July 12, 2013 by Tamara Piety
The news announced last month that the ubiquitous spokesperson and founder of the men’s clothing company Men’s Wearhouse (“You’re gonna like the way you look. I guarantee it.”) illustrates that corporations often take on a life of their own apart from their founders and drive in a direction different from that toward which they started once the company becomes public and large enough that it can no longer resist certain market imperatives. There are several famous examples. Ben & Jerry no longer own Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Unilever does. Anita Roddick sold The Body Shop to L’Oreal before her death at 64. As David Goodman noted more than 10 years ago, in this article in Mother Jones, this idea that you can run a business with a “triple bottom line” which includes “people and planet” in addition to profits is likely an illusion.
But even if you aren’t trying to do much more than make money, once you start selling shares to the public the company is, to a large extent, no longer “yours” and it is difficult to control the direction that the company takes.
It does make you wonder though, does this suggest limits on the recent Hobby Lobby case from the 10th Circuit and the suggestion that corporations may have religious freedom to exercise? Does that apply only to private corporations?