Or is it to serve the common good? That is the real needs and wants of societies and to contribute to human flourishing, the happiness of people and their communities? The dominant profit-driven focus has been considered as a root cause of wealth inequalities, dumping social costs on the shoulders of tax payers while serving shareholders and favoring big businesses rather than small-and medium sized ones. The common-good focus is considered to be too costly for the company, less efficient perhaps, slower results and reaping shareholders from their dividends. It may seem that the profit-driven focus and the common-good focus bite each other, but do they? Looking at the role of business from a Catholic Social Teaching and a Christian Social Values perspective, profit and the common-good seem to coincide. How does that work?
Mr. Bruno Bobone is the president of the Pinto Basto Group, a Portugese market leading family -owned company in maritime services and transport. The Pinto Basto exists for 250 years, more then 10 generations and is still very successful. Mr. Bobone leads this company inspired by Christian Social Values and Catholic Social Teaching. Furthermore, mr. Bobone is a board member of the International Christian Union of Business Executives, UNIAPAC. This association promotes Christian Social Values and Catholic Social Teaching in today’s business world and society. He was the European president of UNIAPA as well as the vice-president of UNIAPAC worldwide.
Recently I met with mr. Bruno Bobone and invited him for an interview on Christian Social Values and Catholic Social Teaching in the business world today and on the tension between profit and the common good. First of all, I asked him to explain what Christian Social Teaching and Christian Social Values are? Basically, mr. Bobone says, it is about caring for the human person, to put the human person at the centre and his path to develop himself. That means serving, sharing and caring for the human person. Sharing the values of human lives.
But what does that mean in a business context? What are the challenges for putting people at the centre? Mr. Bobone is clear about this: “Normally we are afraid of taking the right decisions. But if you work based on Christian social values, then you get better results. People have one purpose in live: happiness. And if we have the opportunity to contribute to creating a path to happiness then people get more motivated. And motivated people are more productive people. And if people feel that the company where they work is defending them, gives them the opportunity to develop a proper life, it means that they will be happy with the company. They will defend the company, will support the company and make the company more successful. This will mean that there is more to share. But many companies don’t do it this way since they are afraid to compromise. We all know that this is also written in many management books, but many companies don’t do it because they might lose instead of winning.
I then confronted mr. Bobone with the issue that in today’s business world there is the tension between the financial performance and social performance. Perhaps Mr. Bobone experiences this as well in his role as the president of the Pinto Basto Group. How does he see this?
Mr. Bobone: “No tension at all between the financial and the social performance. The problem is the time. If a company wants an immediate decision and result this company forgets about the important things. And that is what is running our business nowadays and probably our lives. We have too much focus on tomorrow. But what we should be looking at and focus on is the longer term, one year, two years, five years. Our lives do not end tomorrow. We should at the long term and then we will see that the financial and the social decisions and performance coincide. They are part of the same good results. So, the tension is not between financial and social, but between tomorrow and five years.”
Mr. Bobone explains that his company, the Pinto Basto Group is already 250 years of age and if you look at today’s stock exchange then it will be hard to find companies that exist over 200 years, because they are not there. That proofs that companies should look at the long term instead of the short term. In mr. Bobone’s view, this is the biggest issue, the time. The financial and the social are part of the same good, the problem is the time.
Mr. Bobone continues: “We are talking about people and people have one life to live and they deserve a decent live. So you have to think long term, trying to facilitate them to find the capacity to develop their own path towards happiness. That means that they have to think in terms of five years time, not in terms of tomorrow”
Companies have to take care of the people that are around them, because they are the ones that will defend the company when they have a problem, when they have a crisis. If companies do not take care of them then they will go away. And that is probably it is hard to find companies that exist for more than 200 years, according to mr. Bobone. He adds:
I continued the conversation with mr. Bobone and turned to UNIAPAC. The International Christian Union of business executives (UNIAPAC), of which Mr. Bobone is a board member and a previous vice-president, aims to promote Christian Social Teaching and values in the world of business worldwide. How is it for UNIAPAC to attract new young member business executives, I asked him?
Mr. Bobone answered: “I think it is getting more and more easy to attract the young generation because the young generation is very much concerned about the social side of business, they are very much concerned about their own lives. Overcoming our worries about wealth. Wealth gives the opportunity to develop people, and the young generation they are looking into this. And many associations around the world they are getting the new young generation in and that gives us a very strong movement in companies nowadays. Pope Francis is also a very strong support for us, since He says that we have to change the way how we ran our economies in the past. And he is right as in the past we tried to get as rich as one could be. And it showed that this is not good for societies. You get a big difference between the very rich and the normal, average person. It is not because it is wrong to be rich, but you need societies that have relations. And if you create a big gap between the two realities than you will not get relations. And this is what is happening, we are disrupting societies, that people do not meet in the middle. And that means that we have to change societies and the economy has a big role in this. We have to invest a lot in order to increase the sharing.”
Then I turned conversation to the issue of what the difference is between companies that work along Christian values and those that do not. How does look like in practice? Mr. Bobone says: “We come back to the same issue of long term vs. short term orientation. I will discuss with you what is the best for our shareholders: the best result tomorrow or in five years time? If a company goes for the best result tomorrow and goes broke soon after I am not sure whether that is the best result for our shareholders. Well actually I am sure it is not. What then is wrong? That people are only opening the first page and not reading the whole book.
The tension is, again, not between the shareholders and the people, it is between short term and the long term. It is not the best result for a shareholder to get the quick wins tomorrow, it is the best for shareholders to keep the company growing. There are two types of shareholders of a company: those that try to play at the stock exchange, they are gambling and of course that means that they are interested in the short term. Many times we see that Also managers in many cases try to show their immediate success to the shareholders. That is something that we have to avoid. Because these two interests are not promoting the continuity of the company. We have to share with our shareholders the true value of their company in five years from now. And then they will decide on the proper way to continue. And tell the truth. Usually we only hear about the result for tomorrow and the day after, but not about the consequences for the long term.
What we see is that many time people are trying to get the right values in their companies by making statements and rules. But this is not working. During the crisis of 2008 we saw that most companies that went bankrupt had their governance structured in their own terms, focusing on short-term shareholder value. What we need to do is to teach people, to make them believe what they say, to make them live what they say. For that you need time, time is the most important thing. And that takes courage!
How did mr. Bobone become convinced that this is the way to go in your own company, Pinto Basto?
He explained: “It comes from the very beginning. We have a phrase in the company, to become Pinto Basto you do not have to be born in this company, you just have to work for one hour here. People are the important thing. If you can count on people, you will survive, if you can count on people, you will have the future of your company. In order to achieve that, you have to think about them, treat them properly and make them family. This is the only to go forward.”
Mr. Bobone’s message may not be heard in business schools, in business & management and economics programs at universities? What is his advice for them? Mr. Bobone: “We have been afraid to speak out. It was clear that profit maximization was the a big issue. But I do not agree with this. Values are the most important thing that move companies forward. We have to be courageous, speak out and tell the truth about what drives a successful business.”
As a final issue I asked mr. Bobone how he sees the future of business in the post-COVID world as well as the current war in Ukraine? Mr. Bobone: “The COVID-pandemic showed us that people are more important than business. And now we need to learn from this. The current terrible crisis in Ukraine has shown that companies are more open and available to consider people before business. They are taking the right decisions so I think we may have an opportunity to change our minds. We have seen that an economy of low prices is not good, because it means that companies are operating in places where people do not have social security, no good pay, poor conditions. That is how companies get low prices, but this is not good for people.
What the people in Ukraine are doing is so courageous and that is also what we need. To be courageous and to put the person at the centre of our companies. To share more.