ARC Review: Tomorrow's Capitalist: My Search for the Soul of Business

Tomorrow’s Capitalist: My Search for the Soul of Business by Alan Murray

This book, by the well-known business journalist and Fortune CEO Alan Murray, argues that corporate leadership has changed for the better. The old mantra that the business of business is to put money into shareholders' pockets is falling by the wayside. Today, many leaders of large corporations focus instead on stakeholder capitalism. That means they tend to the interests and needs of customers, employees, suppliers and the environment as much as to those of shareholders.

Murray has been a business journalist and editor for decades, working at CNBC, The Wall Street Journal and Fortune. He also was president of the Pew Research Center in the mid-2010s. He holds post baccalaureate degrees from the Stanford Executive Program and the London School of Economics. He is the author or co-author of five previous business books. He knows what he’s talking about when he talks about the business of business.

He’s also become a champion of stakeholder capitalism at Fortune. Just look at his Leadership Next podcast, which he co-hosts with Fortune Senior Editor Ellen McGirt. I’ve been a listener to the podcast since it began in early 2020. Most episodes are CEO interviews, and the focus of the conversations is often on the “changing rules of business leadership”. 

In the book, Murray folds highlights from those podcast discussions in with other input from CEOs. He builds the case that the transformation of business leadership is real, good for both business and society, and here to stay. Over the last few years, events like COVID-19, the societal reaction to the murder of George Floyd, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been accelerants. They have spurred businesses and their leaders to take positions and actions in the social arena. And those leaders say that these positions and actions align with the purpose of their businesses.

And there lies the heart of this move to stakeholder capitalism. It’s the idea that the businesses that do best are those that focus their actions around purpose. This shift in focus is partly generational Murray feels. Murray says of his father, born in 1923 and raised during the Great Depression, that “I’m fairly certain that [he]... did go to work to make money.” But Murray’s own children are of a different mindset. Millennials, he notes, are slower to get married, less likely to go to church, less likely to belong to social clubs. When it comes to work, many Millennials look to their jobs to give their life meaning, and respond to work that gives them purpose.

Murray’s book is engaging and has an optimistic tone. Reading the many examples he brings to bear can’t help but make you feel optimistic about the direction of business too.  But the world around us tells us that it’s not as neat and tidy as the examples in this book, and Murray realizes that. The title of the book, after all, is Tomorrow's Capitalist, not Today’s.

That brings us to one of the final chapters in the book, where the focus is accountability. If we as a society believe that corporations have obligations to their customers, employees, and the environment, then we must find a way to hold them accountable to those obligations. I’m not talking about overly nosy governmental regulations. I’m talking about a framework of accountability like the SEC has for corporations' fiduciary obligations to their shareholders. 

Murray points out that, to their credit, corporate finance officers attending Fortune’s CFO Collaborative last year supported SEC action.  At least on climate, the SEC is now actually proposing a formal, standardized set of disclosures. Such disclosure requirements are also under discussion within the EU. (See this Forbes article for a good discussion of the arguments for and against the SEC proposal.)  

This book captures the dynamic that is transforming corporate leadership. But we are only at the start of this transformation. We still have a long way to go. 

If you have an interest in business leadership, and the obligations of corporations to the rest of society this is very much a book for you.

Rating: Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

NOTE: I received an advanced copy from NetGalley and PublicAffairs. I am voluntarily providing this review. The book will be publicly available on May 10, 2022. 

The book's publisher, PublicAffairs, is offering advance purchasers of this book a free six-month subscription to Fortune Magazine. To take advantage of this offer, visit the book's page on their website to provide your purchaser info and upload your proof of purchase.

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Title: Tomorrow’s Capitalist
Author: Alan Murray
Publisher: PublicAffairs (Hachette Book Group)
Publish Date: May 10th, 2022
ISBN-13: 9781541789081
Publisher’s List Price: $29.00 (Hardcover as of 04/2022)