Nailing Corporate Reformation to the Door

2 October 2018

Co-authored with Frederick Bird

In the sixteenth century, there were calls for reforms of the Christian Church, which was then the largest, wealthiest, and most global institution in the world. Some critics engaged in protests, others offered advice or called for a gathering of leaders. But what eventually sparked action was a poster nailed to the door of the All Saints Church, Wittenberg, in the fall of 1517, by Martin Luther, a monk and professor. He posted 95 theses about fundamental issues to be addressed. Thus began the Reformation.

Photo credit: Martin Luther [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At a meeting last November at the Drucker Forum in Vienna, Charles Handy called for a reformation of our time, concerning the business corporation.  David Hurst and Nick Hixson, both Drucker Associates, responded by asking a number of management thinkers to reflect, in the manner of Luther’s 95 theses, on ills and remedies concerning the corporation today.

As management professors, one of us trained in religious studies, we have taken up this call, rather literally. We propose 9.5. theses (Luther’s were highly repetitive!), directed at fostering reform of an institution whose influence today is arguably comparable to that of the Christian Church at the time of Luther.

These 9.5  theses are not meant to be comprehensive, only, like those of Luther, a possible starting point for reformation. One thesis is taken straight from Luther, and all but one of the others have been modified from, and inspired by, Luther’s own words. (An # designates the number of Luther’s original thesis, with our modifications of his original in italic.) Like Luther, we state these theses without comment: they should speak for themselves.

1. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory. (#27)

2. Those who believe they can be certain of their salvation because they have achieved higher share value will be eternally damned, together with their consultants. (#32)

3. Why do so many corporations, whose combined wealth is today greater than the wealth of most nations, build their one basilica of globalization for their own benefit rather than for everyone? (#86)

4. Away with all those economists who say to the people “more, more, more” when the people need better, better, better. (#92)

5. … for the souls in purgatory, fear by downsizing should necessarily decrease and distribution of wealth increase. (#17)

6. Leadership indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to the good works of communityship. (#41)

7. The true treasure of business is to add value to society. (#62)

8. Because love grows by works of love, businesses become better when they engage in love of the people and the planet. (#44)

9. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the corporations and their CEOs to the ridicule of their enemies and to make citizens unhappy. (#90)

9.5. Blasphemous is the dogma that greed is godly and markets are sacred.

We believe that this dogma has taken our world out of balance, in favor of self-interest over collective needs and the common good. As a consequence, tyrants are being elected, only to undermine further the very democracies that put them into office. With no countervailing power to stop them—no serious global government, no reliable superpower—these tyrants threaten peace on earth. Faith will have to be restored in our institutions, including a reframing of corporate social responsibility, to favor balance in society.

© Frederick Bird and Henry Mintzberg 2018. For more on balance, see Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.

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