It’s been several days since I returned from Omaha. The Berkshire Hathaway meeting did in fact attract, 40,000+ people , a global community basking in the wit and wisdom of Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. They were not disappointed, the state of this Corporation resides in intelligent management, ready to deploy $40 Billion for another major acquisition. An attainable vision for a Corporation that represents America and American products.
Is the Corporation exemplary in the way it “treats” it’s employees. I really don’t know. All I do know, is Howard Buffett, Warren’s son is a decent man and 30% of the Corporations within Berkshire Hathaway family , have a disproportionate amount of Jewish officers. Warren has followed his childhood dream and his first wife’s love of people. I think the company, on balance, tries to be humane! Oh yes, it is Activism proof and mostly free of debt. Which positions it for future profits when the Market corrects!
Now, that I’ve spoken about the pluses of Berkshire Hathaway, I’m not sure I’m qualified to discuss their minuses or their ranking among their peers, if they have any? What I do wish to speak about, is the average American Corporation, those who have gained popularity by chasing ever increasing stock prices, while devaluing their employees. Employees have now become disposable. In the old days, employees were replaceable. There was a great New Yorker cartoon, depicting a Corporate Christmas party where ” everyone toasts each other and the people just like them next year”. The difference is , in the “old days”, if you were unhappy in your job or your employer was unhappy with your performance, you could scout out another job and leave. That’s prosperity. Usually, when you left, you got a higher price for your services too!. No more!
I really didn’t have to go to Omaha Nebraska to encounter Corporate egregious behavior, but I’ll tell you this family’s story and show you their video, because our people and our Society need help, when talented decent people of any age are forgotten by Society.
Walter worked for a Pharmaceutical compounding Corporation that had repeatedly ignored OSHA laws , manufacturing Animal Pharmaceuticals, under hazardous conditions. Walter was severely injured by a Plant explosion that took the lives of 2 colleagues as well. Walter’s medical expenses were covered under Workman’s Compensation, however, though severely injured , he was terminated from his job while the Plant was rebuilt with private and public subsidies. His disability payments are ending and he can’t find work. He has a wife and 3 lovely kids and only his faith is keeping him going. There’s something wrong with our Society, when we reward the Corporation, it’s Senior management, and we allow employees, to fend for themselves. How do we justify this behavior? Where is the mechanism to retrain this man and find him another job? Why don’t we have a Nationwide data base for job openings? Why can’t we link people to jobs or temporary support as they are re-trained? Taking a risk on decent hardworking people, is not a risk! It doesn’t come close to the consequences of the Fiscal Collapse of 2008.
This egregious behavior by this Nebraska Corporation is not unique. A NY social worker, confirmed, you can be terminated without cause in New York State, too, once you accept Workman’s Comp? So, what’s our next step as a society? As our Corporation’s look to exploit emerging markets, what has happened to their responsibility to their employees here at home? Those of us of a certain age, remember “cradle to grave employment”. It occurred at GM, at Ford, at Pfizer. Generations of families working happily, producing to capacity, for one Corporation for their entire lives. The Corporation took care of their employees. I know, I was there to offer counseling when Pfizer sold The Diagnostics facility I managed. I was responsible for providing career counseling 6 months prior to the move. Providing assistance for job placement within our facility in Brooklyn and out west, if employees preferred to move with the product. Pfizer also offered assistance with the move and with house hunting. It was normal operating procedure . So was job posting for upward mobility and counseling for worker’s with addiction problems. In the late 70’s and early 80’s when I worked for Pfizer caring for your employees was SOP! So what happened to Corporate America? How has the concept of disposable people become ingrained in the Corporate psyche? Why?
(I took this video at my friend’s house on West Shores, Nebraska. Does the young man playing the guitar or his family , look like they are disposable?)
People make the Corporation. Sure upper management is supposed to provide a Vision for the Company, but talented cherished employees, feeling secure in their jobs, well paid and nurtured for their talent, create undreamed of innovations. I know, I was one of those people when I worked at Ford Motor Co. I redesigned all sheet metal for cars and trucks. I wasn’t an engineer, I was a Biochemist by degree. I worked in the Plants, attached to Automotive Assembly, and was able to solve many of Ford’s “problem’s” in Paint. Like Warren Buffett, I loved my work, it was fun. Every time I came up with a new idea, I was rewarded and received an increase in pay or a bonus. What’s not to love! Ford was solvent then and remains solvent today. I don’t believe, either Ford or Pfizer sacrificed their profits when they treated their people humanely?
Fast forward to 2015, the Corporation no longer provides a safe creative environment for it’s employees. Is it any wonder that no one cares about the Corporation any more? People work to put bread on their tables. Since there is no upward mobility, people are resigned to stay where they are without looking elsewhere. Where can they go? There are no more Corporations of Excellence, those companies that Peter Lynch wrote about, ages ago! No, as a Society , we have lost our way. Faceless algorithms control our stock prices , corporations instead of growing to increase their stock value have borrowed to give buybacks to shareholders or have sold out to equity firms that have saddled them with debt, gutting the original Corporation, while driving up the price of their stock. We wonder why people are either apathetic or full of rage. We’ve created a generation or probably 2 living with trauma, the trauma of one generation is passed on to the next. We’ve created a society that talks constantly about income inequality and the lack of upward mobility but refuses to confront these problems and start creating jobs for people like Walter or the entire Middle Class. As they say, talk is cheap. Doing something takes effort. I challenge all those running for President, or any office, to come up with solutions now to change the status quo.
As a candidate for higher or elected office, it’s time to acknowledge that our Society has created entities which produce nothing and contribute nothing to our Society while 300,000,000 are in despair worrying about how to put food on the table. As a society, all we have to do is look around us. Our cities are not perfect and our Country isn’t either. We can do better.
In New York City, an institution, The Carnegie Deli, remains closed due to improper attachments to the city’s gas infrastructure. When I tried to find a map of all gas leaks in NYC, I needed to know the zip code of the suspected leak, to find a problem. So much for transparency. There should be a map showing all the sites with gas leaks. The Carnegie Deli isn’t an isolated case, many restaurants are not properly connected to the City’s gas . The answer is not to shutter restaurants to prevent future explosions, the answer is to invest in infrastructure and get people off the poverty rolls. Who is sponsoring a jobs program now? Who really cares about fiscal reform now? or Corporate reform now?
It’s not rocket science, when you stop funding entities which have ceased to deliver real value to the Economy and start investing in our people , the next great technological revolution will materialize. Start building for tomorrow and we’ll get to a better place. Please no more rhetoric. I’ve had it with listening to fine speeches, even my own. I used to be able to motivate people to help me change organizations. I don’t know if I still possess that skill, but I’m going to try. Together, we can change our world. Together we can create a balance between the needs of people and the needs of Society, our Institutions, our Government.
Oh, one last caveat, I heard a Politician say, people go into Government and they never come out. That may be true in Congress. The old time dedicated bureaucrat no longer exists. Instead, new government employees switch to industry or lobbying and leaves government as soon as possible for greener “pastures”. No specialist who understands the systems and their departments remains. So, let’s be mindful about what has happened and let’s demand a Federal budget that takes waste out of subsidies, creates Fiscal reform and Corporate reform and starts providing work for The Middle Class. Let’s not wait for more people to be unemployed and not reflected in the GDP or any other statistics , while we delude ourselves that all is well. Let’s stop “whistling in the grave yard” and start working now towards a better Society. This is my challenge to all candidates seeking government office, stop the rhetoric and start convincing your colleagues that the American people deserve better NOW! Let’s see who creates the Laws and job programs now. I, for one, do not want to wait any more years for change.
One program I’d like to see, is funding for entrepreneurs, people with the next good idea. These folks are our tomorrow. People like my son, who wants to manufacture a pro biotic butter, Brooklyn Butter, people like the 1500 millennials I met at the NYU Entrepreneurs Fair. You’d be amazed how fast our society will grow, if we invest in people with ideas. America took a risk on Elon Musk, Tesla is an example of Public money at work. 40 years ago, Corning invented the Laser and never understood it’s capabilities. Bell Labs and later Lucent Technologies invested in kids , sent them to Stanford , fully funding their salary as if they were employed, while providing a tuition free education. The Bell Labs “story” took place during the 80′ and 90’s. We weren’t suffering then Life was good until we started overturning our Laws and deregulating industries . We no longer have a Capitalist society. We do have a market society that chases nothing but Wall Street returns , while the rest of our society crumbles and leaves people hungry for food and solace. Remember Ozymandias, “king of kings, Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains …”.
Thanks for reading. Perhaps some of you will become involved and let me know how you are helping to get people back to work or providing services to alleviate trauma or poverty. God Bless You. Have a great day.