Doing Business with a Mission
By Kyle Hubbard, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Philosophy | March 24, 2017
The Ethics in Governance forum at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics hosted the latest event in its speaker series on Tuesday, March 21. The program was called, Doing Business With a Mission. Two speakers presented, followed by a Q&A. The speakers were John Boatright, Raymond C. Baumhart, SJ, Professor of Business Ethics at Loyola University in Chicago, and Rebecca Hamilton, Family Owner and VP of Research & Development at W.S. Badger Company, Inc. in Gilsum, NH. Professor Boatright focused on the theory of for-profit social enterprise, while Ms. Hamilton spoke from her own family's experience of developing Badger, New Hampshire's first registered Benefit Corporation. The event was a wonderful opportunity for the audience members to consider the ways that businesses can contribute to building sustainable communities.
Professor Boatright emphasized both the opportunities and challenges facing for-profit social enterprises, for-profit businesses that are committed to providing essential goods or services to the community in a socially responsible way. The main advantages that such organizations have over non-profits is that they can raise equity capital and can more easily retain their profits for long-term social good than a non-profit can. Only if the business has a compelling use for equity capital and profits should they incorporate as a for-profit. If there is no need for equity capital, then forgoing foundation grants and donations would not be worth it for the enterprise.
Boatright also argued that for-profit social enterprises hold a trust advantage over traditional for-profits that maximize economic value to the shareholder. A customer might trust a social enterprise more than the traditional for-profit because she knows the social enterprise has another mission beyond profit. So how do for-profit social enterprises develop and maintain trust? The enterprise must embed the social mission into the DNA of the organization so that investors understand what they are getting into. For businesses in the State of New Hampshire, this can happen through pursuing B-Corp certification or a becoming a legal Benefit corporation.
Ms. Hamilton picked up on Professor Boatright's discussion by detailing how B-Corp certification and registering as a Benefit corporation has worked at Badger. She demonstrated how Badger has dealt with both the challenges and also the great opportunities of being a for-profit social enterprise. She emphasized that for Badger, the decision to register legally as a Benefit corporation as well as to become a B-Corp, came only after many years of being a company that cared deeply for its employees, customers, and its community. When her family started the company, they were not consciously a social enterprise, but simply cared for the needs of their stakeholders. She argued that if businesses do not genuinely care for their stakeholders, then being a social enterprise is simply a marketing ploy.
Hamilton also emphasized the importance of constantly striving to do more social good. Speaking specifically of the B-Corp score, if the company is not working to get better, the score will go down. There is always more a company can do if it wants to respond to the needs of its employees, customers, and community. Dr. Boatright's and Ms. Hamilton's presentations spoke to the opportunities that businesses have to be socially responsible by treating employees, customers, and the community well.
If you are interested in other ways to help promote ethical thinking and practice at your organization and in the State, please see the Ethics in Governance forum website for our events and programs, or to attend the next lecture in the EIG speaker series.