The "shareholder comes first" has for years been the mantra of the Business Roundtable, a group that represents the most powerful CEOs in America and their thinking. But a statement on the role of a corporation released Monday implies a foundational shift, putting shareholders on more equal footing with others that have an interest in a corporation to some degree—a group that includes workers, suppliers, customers and, essentially, society at large. "We know that many Americans are struggling," the statement reads. "Too often hard work is not rewarded, and not enough is being done for workers to adjust to the rapid pace of change in the economy. If companies fail to recognize that the success of our system is dependent on inclusive long-term growth, many will raise legitimate questions about the role of large employers in our society."
It's an implicit recognition that corporations have a larger responsibility than a return on investment and also that more Americans are living under duress today, per the AP. Wage gains have been nonexistent to moderate for years. Economic research as well as government data point to an era in which Americans must do more for less. "The American dream is alive, but fraying," said Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan who also chairs the Business Roundtable. "This new statement better reflects the way corporations can and should operate today," said Alex Gorsky, chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson. The statement is not a directive. Rather, it is a shared understanding among CEOs of companies that employ more than 15 million people with a collective $7 trillion in annual revenue.
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