by Staffan Göranson
Under the war cry «Greed is Good», Ayn Rand argued that egoism is a blessing for humankind, and that laissez-faire capitalism is the highest form of morality. Many have adhered to this tantalizing ideology, not only influential economists like Alan Greenspan, but also a large number of ordinary people. Seduced by the vision of more of everything for themselves, many have been closely tracking their pension funds, overborrowing their securities, speculating on financial markets hoping it will make their fortune.
In one of Sweden’s most well-known companies, which I happen to know quite well - a corporation well reputed for its long traditions, reliability, serious products and long-term goals - a new CEO was hired not very long ago. This CEO kept repeating that the three most important objectives for the company were: 1) short-term profits, 2) short-term profits, and 3) short-term profits. Before long, this mantra was eating into all of those core values which had gained this corporation its excellent reputation in the first place.
My father recently passed away at the age of 89. His own father had died in the Spanish flu epidemic of 1920, while my father was still in his mother’s womb. As a young widow with two boys to take care of, my grand-mother struggled to provide for her sons. My father left school at the age of 13 to take on a job in a factory. His first weekly pay was $1.50. He kept 10 cents for himself and offered his mother the rest. The strong sense of satisfaction that he felt as he gave the pay to his mother stayed in his memory throughout his life. Later, once he had established a factory of his own, he found the same kind of inner satisfaction when he saw how products he had designed and developed fulfilled the need of a client.
Throughout my business career, I have come to know many businessmen who have succeeded in building their fortunes. Despite the momentary kicks of excitement of seeing one’s bank account grow, they remain restless souls, unable to find contentment. Greed is greed, even when it is dressed up in philosophical and moral clothing. Its selfishness blinds us to the meaningful, yet simple dimension that is to be found when we contribute to fulfilling the true needs of ourselves and others. Even though little was left in the end of what my father had built during his long entrepreneurial career, the contentment of fulfilling others’ needs remained intact. He left me a rich legacy, not in money but in wisdom.