Corporate Responsibility: More Than Just a Hobby

Can businesses enhance their commitment to social responsibility during difficult economic times? That was one of the questions posed today at the Massachusetts Summit on Progressive Business held at the Harvard Club.

The consensus of this gathering was that these troubled times create the exact moment for business leaders to make good on their social commitments.

The president of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Josh Broger, speaking at a morning panel, raised an interesting point. He cited the Massachusetts General Laws section on shareholder responsibility. Embedded within the statute was clear language permitting shareholders to factor in community and regional concerns to their corporate duty to seek profits. “You have permission … to be socially responsible,” he said.

He was joined on the panel by the president of the Communispace Corporation, Diane Hessan. She said that the bulk of employees, who are members of the Millennial Generation, are demanding some corporate responsibility at their places of employment. Interestingly, this message directly gibes with what I heard from pollster John Zogby about younger Americans.

Governor Deval Patrick, on a day when he focused on the economy, appeared before the gathering at a lunch. In my view, both the summit and Patrick’s appearance before it make a lot of sense. If there is any good to come out of a poor business climate perhaps it is the shared sense of commitment and responsibility that I heard from members of the business community today. In some ways, the Harvard Club parley reminded me of the Vault I have heard so much about from the days of old, where Boston’s CEOs acted as public citizens with the best interest of the future our city in mind. In that case, it will be up to the new generation of leaders, such as Jeffrey Bussgang of Flybridge Capital Partners, and Jim Boyle of the Sustainability Round Table, to help forge it.

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