vision can produce profits
Web posted Oct. 04 at 05:15 PM
Six months later, Ms. Eason gave her son what he yearned for: a black super-hero doll. But she had to do it the hard way. She created a company to produce some of the first ethnic dolls in the country.
Today, Ms. Eason's company, Olmec Toys, has millions of dollars in sales, a sign that big retailers ignore the minority market at their fiscal peril.
Moreover, Ms. Eason is one of a growing number of people in all manner of industries who realize that a social vision can go hand in hand with sound management and profits.
She and four other entrepreneurs received the sixth annual Business Enterprise Awards on Tuesday following a keynote address by President Clinton. The awards are given by the Business Enterprise Trust, a nonprofit group founded by television producer Norman Lear.
Other winners this year are: Donna Klein, the work-life director at Marriott hotels, for starting a resource hot line for lower-wage workers; McKay Nursery in Waterloo, Wis., for allowing migrant workers to share in profits; Motorola Inc., for paying more than $160 million to train its work force; and Max De Pree of furniture maker Herman Miller Inc., for allowing employees to share in company gains.
In his speech, Mr. Clinton said, ``This country will never be what it could be if some people are beyond the message of Max De Pree, Motorola and others'' that all individuals can flourish.
He urged the more than 300 business leaders at the awards ceremony to help hire welfare recipients, who will need jobs under the president's welfare reforms. ``You have to find a way to make it good business,'' he said.
Undoubtedly, companies are increasingly doing good to satisfy savvy consumers and investors. Yet, the movement toward humane management isn't a public relations gimmick for some.
After surviving downsizing and reengineering, some managers are increasingly appreciating the secret weapon they've always had: people. Progressive companies are realizing that work-life programs or other initiatives once thought ``soft'' actually can help the bottom line.
``This movement toward social responsibility reflects the growing recognition that it's not just top management that's involved in generating profitability,'' said Charles Fombrun, a professor and author of a book on corporate images called ``Reputation.''
During decades at the furniture company started by his father, De Pree helped replace traditional hierarchies with work teams. He introduced a profit-sharing program for employees and capped the chief executive officer's pay at 20 times that of the average worker's.
``Years ago, we were seen as being a little kooky,'' said De Pree, chairman emeritus of the Zeeland, Mich. company. ``But the results indicate that, kooky or not, these were good things to do.''
During De Pree's tenure as CEO, revenues tripled and the company's stock market value increased five-fold.
A recent conference at New York University's Stern School of Business underscored the link between social responsibility and financial health. A study of 216 companies showed a premium on stock market values for companies with a strong reputation for being socially responsible.
The financial payback for Marriott International, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has been high since Ms. Klein, the work-life director, started a 24-hour hotline that links social workers with employees.
Unlike other companies' resource lines, the hotline was aimed at lower-wage workers, who often are late or quit due to child care, language or housing problems.
Now workers stay at their jobs longer and are less often tardy or sick, giving the hotel a four-to-one payback on its investment, said Ms. Klein. That's not including time saved by managers who are drawn into employee problems.
It isn't always easy to do the right thing, award winners agreed. When Ms. Eason started her toy company, she was told that blacks don't buy black dolls.
Now, she can hardly go to another toy maker's showroom without seeing multicultural dolls.
``It gives me competitive pressure,'' she said. ``But we have proven we were right - there is definitely a market for these products.''
We do not sell these toys, nor are we affiliated with Yla Eason or Olmec Toys.