Recklessness and Wrecks

Recklessness and Wrecks

Travis Kalanick, the head of UBER, has resigned from President Trump’s business advisory council. The Trump ship isn’t exactly sinking yet so we cannot regard him as a rat leaving it. Media reports of why he has come this decision suggest that his customers, many of whom are immigrants, put pressure on him, some by cancelling UBER accounts on such a scale that the company had to write new software to deal with the deluge. I am neither tearful nor joyous about the matter. One aspect of it does disturb me, though.

We all look to our clients as a source of power. They hold the purse strings and determine whether our businesses succeed or not. We must satisfy their needs or fail. We do not – should not – however let our customers decide our moral standards. We would not conform to a demand, for instance, that we should persecute minorities. Media reports, a sometimes reliable source of information, suggest that Mr Kalanick’s decision was based on the prospect of declining profits rather than on a belief that the order was inherently wrong.

If so, my eyes do swell with tears. Here is a leader of one of the most successful new companies in our sharing world. A company that saw the trend and perceived a way to make money out of it. It’s called enterprise and we applaud it. Enterprise in the new world is exactly what’s needed. So are high personal standards. The sharing world is being attacked by those who would deny globalisation. Their motives seem mostly, if not universally, selfish.

Business has a bigger part to play in politics even than most politicians. While inevitably tending to its customers, big business must also tend to the bigger picture. Its leaders must lead on more fronts than the P&L. I thought that was what the business schools were teaching anyway – as though it needed teaching to people of probity and decency.

President Trump’s immigration order was reckless. If done for effect it certainly achieved that, but at what a price. Screwing up people’ lives is the opposite of what Mr T promised. OK, so a few people found they couldn’t get back home for a few days, got locked up, interrogated. It’s not the end of the world because it didn’t happen to us. More important than that, it didn’t matter much because none of them had nuclear weaponry. At the time.

That’s not to say they won’t now avail themselves of it or that others may not do so in their name. And even if that doesn’t happen the whole world is now on alert for violent WH orders that may precipitate violent reactions. And a world tensed for violence usually finds it.

So I ask our global business leaders to make sure their decisions are moral even before they look at their effect on the balance sheet.

If they allow too much recklessness we will all end up in the wreck.