by Charlotte Glover
April 08, 2005
Oh, come now, Mr. Branco, are you really telling me that you can't imagine a world where Capitalism and a decent living wage go hand in hand? Do I really have to go live in another country because it offends me that honest, hard working people are going without decent food and shelter in America because they are not valued by their employers? Isn't it just a tiny bit juvenile to start shouting "America, love it or leave it?"
Maybe I just have a bigger imagination, because I absolutely can envision a United States where free enterprise reigns and workers can feed their families, because I believe people are the most important asset a business has. Or maybe, I just know more stories that exemplify how making money and providing for people can go hand in hand.
One of my personal business heroes is a man named Aaron Feuerstein of Malden Mills. Living in Southeast, you probably have one of his products in your closet today because he invented fleece as we know it. Feuerstein owned a 300 year old textile mill in Massachusetts and he went bankrupt in 1981 after the growth of the global textile manufacturing market. Rather than leave town, Feuerstein spent millions of his own money to develop two new productsPolartec and Polarfleece and he kept his workers on the payroll to do it.
If that weren't challenge enough, a fire burned most of Malden Mills to the ground on December 11, 1995. Rather than layoff 3000 employees, Aaron kept all of them on the payroll with full benefits while he rebuilt the factory. What did he get for his money? A group of loyal, motivated, hard-working employees. At the time, Feuerstein was quoted in Parade Magazine as saying "the fundamental difference is that I consider our workers an asset, not an expense." He went on to say, "I have a responsibility to the worker, both blue-collar and white-collar, and an equal responsibility to the community. It would have been unconscionable to put 3,000 people on the streets. Maybe on paper our company is worth less to Wal-Street, but I can tell you it's worth more. We are doing fine."
This is the voice of a man who makes a fine living, has a successful business and well compensated employees. Rather than pocket 30, 60 or 100 million dollars a year, this CEO put his profits in his people and he runs a very, very successful company. Always look for the "Malden Mills" label on your polar fleece vests, blankets, and throws (QVC sells a variety of these products), and you will be supporting his vision and values.
Another person I greatly admire is Bill Gates. Say what you want about Microsoft's products, but he puts his money back into his employees via good salaries and very generous stock options and, in return, they work very, very hard. The "Microsoft Millionaires" as they are often called, are using their money around the Pacific Northwest to build public spaces and civic buildings and fund non-profits among other things. Mr. Gates own incredible wealth is being used daily via the Gates Foundation (www.gatesfoundation.org), to provide computer technology to low income and disadvantaged communities across America, and to provide healthcare and vaccinations to poor countries.
The Gates Foundation has been a leader in the fight against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria around the world. To date, they have given away more than 7 BILLION dollars, a majority of which is money the Gates family could have held privately. If every CEO in America had his attitude, the world would be a much better place. And I'm sure Mr. Gates would be the first person to tell you, he has been well compensated for his labor and he has plenty of money to spend.
Again, I will say that I believe it is absolutely immoral for any company to pay it's CEO millions of dollars which are made on the backs of it's employees while those same workers live below the federal poverty level, or have their hard earned pension funds raided and closed. That's not capitalism, that's economic slavery. As the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow in this country, we all need to join the growing chorus of consumers who are deciding that they simply won't do business with companies that don't reflect our values or value their people.
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.