Should Businesses Only Focus on Shareholder Value? A Soho Forum Debate
Ayn Rand Institute's Yaron Brook says yes, Whole Foods' John Mackey says no.
At each of Whole Foods Market's more than 500 American stores, managers ask every team member—from the meat clerks to the baristas to the janitorial staff—to orient their work around a shared purpose, which is to make natural and healthy food widely available. This goal, according to Whole Foods CEO and co-founder John Mackey, is in no way inconsistent with maximizing shareholder value, often seen as the essential purpose of a corporation.
As Mackey writes in his new book about leadership, "At the heart of Conscious Capitalism is a radical refutation of the negative perceptions of business, and a rejection of the split between purpose and profit." Mackey believes that this is the key to defending capitalism against those who condemn it for having no inspiring ideals.
At a Reason-sponsored Soho Forum debate held on February 18, 2020, Ayn Rand Institute Chairman of the Board Yaron Brook challenged this view. He believes that maximizing profit should always be the primary goal of companies, and it's that focus which explains why capitalism has lifted the broad masses out of poverty. That's the message businesses should be emphasizing, he said, and it's inspiring enough.
The debate, which played out in front of 200 people in The Villages, Florida, was moderated by Soho Forum Director Gene Epstein. It was an Oxford-style debate, meaning the winner is the person who moves the most people in his direction.