22 August 2019 08:51 PM

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LT GENERAL BHOPINDER SINGH | 19 SEPTEMBER, 2017

US Honchos Quit Trumps Advisory Council, Where Is The 'Searing' Conscience of Indian Corporates?

LT GENERAL BHOPINDER SINGH


CHANDIGARH: Reverse optics were at play in the corporate boardrooms of the land of karma i.e. India, versus those in the land of brazen capitalism i.e. USA.

One of India’s most idealized and celebrated “garage (house in Matunga) to NSE” success-stories, headquartered in our very own Silicon valley of Bengaluru, was embroiled in murky accusations and talks of ‘coup’ that runs contrary to its historical image of a conscience-conscious and value-based organisation.

As the dust settles and the warring sides lick their wounds in a seemingly acceptable rapprochement formula, questions abound on the man who famously stated, “A clear conscience is the softest pillow in the world”.

Meanwhile in the land described by Oscar Wilde as, “unmatched in vitality and vulgarity”, and where the corporate culture was stereo-typified by Tom Scholz as, “sometimes I actually start to think human life is just as cheap to corporate America as animal life, so long as there are profits to be made” – a complete antithesis of the popular perception and an unthinkable movement was afoot with five senior executives of some of the world’s largest companies, acquiescing to their inner conscience and quitting the prized membership of President Donald Trump’s Business Advisory Council.

Handling of the Charlottesville incident was the latest in the series of gaffes made by Donald Trump, who yet again demonstrated his natural proclivity, inclination and tolerance for bigotry and racism.

Presidential dilly-dallying and the deliberately ambiguous (criticizing violence “on many sides”) and obvious wasted opportunity to come down hard on race-supremacism, infuriated the sane-minded Americans into registering their disgust. In a pleasantly-surprising move, either out of their own sense of moral outrage or by getting compelled to take a stand by their employees, the galaxy of CEO’s either quit the high-tables of advisory boards or stopped just short.

For instance,Walmart CEO, Doug McMillon, who rued Trumps’ inaction on , “a critical opportunity to help bring our country together by unequivocally rejecting the appalling actions of white supremacists”. Andy et declined quitting the Strategic and Policy Forum platform (a powerhouse of corporate glitterati with CEO’s of Pepsi, General Motors and JP Morgan), as he ostensibly wanted Walmart to, “stay engaged to try to influence decisions in a positive way and help bring people together”.

However, people like Richard Trumka, the President of American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (representing 12 million workers and retirees), was unequivocally brazen in quitting immediately from the advisory council and bluntly stated, “We cannot sit on a council for a president who tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism”.

Not one to take a contrarian view lying down, Donald Trump hit back at the “grandstanders” when he inelegantly tweeted, “For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on”.

Expectedly, he lambasted the media for being “truly dishonest” yet again, and incredulously suggested that it was the media that was dividing the country. He branded journalists as those who, “do not like our country”.

Unfortunately, Trump’s Jekyll and Hyde performances and utterances do resonate amongst a sizable section of the mainstream, and the pugnacious counter-attacks, mocks and personalised jeers by none-less-than-the serving President of USA, has its own set of illiberal believers and fanatics.

Corporates profess to walk the talk on “values” and have embedded “vision statements” in their public documents like annual reports and memorandum of associations. These obligatory bedrock-responsibilities reflect a civic and socially-conscious face, beyond the goods and services that they offer.

Often the wordsmithing captures the necessary compulsions and tensions of the times that be, that potentially leaves almost all corporates stating the same banalities on their moral compasses, e.g. the infamous Enron postured itself as the “Global Corporate Citizen” that aspired to conduct business by four values, Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence !

The poster boys of the 2008 recession trail, Lehman Brothers saw themselves as amongst other drivel, “ensuring the highest risk management standards”!

Walking the talk is never easy, but there is silent revolution afoot and it is being led, ironically, by the young workforce or the Millennials who are driven by a genuine sense of purpose, in everything that they do. As per the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017, 59% feel accountable towards protecting the environment”, 53% towards “social equality” and 40% towards “direction of the country”.

Backlash against Donald Trump’s pusillanimity and de facto encouragement of the regressive elements in the Charlottesville episode, has stirred a nationwide call for boycotts, protests, active lobbying for more resignations and condemnations from the corporate Tsars.

Clearly, the taint of abdicating moral responsibility is weighing heavily on CEO’s, whose credibility and reputation is getting interlinked with Donald Trumps’, as they get declared guilty by silence, when the onus is on standing up and getting counted!

In India too, chickens are coming home to roost on many corporate houses who built their name and fame because of proximity to various political parties of all denominations (perhaps with the singular exception of the Communist parties). However, providential business circumstances, competitive ambitions and changing power dispensations are more responsible for the corporate shake-up or financial belly-up, as opposed to any searing conscience amongst the board members or shareholders.

While there are growing whispers alluding to the unhealthy proximity of certain corporations to the corridors-of-power, there is no similar groundswell compelling the board members to any conscience issues, as yet.

The vulnerabilities of the Indian environment are said to be very dominant and overarching, that ensures “practicality” over the “values” and “ethics” that get printed in very small fonts in annual reports. However, increasingly the consumers and the common man on the street is prefixing corporations with “good”, “bad” and even “irresponsible”, herein the pressure on invoking the corporate conscience is inevitable.

As the famous saying goes, “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retired) is a former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)

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