Wednesday, January 7, 2015

David Koch – A Legacy Worth Passing On


Yesterday’s (January 5, 2015) Star Tribune (Koch Article ) carried a story on the passing of David Koch. Now that may not mean much to a lot of people. (No, he was not in anyway related to the Koch brothers.) But the reality is that he affected us all, as he was an early pioneer in defining corporate responsibility. Here is what the Star Tribune said:

He believed that if you made a good product, treated your workers fairly and were generous in the community, the business would prosper. And he railed against executive and Wall Street excesses of the last generation, as he and his wife, Barbara, quietly donated much of their wealth to charitable educational causes.

Although these words sound more like Senator Elizabeth Warren, the fact is that David Koch was an old fashioned traditional Republican. Deeply religious, he understood that Christianity was about love and service and he lived his life accordingly. And contrary to the greed merchants of today, he knew that good business practices lead to profit and more opportunity for employees, shareholders and community alike. He took Grayco from a small manufacturer with sales of $33 million and turned it into a publicly-owned giant that today employs some 2,700 people around the world and has revenues in excess of $1 billion.

On a personal level, David was always welcoming, kind, generous, and humble. Simply put, he was truly a “nice guy” in the best sense.

We in Minnesota have been blessed with an endless array of giants in business who were committed to the service of community while successfully growing their companies. I wonder what Minnesota would be like without the Dayton brothers, Elmer Andersen, Edson Spencer, the Pillsbury’s, Curt Carlson, Win Wallin, Carl Platou, and others now gone who truly built our community.

Perhaps it would be appropriate for the Carlson School of Management to do two things:

1 – Establish a Business Hall of Fame to honor those who have advanced the values of business success and community well being. It will serve as a beacon for the future leaders coming through our excellent business school.

2  - Seek advice from those largely retired who have and continue to excel in this area. The goal would be to integrate values of service with excellence in business. Perhaps the best phrase would be “stewardship”, the title of John Taft’s superb book on this subject.

The Star Tribune cited comments by such likely outstanding participants, Dick McFarland and Chuck Denny. However, there are others who would be honored to be considered and their input would be invaluable.

Perhaps the finest gift we can give to honor those who have provided outstanding business-community leadership is to have their legacy passed on as an integral part of the future.

I think David Koch would be honored.  And we all would be better off.


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