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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

GovCon CEOs should answer the call to be moral leaders

This weekend, my son James will participate in a program honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

Listening to his strong, clear 10-year-old voice practice those powerful lines from King’s "I Have a Dream Speech" brought tears to my eyes.

I told him that I hope those words stay in his heart for the rest of his life.

I thought about James this morning as I read the New York Times article about Blackstone CEO Larry Fink calling on CEOs to be leaders: not just of their companies but of their communities and the broader world.

Blackstone is the world’s largest investor, according to the New York Times, and has $6 trillion in its portfolio. So when Fink speaks, the corporate world listens.

Last year, Fink wrote in his annual letter to CEOs that businesses need to do more good than just make profits.

The Times called that letter an “inflection” point in a debate that has been waged for several years over the role of capitalism and whether businesses need to be about more than just making a profit. After that 2018 letter, more companies started talking about their purpose in government filings and investor reports.

Now Fink is calling for more than filling a purpose but corporate leaders to lead.

In the wake of 2017 protests and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, many CEOs found themselves in the spotlight. I wrote that corporate America was being thrust into a leadership role on social issues in a way we hadn’t seen before. CEO needed to prepare whether they wanted to or not.

Regardless of party, we are accustomed to the White House leading us. Think about President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, or President Obama after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They appealed to our better angels and pointed a way forward.

But this White House is more transactional in its philosophy and doesn’t seem to embrace the role of being a moral compass for the country. We’ve seen a weak response from the White House on multiple occasions.

President Trump’s handling of incidents as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi leave a leadership vacuum on social and moral issues.

Into that vacuum, you have business leaders such as Fink. They advocate for corporations to weigh the social implications of their decisions and the role they can play in the broader society, not just their profits.

This kind of thinking isn’t foreign to government contractors, who often see their purpose tied tightly to the mission of their customers. The government’s mission is varied and profound -- homeland security, health care, education, environmental protection, human services, defense, and on and on.

The ultimate role of government is to promote the greater good of the nation’s citizens.

It should be easy for government contractors to take the leadership role that Fink describes. It doesn’t mean they have to antagonize or protest when the Trump White House falls short on social issues such as not condemning racist comments by Rep. Steve King.

They just have to do the right thing.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jan 17, 2019 at 1:44 PM

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