As everyone in America who wants to take the vaccine now has access, questions arise about the ethics of billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies refusing to share potential life-saving innovations with others in less developed countries.
The vaccine situation raises challenging questions for any CEO or leader of a company who seeks to outpace the competition and wishes to do the right thing.
Can we create a capitalism with a conscience?
When does the pursuit of profit at all costs become imbalanced and immoral? And what responsibility do companies have to give back and share life-saving technology?
Read on, and I will discuss this timely topic by looking at a similar situation in the recent past and providing my perspective on navigating the need to make profits with the desire to do the right thing.
Volvo & the Invention of the Seatbelt
To shed light on this question, we can look at the invention of the modern seatbelt and learn a valuable lesson about running a business that serves all.
Nils Bohlin is the Volvo engineer who invented the V-type three-point safety belt in 1959. After investing large amounts of R&D money into the project, the company’s president, Gunnar Engellau, decided not to keep exclusive rights to the patent but allowed Bohlin’s life-saving invention to be used and copied by anyone.
Engellau’s decision cost Volvo hundreds of millions of dollars but also has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Volvo is still a very successful and profitable company. Therefore, by sharing this valuable innovation, the company was not crippled in any way.
Perhaps ethical business practices such as this have even increased their ability to be competitive and profitable due to the more profound positive influence a company run with such principles has on its employees, customers, and competitors.
Bohlin’s invention, and the fact that Volvo chose to do the right thing and share it with everyone, is an excellent example of how doing the right thing can pay of both morally and financially. In other words, “doing well by doing good.”
Regarding the timely subject of vaccines for COVID-19, large pharmaceutical companies of the West have resisted licensing their vaccines to non-Western manufacturers. Several wealthy countries are blocking a proposal by India and South Africa that the WTO temporarily suspend intellectual property protections for Covid-19-related vaccines and treatments.
The wealthiest countries in the world have already bought most of the vaccines manufactured. By last December, every Moderna vaccine and 96 percent of Pfizer’s had already been purchased. This is making it difficult for less fortunate countries to obtain protection for their people.
These large pharmaceutical companies are created and managed with the express purpose of making a profit for their shareholders and management. However, since they deal with public health and wellness issues, this creates complex moral and ethical considerations when they hold valuable life-saving knowledge, inventions, and products.
Bill Gates recently received criticism for his comments stating that he didn’t support sharing vaccine recipes with other less-developed nations. His rationale was that these countries might not have adequate facilities to produce safe and effective vaccines. However, Gates and his foundation own shares of Pfizer and at least three other vaccine stocks, so Gates may have a financial conflict of interest due to his investment in these companies.
However, Bill and Melinda Gates have used their great fortune to give much back to the world’s people through their charitable organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. So I think we should all withhold judgment at this time until we know all of the considerations that have gone into Gates’ position. Either way, this situation is a good reminder that even the best of us may be times tempted to do something that appears not so IGI-oriented.
Living in IGI or ego is a daily choice that we face many times throughout our daily lives. We all find ourselves in situations and in the place to make decisions where we have to choose between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing; doing what is best for our own self-interest or doing what is best for the entire company or the whole world.
Coming back to the simplicity of reflecting on whether our actions are an expression of IGI, or Inviting God and Goodness In or an expression of ego, Edging God and Goodness Out, is a very effective litmus test. Doing this will help in quick and short-term decisions and decisions that need a more in-depth decision-making process.
Doing Well By Doing Good
My philosophy has always been one of “doing well by doing good.” This means that an individual and a business should seek to earn a profit and positively impact the world.
Some may say that these things are mutually exclusive – that sometimes, or even most of the time, it is more profitable to take care of one’s own self-interest regardless of the consequences for others.
I feel that this is a very shortsighted and erroneous belief. My experience has validated to me that doing the right thing always pays off in the end. A company that chooses not to unethically cash in but rather stick to its values and principles succeeds and thrives over the course of years and decades.
The story of Volvo and the invention of the seatbelt is an excellent example of the many positives that come from acting with integrity and responsibility.
I’m sure that, while in the short term they missed out on making hundreds of millions of dollars from licensing fees and the like, over the following years and decades, they made up for it by the fact that their employees felt proud to work for a company with a heart, their customers were encouraged to by from a company showing such leadership, and a thousand other subtle ways in which this type of leadership from the top of the company trickles down and out to every aspect of the operation.
The prevailing paradigms in our world are changing. I believe that purpose-driven businesses that balance doing well and doing good will be the only businesses that survive in the years ahead as customers become more deliberate about who they give their money to and more informed about the operations of the businesses they support with their loyalty.
As a CEO leader of multiple million and even billion-dollar sales volume businesses who personally grappled with these challenges of balancing profit and purpose, growing the company, and helping the community and the world, I believe I am uniquely qualified to provide guidance and inspiration on how you can do the same in your business.
If you would like to explore more about this topic or to even discuss this directly related to your own business and growth, go here to schedule a complimentary 30-minute Zoom call with me to discuss how I can learn more about you and help you achieve more of your business and life goals.