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August 28, 2012
The Dismal Science
Mean Business People
by Adam Smith

Back when I was young, many decades ago, I remember watching television shows that portrayed business people as unfeeling, uncaring tycoons. Think “JR Ewing” for those of you who are old enough to remember him. There are some businessmen that fit that caricature, but there are also many that care about their employees.

This will come as a shock to some people, including some politicians, but I have yet to see someone that actually likes to fire people. I know some that do not mind ordering someone to get fired. But the actual act of sitting someone down and telling them that they no longer have a job is so repulsive that most managers avoid the situation.

When I watch television now or go to the movies or listen to a politician it is painfully obvious that many people in those trades have no idea how the rest of the business world works. They believe all the negative drivel about how horrible it is to work in a business and the oppression from management.

When a company is in financial trouble and employees are going to have to be severed, the company generally tries to lay off as few employees as possible. This is one reason that when the company starts to become more profitable it does not immediately start to hire people. The company has enough employees to handle modest increases in business.

The mean business people premise has recently been back prominently in the news. Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital has received a lot of scrutiny, and opinion on his work at Bain brings a wide difference of opinion. The negative opinions basically come down to the concept that people who are trying to make a company profitable are bad people.

Consider the following story about Mitt Romney that was presented by Romney’s 2008 campaign for President and has been fact checked by several organizations and found to be true.

"In July 1996, the 14-year-old daughter of Robert Gay, a partner at Bain Capital, had disappeared," the story reads. "She had attended a rave party in New York City and gotten high on ecstasy. Three days later, her distraught father had no idea where she was.

“Romney took immediate action. He closed down the entire firm and asked all 30 partners and employees to fly to New York to help find Gay’s daughter. Romney set up a command center at the LaGuardia Marriott and hired a private detective firm to assist with the search. He established a toll-free number for tips, coordinating the effort with the NYPD, and went through his Rolodex and called everyone Bain did business with in New York and asked them to help find his friend’s missing daughter.

“Romney’s accountants at Price Waterhouse Cooper put up posters on street poles, while cashiers at a pharmacy owned by Bain put fliers in the bag of every shopper. Romney and the other Bain employees scoured every part of New York and talked with everyone they could – prostitutes, drug addicts – anyone.

"That day, their hunt made the evening news, which featured photos of the girl and the Bain employees searching for her. As a result, a teenage boy phoned in, asked if there was a reward, and then hung up abruptly. The NYPD traced the call to a home in New Jersey, where they found the girl in the basement, shivering and experiencing withdrawal symptoms from a massive ecstasy dose.

“Doctors later said the girl might not have survived another day. Romney’s former partner credits Mitt Romney with saving his daughter’s life, saying, ‘It was the most amazing thing, and I’ll never forget this to the day I die.’”

Is Romney a mean business person? One sympathetic story does not make someone good or business people good, but it is far from the only noble story about businesses.

A company I worked for received a major blow from a natural disaster. The event caused the company to lose millions of dollars in sales. It also had a major devastating economic impact on the small town and on the company’s employees in the area. The company spent thousands of dollars to not only take care of their employees but also other people in the town and also spent millions of dollars to rebuild their business and save the town.

Much of the money spent on that town did not have a payback to the company. However, it was the right thing to do for a company that had the assets to help.

The actions of Romney and the company are replicated often by businesses everywhere. Cities and towns across America receive donations from companies to help with various charities and initiatives.

Again, I am not saying that all companies and all businessmen act this way. I have known some and currently know some whose ethics I find repulsive. But when the media create a stereotype based on the repulsive and ignore the good done by the many, it shows either their ignorance or bias.

The next time you hear a report about mean business people take a look around and recognize all the good that is being done by businesses and never reported. You have to provide the balanced reporting about businesses based on what you see, because all you are going to get from the media is negative unthinking stereotypes.

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