Call me Good Company’s accidental co-author.
I more or less stumbled into the book project in late 2009 after a conversation with Laurie Bassi. At that point, I’d reached a point in my journalism career where I wanted to tackle a book. But my efforts to pin down a topic and find a collaborator were sputtering.
Enter Laurie, whom I was interviewing for a story about faltering employee engagement. Almost as an afterthought, I asked how her book was coming along. She said she and co-author Dan McMurrer were struggling to get it off the ground. In response, I blurted out, “Can I help?”
It was an impulsive but sound offer. I’d come to admire Laurie and Dan while writing a profile of them for my publication Workforce Management earlier in the year. During my decade as a business and labor reporter, I’d never come across anyone who had proven the value of investing in employee training by linking it to future stock performance. They did, marrying hard-nosed facts with what is often the “soft” discipline of people management.
When I talked to Laurie for that profile piece, she mentioned she and Dan were working on a book. Tentatively titled “The Worthy Organization,” its major theme was the same one that you’ll find in the final version of Good Company: a variety of forces are pushing companies to behave better to all their stakeholders if they want to succeed.
This argument resonated with me. On the one hand, I have an activist, social-justice, reformer streak dating to my college days. I even was a union officer of The Newspaper Guild and helped secure a contract at the Oakland Tribune chain of papers. But I also appreciate the creativity and practical benefits of businesses. My namesake founded Iron City Brewery in Pittsburgh in 1861, my grandfather was an inventor, and my father is an entrepreneur. As a journalist, moreover, I’ve found many examples of companies doing right by workers in a way that benefits both sides.
The idea that reciprocity on a grander scale was becoming a business requirement intrigued and inspired me.
Thankfully, Laurie and Dan welcomed me onto their team nearly two years ago. And I’m proud not only to have helped flesh out the initial argument but to have made some novel contributions. I thought it was important, for example, to discuss how the Worthiness Era relates to the rise of Asia and to today’s business focus on agility. And when Laurie and I met inSan Franciscoin late 2009 to discuss the contours of the book, I pushed to include a ranking of companies on their relative “goodness.”
Perhaps it’s because I have the least quantitative training on our team that I thought we could pull off such a ranking. Indeed, creating a meaningful, defensible rating of Fortune 100 companies turned out to be a difficult, labor-intensive task—with Laurie and Dan doing most of the work! Dan then led the research on the connection between index scores and stock market results.
But all the effort on the index paid off. Our research showed that companies with higher Good Company Index™ scores—those that have behaved better—substantially outperform their peers in the stock market.
That finding echoes other compelling evidence we discovered showing that Laurie and Dan’s initial hypothesis is proving correct. We truly are entering a “Worthiness Era” in which companies have to be “good company” to employees, customers and communities in order to thrive.
As Laurie mentioned, I think we’ve written something valuable with Good Company. And the book joins a broader debate about corporate citizenship, sustainability and economic progress that is critical for our own times and for future generations.
Speaking of duration, this project has been longer and more demanding than I expected. But the late nights and frazzled nerves have been worth it, in large part because of Laurie and Dan’s diligence, intelligence, fairness and generosity. I may have stumbled into the book, but it’s no accident I stuck with it. I’ve been in good company.
Our book Good Company has been a very long time in the making. It all started back 23 years ago with a conversation that changed my life.
In those days, I was a young assistant professor of economics at Georgetown University. With my newly minted Ph.D. from Princeton in hand, I understood the rules of the game for someone in my position. First among them was publish or perish. Equally important was to do so in a way that was respected and valued by my profession – by doing research and publishing papers in prestigious journals based on complex mathematical modeling and sophisticated econometric analysis. I became totally immersed in my field and this perspective. I came to view the world and the people in it through a lens of simultaneous structural equations and elaborate statistical methodologies.
And then one day in 1988, I found myself in a steel mill in western Maryland. I was there interviewing workers about the “learning environment” at the mill. These interviews were a component of a well-funded research project I was fortunate to be working on – one that held the promise of getting some good papers published. My immediate task was to translate the findings of my interviews with workers into quantitative, coded data. It was definitely a “stretch assignment” for me, because truth be told, although I was a card-carrying labor economist, I had never been in a workplace anything like this before.
This steel mill was a pretty tough place. It was hot – probably at least in the low 90s – dirty, noisy, and dangerous. Workers were busy managing the flow of red-hot, molten metal as it moved between various pieces of massive processing machinery. And there I was in my neatly pressed pant suit, with a tasteful purse on my shoulder, and clip board and Cross pen in hand – interviewing workers in steel-toed boots, hard hats, work clothes covered in grime, with sweat running down their sooty faces. They were compliant and polite as I took them through one question after another about the extent and usefulness of the (virtually nonexistent) learning opportunities available to them through their work.
In the very last interview, I apparently asked one question too many. In a very respectful tone of voice, the fellow I was interviewing finally said to me, “Look lady, I can sum it up for you like this. I go home at the end of every day, whupped, tired and disgusted.”
That pretty much ended the interview – there was really nothing left to say. He thanked me for my interest, and I thanked him for his time.
As I drove home that night, his words played over and over again in my mind. I shared them with my husband, and I thought about them the next day and the day after. The raw honesty of what he said didn’t fit neatly into my data coding scheme, and I understood that no system of equations – no matter how sophisticated or elegant – could capture the grim reality this gentleman had shared with me.
Over the course of the weeks and months that followed, I began to think very differently about my work. It was no longer an academic exercise that would help me publish papers and get tenure. It was much more important than that. It was about the quality of people’s lives, and how they are shaped for good or for ill by their places of work. I also came to understand the profound effects our work places have on our lives outside of work, and indeed, the very society in which we live.
That conversation set me on a journey that ultimately led to Good Company. The book is a marriage of heart and head. It is, I believe, an important book. Here’s what my favorite professor at Princeton, Dr. Alan Blinder (former Vice Chairman, Board of Governors o f the Federal Reserve System), wrote about our book: “Close your eyes and wish that companies that were good to their employees, their customers, their communities, and the environment made more money than ‘the bad guys.’ Now open your eyes and read this fascinating book. Amazingly, Bassi, Frauenheim and McMurrer marshal evidence that it’s true. Read it and smile.”
I hope you will take the time to read it. And if you agree it is important, please consider helping us to get the word out by sharing it with colleagues, writing a blog post, posting a review on Amazon, or sending us a testimonial.
Thanks in advance for whatever support you can provide. I look forward to hearing from you.