Generosity should be the engine room of every business.
A CANADIAN philanthropist was being honored at a dinner in Toronto. The speeches were as glittering as the crystal chandeliers and as glamorous as the fashionable women attending the elegant occasion. The honoree himself spoke about his accomplishments with a disarming modesty. When his brother spoke, he told the audience that he was about to share with them a little-known secret that he believed, more than anything else, was responsible for his brother's spectacular success. He said, "I need to share something with you about my brother. When he was a very young boy, our father asked him what he wanted to be when he was big. 'A philanthropist,' he said. 'Why?' our father asked him. He answered, 'Because I have noticed that all the philanthropists we know are very rich.'"
The audience laughed. But in reality the wisdom of the (then) little boy was profound. Our adult eyes see philanthropy as the outcome of wealth. His fresh young eyes experienced the world differently: he assumed that wealth was the outcome of philanthropy. And he was right, because generosity drives business, and the lack of generosity is what, almost inevitably, kills what might otherwise have been a great business.
Generosity lies at the very core of all business. A business needs to treat its customers and its shareholders generously. Businesses aim to give their customers more value than the cost to them for their products, while generating a more-than-satisfactory return for their investors. And businesses hope to do this without exploiting their employees, vendors, and creditors. When possible, good businesses also aspire to make a contribution to their communities and to the sustainability of their environments. It is true that business gets something back, and from the perspective of our instinctual defensive operating systems, that would seem to be why we are generous in the first place. But we have a spiritual core, too, a heroic calling that wants to make a difference to others.