern Business

On the eve of D day, President Roosevelt led our nation in prayer. Every word was powerful, but the end particularly resonates with me:

Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies…let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Regardless of which God you maybe believe in, Roosevelt’s words speak to a universal ideal: morality.

How Does Morality Meld With Business? 

To me, our perception of morality has changed over the years. This Wall Street Journal article speaks to two extremes, represented by Goldman Sachs and Starbucks. I’d like to highlight the positive angle, because I think it best represents the direction we are headed.

Howard Schultz, the founder and CEO of Starbucks, draws the connection of morality and business success–karma if you will. In his words, “The value of your company is driven by your company’s values.” Profitability is important, Mr. Schultz believes as we do, but so is respecting those around you. This includes your team, your downstream subcontractors and vendors and of course, your customers.

We recently entered into a new project with a very successful fellow. As I was finalizing our visit that day, I asked if he would like to review the numbers that make up our cost. His response, “Thanks, but I do not have the time. I trust you.

This comment has resonated with me ever since. Like you, we have reviewed those contracts that go on endlessly, planning for every unforeseen occurrence. To me, in the end it does not matter. What matters are the intentions, the trust and how you deal with others.

Does Morality Win More Business? 

As the Journal mentioned, Goldman Sachs has proved that they are about the bottom line, period. The mentality doesn’t seem to be serving them well. After the much publicized Facebook IPO a couple of weeks ago, I wonder if the folks involved might have liked a “do over?” Maybe long term they would have been better being a little more trustworthy.

As for the folks at Starbucks, I agree: they’re doing it right and they are seeing the rewards. So are companies like Whole Foods and Apple. Making a business profit is important, but is it a better indicator of a person’s character than trust? I say you can have them both.

If one earns the trust of those that you do business with, it come back in spades, for them and for you.



Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.