The Business World

Books reviewed:

A Voice to be Heard: Christian Entrepreneurs Living out Their Faith by Richard Higginson and Kina Robertshaw

Business for the Common Good by Scott Rae and Kenman Wong

Enlightened Entrepreneurs: business ethics in Victorian Britain by Ian Bradley

Entrepreneurial Leadership by Richard J Goossen and R Paul Stevens

Firm Commitment by Colin Mayer

Managing as if Faith Mattered by Helen Alford and Michael Naughton

Prosperity: better business makes the greater good by Colin Mayer 

Quaker Capitalism by Richard Turnbull

Quakers, Business and Corporate Responsibility edited by Nicholas Burton and Richard Turnbull

Social Entrepreneurship: New Models of Sustainable Social Change, edited by Alex Nicholls

The Shareholder Value Myth by Lynn Stout

Tides of Life by Bill Pollard

Who Cares Wins by David Jones

Why Business Matters to God by Jeff Van Duzer

 

The Purpose of Business:

We have reviewed a number of books that focus on business purpose: Firm Commitment and Prosperity: Better business makes the greater good by Colin Mayer, The Shareholder Value Myth by Lynn Stout, Business for the Common Good by Scott Rae and Kenman Wong, Why Business Matters to God by Jeff Van Duzer, Managing as if Faith Mattered by Helen Alford and Michael Naughton and Tides of Life by Bill Pollard. All are worth reading. None is long or difficult to read and none assumes prior specialist economic or other knowledge or education.

All of the books consider the modern orthodox view that the basic purpose of public companies is to maximize shareholder value. All consider it to be wrong and suggest that it needs to be abandoned. However, the reasoning that leads their authors to this conclusion varies, as do their positive suggestions. The specific business issues focussed on in the various books also differ, although there is a considerable amount of overlap between them.

Firm Commitment and The Shareholder Value Myth (published 2013 and 2012, respectively), come from a secular perspective which those interested in business purpose may find it helpful to consider before moving on to consider specifically Christian contributions to the subject. The former focuses on the UK (the only one of the six reviewed books to do so) and the latter on the USA. However, neither book is as good at formulating ideas as it is at undermining other people’s ideas.

Prosperity: better business makes the greater good (published 2018) is a more recent book by Colin Mayer. It covers some of the same ground as his earlier works and is a vigorous attack on Milton Friedman’s claim that the sole social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. However, it also seeks to develop Mayer’s idea for changes to UK company law in order to implement his ideas.  Many readers will have serious reservations about these proposals but the book is well written, interesting to read and draws on a lifetime of research into the business organisation.

Business for the Common Good and Why Business Matters to God (published 2011 and 2010, respectively). They come from an Evangelical Protestant starting point. In contrast with the secular books, they provide a clearly argued opinion as to the true purpose of business. Both are very readable and Christians of all persuasions should find them a good starting point. Those who are not Christian might also find them illuminating. The many Biblical quotations in Why Business Matters to God may put some readers off but Prabhu Guptara’s comment in his endorsement of Business for the Common Good is applicable to both books: “Nothing in this book prevents it enriching the lives of Hindus such as myself – or, as far as I can see, Buddhists, Muslims, agnostics or atheists!”.

Managing as if Faith Mattered is an older book (published 2001). It addresses some of the same issues from the perspective of Catholic Social Thought and, as its title implies, ranges widely into management issues generally. Non-Catholics (and even Catholics who are not familiar with Catholic Social Thought) may prefer to start elsewhere, since the book is heavy going in places. However, it adds a useful additional perspective to the other books and, as would be expected, is carefully argued and builds on previous thinking. Further analysis is provided by “Rethinking the Purpose of Business” (Cortright and Naughton Ed.), which we have not reviewed but which comprises a series of essays on the purpose of business from a Catholic perspective.

Tides of Life (published 2014) is very different from the other books. It comprises the reflections of a Christian who has spent his life in business (including managing a Fortune 500 company). It is perhaps best to read this either immediately before or immediately after Why Business Matters to God (which Bill Pollard, the author of Tides of Life, describes as a “must read for those who are seeking to glorify God as they do business”). Readers who prefer to start considering a subject by sharing personal stories and experiences should start with Tides of Life; readers who want to have a theoretical framework before plunging into the practicalities should start with Why Business Matters to God.

It is impossible to say that one of these books is “the best”. Readers who only have time to read one of them should probably plump for Business for the Common Good, since it presents a clear and coherent vision of business purpose in a manner that should be accessible to all serious readers. However, those who want to think seriously about business purpose should read several of the books – and then move on to others that we have not (yet) reviewed.

 

Entrepreneurship and Business Values:

We have reviewed a number of books that consider business motivations and values and which, therefore, consider business purpose, albeit less directly than the books described above. Most of these focus primarily on entrepreneurialism.

 

Historic Entrepreneurialism

Quaker Capitalism by Richard Turnbull, the director of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics (published 2014), considers the Quaker businesses that played a significant role in 19th Century British business (including businesses such as Lloyds Bank, Barclays Bank, Cadbury, Rowntree, Fry, Friends Life, Clarks and others). Their world was very different from that which exists today but their approach to business should provide a challenge to some of today’s unexamined assumptions and, potentially, ideas and inspiration for modern Christian entrepreneurs.

Quakers, Business and Corporate Responsibility edited by Nicholas Burton and Richard Turnbull (published 2019) comprises a collection of essays relating to Quaker business practices and their economic and social views.  Although the essays are of uneven quality, there is plenty in the book to engage any intelligent reader who is interested in business and social issues.  It focusses on the historical model of the Quakers in order to draw conclusions and raise questions that are relevant today.

Enlightened Entrepreneurs: business ethics in Victorian Britain by Ian Bradley is an older book (originally published in 1987 with additional material added in 2007). It describes ten great Victorian Entrepreneurs, some of whom are also considered in Quaker Capitalism. Although there is little interpretation provided, the history itself is challenging and inspiring.

 

Christian Perspectives on Modern Entrepreneurialism

Entrepreneurial Leadership by Richard J Goossen and R Paul Stevens (published 2013) comes from a US perspective.  The authors argue that entrepreneurialism is a process more than a genetic or societal disposition and suggest there are five tenets that make up the essence of entrepreneurship. On occasions, they are perhaps over negative in their assessment of secular entrepreneurs but the book is inspiring and well worth reading.

A Voice to be Heard: Christian Entrepreneurs Living out Their Faith by Richard Higginson and Kina Robertshaw  (published 2017) is an easy and enjoyable read.  It comprises ordered reflections on Christian entrepreneurship based around the stories and thoughts of 50 contemporary UK based Christian entrepreneurs.  It examines a series of issues that are of particular relevance to entrepreneurs and contains challenges for both entrepreneurs and local churches. 

 

Secular Perspectives on Business Values

Who Cares Wins by David Jones, the former CEO of Havas, the global advertising agency (published 2011) is not about entrepreneurs. It considers the link between social media and socially responsible business. Its basic thesis is revealed in the title and, although some may doubt whether this is always true, no-one can doubt the basic practicability of the points made in the book. It is also helpful to consider ethical issues in the harsh light of modern communications and mass markets.

As its name suggests, Social Entrepreneurship: New Models of Sustainable Social Change edited by Alex Nicholls (published 2006) relates specifically to social entrepreneurship. It is not an easy read. In particular, some of the academic chapters are somewhat turgid and repetitive. However, it is a first class reference book that brings together in one place, and for the first time, the exciting stories of social entrepreneurship, analysis of issues and the academic research agenda.