Reimagining Capitalism: How Business Can Save the World, by Rebecca Henderson, reviewed

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Review of Reimagining Capitalism: How Business Can Save the World, by Rebecca Henderson,  available here Penguin Business, Penguin Random House (UK), shortlisted for the 2020 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award

Free market capitalism is one of humanity’s greatest inventions and the greatest source of prosperity the world has ever seen. At the same time, its single-minded pursuit of profit has led to rampant inequality and the looming threat of climate catastrophe – and now threatens to destroy the society on which it depends.

Rebecca Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, argues that business can simultaneously make a positive impact on the world by confronting the realities of our environmental crisis and the need to address social and economic inequality, while also delivering the sustained economic growth that brings prosperity and wellbeing to society as a whole.

Reimagining Capitalism: How Business Can Save the World, by Rebecca Henderson, reviewed

Of the FT business books of the year this is the third one we have reviewed, and it is, so far, the best one, and probably the most important. If we don’t reassess and change rapidly how we do business then we will quickly end up with a few very rich people and corporations and a dead planet.

The choice is now as stark as that. Sure you can be a climate change denier, you can be a populist supporting voter, a company share holder looking to maximise your own short term returns. None of this though will enable you to leave the planet in a better place than you found it, nor enable your children and grandchildren to live in a healthy and functioning earth.

Vested interests, often backed by a few very rich people, Koch brothers are a good example, have lobbied hard to deny the impacts of C02 emissions, global warming, and climate change in general. It is clear to see which politicians who have taken money to hold back and restrict environmental standards, aimed at actually keeping our planet healthy and full of biodiversity. Henderson clearly articulates her own journey and the ground breaking conversations with CEOs and leaders of business. Her key idea was, do you have children, are we going to leave it to politicians to resolve these serious issues that we are facing?

If, like her, you have been underwhelmed by the political response to these challenges, then you will completely understand why she chose the path that she did, and how it might actually save us from ourselves too. Here in Ireland not so long ago the Irish Government declared themselves to be ready to make a different to the planet. This got them good PR and a warm fuzzy feel.

When they then sent out press releases extolling this and you followed up with the senders and asked for more details, the first response was that the particular department who had issued it was unable to answer those specifics. Naturally this pretty much summed up how much of a lazy and trivial declaration it ws that they had made.

Henderson thankfully drills into examples of specific companies who have actually taken these challenges seriously and made real and serious, positive differences to their environmental impact, and measurable criteria by which they can be assessed. This book is part of a growing trend looking to dig into the details of what can be done, what needs to be done, and the beginnings of a road map to try and avoid our own self inflicted road to extinction. A book that is well worth reading and then sharing with many more asap.

More about the book here

Drawing on lessons from companies from around the world who are already making a positive difference, Reimaging Capitalism shows that this new approach is not only a moral imperative but also an extraordinary opportunity to drive growth and innovation in an increasingly competitive world.

And, perhaps most critically, she suggests that it has the potential to balance the power of the market with the power of democratic, accountable government and strong civil society – the only long term solution to the problems that we face.


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