Lemonade and refreshing corporate culture

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(Host) On a recent hot summer day, commentator Cheryl Hanna happened upon a refreshing drink and an even more refreshing attitude.

(Hanna) You can’t imagine how happy my friend and I were to discover a lemonade stand beside the bike path to the Colchester causeway. We were terribly hot and thirsty, and for only 50 cents for a big Dixie cup, it was arguably the best lemonade that we ever had.

It was pure genius to set up a lemonade stand on the bike path on one of the hottest days of the year. The brains behind the operation was a 10-year old boy named Danny. With red hair and a summer freckled face, Danny was not only financially savvy, but also just plain cool. The kind of kid that you want to support, although you can only drink so much lemonade.

He’s going to be a great business man one day, my friend remarked as we rode away. And these days, we could use some good business people. Enron, Worldcom – the corporate scandal list goes on and on. And the stock market – heck, the whole economy – is going down and down, fueled by greed and disregard for the rules that govern our free market economy.

Last week, Congress passed a corporate reform bill aimed at raising the penalties for executives who defraud investors. A good move, I guess, but I m not at all hopeful that the threat of a few more years in jail will be enough to really contain the master of the universe syndrome that’s plaguing corporate America.

The law’s relatively ineffective when it cuts against the grain of a culture. And corporate culture, it seems, is increasingly disconnected from local communities – you know, us: investors and pension holders who have been betrayed by those whose duty it is to report profits. It’s all about the bottom line, and that’s completely wrong.

You know what really troubles me? Those executives who will likely face charges under the corporate reform bill were never faced with a heart-wrenching moral dilemma. The right thing to do – to be an honest and forthright businessperson or master of the universe – was always a clear choice, and within their control.

The law can’t force you to develop an ethic of duty to your community. If you don’t learn it by the time you’re ten, it may be too late by the time you get to business school. But Danny gave me hope, because you see, on our way back to Burlington, we passed the lemonade stand again, except that it was closing time, and Danny and his father and offered us some free lemonade.

You have great son, I said, as I downed another glass. The father beamed in the way that only a father can, when appreciating his son becoming his own person. “He’s a special kid with a good heart,” he said. We could see that, and the lemonade wasn’t nearly as refreshing as seeing a parent teach his child that some things are more important than making every penny possible. A generous heart is one of those characteristics that make a person truly successful in life – as well as in business – and that’s really the bottom line. You know, we don’t need new laws so much as we need more Dannys.

This is Cheryl Hanna

Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, Vermont.

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