In 2019, the Business Roundtable redefined corporate purpose as the goal of promoting “an economy that serves all Americans.” The months since have seen companies increasingly striving to answer that call.
“Corporate leadership’s acting on societal challenges has been building for a few years,” noted Stephanie Cutter, cofounder and partner at Precision during the PRDecoded session Purpose & Politics: How the Election Will Impact Corporate Purpose.
But amid this year’s myriad challenges, not to mention a contentious election, the business world has truly stepped up, in many cases more than government.
Cutter cited the example of corporations boosting minimum wages. Companies didn’t wait for word from Capitol Hill; they took matters into their own hands because employees, shareholders and consumers demanded it.
Eamon Javers, Washington reporter at CNBC, offered another example.
“Companies were ahead of the government on gay marriage,” he explained. “Many in corporate America decided to give partnership benefits to same-sex couples” before any laws were on the books. And, again, they were answering their customers’ call.
The Business Roundtable mandate also facilitated the creation of concrete purpose goals.
“If you’re going to judge yourself on something other than shareholder value,” said Javers, “you must be prepared to be measured against that.”
Brands also must be ready to be called out – by politicians and the media – if and when they fail to meet their purpose promises. “This can’t just be lip service,” stressed Javers.
Both speakers had clear visions about how the outcome of the presidential race could affect corporate purpose.
A Trump victory could be challenging. “The current president calls out companies like nobody ever has in that position,” said Javers. Certain purpose-led efforts could face pressure from the White House in a second Trump term.
“If Biden wins,” said Cutter, “we will re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement, and there will be a notable increase in government-led efforts on climate change.”
This, she added, would buoy companies already committed to such programs while empowering those who wish to get involved.