Hearts and Minds

Hearts and Minds:

The Corporate Battle

Article by Wayne Visser

Since the War on Iraq began, one of the mantras that has been repeatedly chanted by the US and UK military and media alike is the so-called “battle for the hearts and minds” of the Iraqi population. The more cynical commentators have dubbed this the “propaganda war”. It strikes me that today’s multinationals are engaged in a very similar battle – to win over the hearts and minds of a growing number of sceptics and critics who are not convinced of the justice of their corporate crusade, the appropriateness of their tactics, or the acceptability of the causalities incurred along the way. This article examines these parallels in more detail.

Conflicting ideologies

At the very root of the War on Iraq are the competing ideologies of the West and the Middle East. America and Britain see the war as an evangelical mission to free Iraq of the dictatorial Saddam Hussein and introduce democracy, which, they believe, has triumphed over communism as the superior and most desirable political system for the world today.

Much of Iraq and the Middle East, on the other hand, believe that the Western brand of democracy is bankrupt of the very values and social mechanisms on which their Islam-based culture is founded. For them, admitting to communism’s failure does not automatically imply embracing Western-style democracy.

Likewise, multinationals are zealously preaching the spread of the economic ideology of free-market capitalism, smug in their superiority since the collapse of socialist economies. And yet the growing anti-globalisation movement is unconvinced. For them, the fact that socialism failed in practice does not automatically imply that capitalism is beyond reproach.

It is worth pointing out that many of the Marxist critiques of capitalism, such as the tendency for wealth and power to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands, have been vindicated in practice since then. Hence, socialism may not be viable, but unfettered capitalism has still failed to address to problems of social equity and environmental sustainability.

David and Goliath

The War on Iraq is a classic David versus Goliath scenario. The United States, the world’s only remaining superpower, joined by Britain, the original imperial empire, are seen as the aggressors abusing their superior power to impose their will on smaller, weaker nations. Even if the smaller kid provoked a response, the big kid who bullies him will always be seen to be wrong.

Such big-brother tactics, acting in the self-appointed role of global policemen, are the rule rather than the exception, according to the critics of the US and the UK. Iraq is just the latest in a long line of bullying by America, with Vietnam, Cuba and Afghanistan being among numerous former victims, while Britain has a long history of colonialism.

Multinationals find themselves in a similar position. Their economic might and lobby power is unparalleled in history. Of the largest 100 “economies” in the world, more than half are companies. With that size comes the ability to act more or less unilaterally in pursuit of their overriding profit objective, directing capital, people and resources around the globe more or less at their whim …

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Visser, W. (2003) Hearts and Minds: The Corporate Battle. Ethical Corporation, 6 April.

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Top 10 Reasons to Believe

Top 10 Reasons to Believe

Chapter by Wayne Visser

Extract from the book South Africa: Reasons to Believe

1    SA is a nation of survivors

We’ve transformed countless times and faced untold hardships with great courage and remarkable endurance. We’ve got tried-and-tested skills to vasbyt, to adapt, to survive, to thrive.

2    SA is proof that miracles do happen

Between 1994 and 2001, people with houses increased from 64% to 77%, people with electricity went up from 58% to 80% and those with piped water rose from 68% to 76%.

3    SA is rapidly redefining its image

From morrisjones&co’s Homecoming Revolution ad campaign to expats, to Proudly South African’s logo for quality local products, to the IMC’s Brand South Africa initiative, ‘Alive with Possibility’.

4    SA is poised for an economic take-off

We’re currently the 7th best performing economy in the world with the 3rd highest export growth rate (higher than the export explosion Japan experienced in the 50’s and 60’s!).

5    SA inspires world-class business

SAB (now SABMiller) is the world’s 2nd largest brewer, while the inspirational Mark  Shuttleworth captured 40% of the Internet digital certification market before selling Thawte Verification for $575 million.

6    SA is blessed with natural and cultural assets

We have four World Heritage Sites: The Cradle of Humankind, Robben Island, St Lucia Wetland and the Drakensberg. And the new 35 000 km2 Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park is larger than many European countries.

7    SA’s diversity is a fountain of creativity

Miriam Makeba was the 1st African Grammy winner in 1967. Nadine Gordimer and J.M Coetzee have both won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Athol Fugard is the second most performed playwright in English, after Shakespeare.

8    SA has produced icons of history

We have four Nobel Peace Prize winners — Albert Luthuli (1960), Desmond Tutu (1984), and Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk (1993). Gandhi first tested his passive resistance technique in SA and Jan Smuts wrote the preamble of the UN Charter.

9    SA can show the world a new better way

No country is better positioned to prove to the international onlookers that different cultures can co-mingle and produce a remarkable civilisation.

10   South Africans can make a real difference

Challenges bring opportunities to really do something meaningful.  As SA rabbi, Warren Goldstein, puts it: ‘Our lives are full of significance here. It may not always be “pleasantville”, but it’s always “meaningful”.

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Visser, W. (2003) Top 10 Reasons to Believe, In G. Lundy & W. Visser, South Africa: Reasons to Believe! Cape Town: Aardvark, 1-14.

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Rainbows and Stormclouds

Rainbows and Stormclouds

Chapter by Wayne Visser

Extract from South Africa: Reasons to Believe!

There are many words to describe South Africa’s incredible journey through recent history. ‘Dull’ is certainly not one of them; neither is ‘boring’ or ‘predictable’. Rather, words like ‘epic’ and ‘revolutionary’ come to mind. Much like those brave and sometimes arrogant navigators and explorers of the new world, we South Africans are a travel-hardened and weather-beaten bunch, with many rough storms and cruel twists of fate behind our back. Amazingly, we have endured. We are survivors. And we should be immensely proud. We should constantly remind ourselves how tough we really are; how, despite all the trials and tribulations we have faced, we have, repeatedly, overcome.

Of course, it’s easy to be philosophical during the good times, when the sun is shining brightly and the waters are calm and sparkling. It’s far more difficult when the wind is howling and the ship’s mast is creaking, when the waves are crashing over the bough and the senses are numb from the lashing rain. And yet, this is exactly what the last few decades in South Africa have felt like – a relentless cycle of storms and rainbows. Like a sailing ship on the high seas, we have ridden out deep, dark troughs of fear and intimidation to ride high on the crest of the waves of liberating change, only to be plunged back into the torrid swells again. It has been a rough ride, by anyone’s reckoning, and the journey is not yet at its end.

Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that fear and uncertainty still hangs like a dark cloud over our national psyche. We want to start this book by acknowledging the bad-weather pessimism that many people feel in our country today. But we also want to place it into perspective. In this first chapter, as we briefly recall some of the highs and lows of our roller coaster ride of recent years, we take heart from how far we have come in such a short time. After all, in the broad sweep of history, our achievements are nothing short of amazing. We remind ourselves how good we are at surviving and thriving, despite the odds. We are proof that the sun always does come out after the storm. We show that even the darkest clouds on our horizon have a silver lining. And, for good measure, we buff up those breathtaking colours of the rainbow that this nation has become. …

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Visser, W. (2003) Rainbows and Stormclouds, In G. Lundy & W. Visser, South Africa: Reasons to Believe! Cape Town: Aardvark, 1-14.

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Can We Survive the Future

Can We Survive the Future:

Only if Business Shapeshifts from Lions into Elephants

Article by Wayne Visser

Rabbit Holes and Boiled Frogs

Being in business these days is a lot like falling down a rabbit hole. The latter, if you remember Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is a chaotic and confusing place to be. All the tried and tested rules of the past don’t seem to work so well anymore. The formerly familiar environment keeps transforming itself into new, unrecognisable landscapes. Strange, distracting characters have a habit of popping up randomly and then suddenly disappearing. And the clear, rational perspectives that used to spell out solutions keep getting stretched, warped and turned on their head, like the reflected images in a house of weird mirrors.

To illustrate what I mean, the demigod once known as the shareholder has mutated into a multi-headed beast called the stakeholder. Accounting, the time-honoured introspective discipline of counting beans (or gold or money or shares), has been turned inside out and become nerve-racking accountability to the big wide world out there. And profitability, which used to be a trustworthy financial measure, has multiplied into a triple bottom line by blurring together economic, social and environmental performance.

To survive in this whirlwind of chaotic change, companies have become adept at rapidly adapting to dramatic changes. What business has been less skilled at doing is recognizing or responding to long-term effects of gradual changes. In this sense, it displays the classic “boiled frog syndrome”. If a frog is placed in boiling water, it immediately jumps out providing it is free to do so. However, if the water temperature is cool to begin with and then gradually increased, the frog fails to register any threat to its well-being and consequently allows itself to be literally boiled alive.

There are many examples of threats that could boil the corporate toads: creeping income inequality; the spread of HIV/AIDS; marginalisation of certain regions in the world economy; the cancerous burden of Third World debt; alienation of people with low incomes or no jobs; accelerating biodiversity loss; global climate change; rising chemical concentrations in the Earth’s water systems; disintegration of cultural identities; and the spread of violent crime among the youth, to mention but a few.

Trading in Fangs for Tusks

At the heart of all of these challenges is one of the most profound drivers for step-change in business and the world – sustainability. Sustainability refers to improving human well-being by seeking a proper balance between social, economic and environmental change over the long term. The old ways, which have dominated for the past century or more, are no longer appropriate for a post-industrial, sustainability-driven society. Sustainability is not only a new scientific, political, social and legal concept, but an entirely new business philosophy based on a new mythology. It requires that business think differently about its role in society and how it goes about what it does.

The changes needed in order for business to survive and thrive in an age of sustainability are so fundamental that they are akin to changing its identity, its underlying nature. At the moment, we  …

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Visser, W. (2002) Can We Survive the Future? Only if Business Shapeshifts From Lions into Elephants. Namaste, Volume 19, October.

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Ten Predictions for a Sustainable Future for Business

Ten Predictions for a Sustainable Future for Business

Article by Wayne Visser

After the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, we should take care not to mistake this single event for the greater symphony of change that it heralds. Like fleas on an elephant, we need to jump back and see the greater whole – the challenge of creating a sustainable world. However you want to define it, in the end, it comes down to our ability to endure. Those that understand how social and environmental drivers will be shaping the landscape over the coming decades will be better placed to survive. This article ventures ten predictions about how the future will be different.

Prediction 1

In the future, the number of banned substances will increase exponentially

Many chemicals and metals (especially persistent compounds) that are commonly used today, and still more that have yet to be created, will be linked to serious human health impacts (birth defects, cancers, immune deficiencies) and ecosystem destruction (habitat decline, mutant species, collapsing populations). The speed of this trend is being driven by the rate at which synthetic chemical compounds are being created and the rapid build up of persistent substances in the ecosystem, versus the tolerance thresholds of our immune systems and the environment. Sustainable companies will apply the precautionary principle and actively seek substitutes for hazardous or persistent compounds.

Prediction 2

In the future, forensic sustainability will emerge as a new professional discipline

There will be groups of professionals, with a combination of legal, investigative, sociological, eco-toxicological and medical expertise, which will track down companies responsible for illegal, indiscriminate social and environmental violations. Using leading-edge forensic techniques, they will trace evidence from the crime scene (an illegal waste dump, contaminated land, a toxic spill, an afflicted community, a sick set of customers) back to the companies that can be in any way linked to the substance, process or product that caused the damage. Damage claims and sustainability insurance will grow exponentially. Sustainable companies will apply extensive internal and external investigative, auditing and assurance techniques to avoid being an unknowing accomplice to sustainability violations.

Prediction 3

In the future, governments and civil organisations will maintain and publicise corporate grey-lists

Any company that consistently violates sustainability principles (environmental integrity, community health, human rights, health and safety) will be “greylisted” by governments, multilateral agencies and civil organisations. Some governments will forbid the greylisted companies from operating in their countries. Activists will use the greylists to mount boycotts. Financial analysts and shareholders will use the greylists to inform their choice of investments. Sustainable companies will actively embrace a transparent, triple bottom line approach to their strategies and operations in order to avoid future greylisting.

Prediction 4

In the future, companies will employ sophisticated, real-time corporate stakeholder monitoring

Like professional athletes that monitor every aspect of their bodies’ performance, companies will be expected to have their finger on the pulse of each of their sets of stakeholders. Using a combination of new technologies and new industrial psychology techniques, companies will receive almost constant electronic feedback on the health, well being and level of satisfaction their stakeholders …

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Visser, W. (2002) Ten Predictions for a Sustainable Future for Business. Ethical Corporation, 6 September.

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Beyond Reasonable Greed

Beyond Reasonable Greed:

From Accounting to Accountability

Article by Wayne Visser

In our recently launched book entitled Beyond Reasonable Greed (Visser & Sunter 2002), we attributed the phenomenon of unreasonable corporate greed to boards “being collectively swept along by the prevailing paradigm of success which is purely financial.” However, we added the following rider: “In light of Enron’s failure, this judgment may be overly kind and more cases of dodgy accounting, inflated profits and insider trading by the board may pop up in Corporate America and Corporate Europe.”

Well, since publication of the first impression of the book, they have popped up! Starting with WorldCom, but extending to other corporate heavyweights as well. Big business is under the whip like never before from the public and politicians alike. And the accounting profession, in particular, is feeling very uncomfortable under the harsh interrogative spotlight. However, if the response to all the accounting irregularities and other misdemeanours is merely to throw a few CEOs in jail and threaten the rest with a long prison sentence unless they check the figures personally, a great opportunity for real transformation will be lost.

Corporate Governance Under Fire

As business and the accounting profession begins to respond to the rising tide of international scrutiny, the word “corporate governance” is on everybody’s lips. Even more so in South Africa, where the revised King Report on Corporate Governance is hot off the press. But the critics remain skeptical, maybe justifiably so. If the Enron and Worldcom sagas are revealing anything, it is that corporate governance is sometimes not worth the paper it is written on. Should the people involved in implementing corporate governance not have their hearts in the right place and just be going through the motions, the process becomes a charade.

You can have all the non-executive chairpersons, non-executive directors, board committees and external auditors you like, but things will go hideously wrong if ceremony has replaced substance and cynicism is the order of the day. Some non-executive directors sit on so many boards that it is physically impossible for them to exercise their fiduciary responsibilities properly. Worse still is a situation where the Chairman and CEO are one and the same person and he (it still almost always is a “he”) has managed to load the board with his buddies. If things go right, they are the first to congratulate him and approve a handsome bonus. If things go wrong, they are the last to ask the tough questions needed to expose malpractice. They would prefer to have the wool pulled firmly over their eyes even though ignorance is no excuse in terms of the law.

Seeking a Reformation in Business

Rather than implementing a smattering of short-term corporate governance fixes (which are necessary, but not sufficient), what is required is nothing short of a Reformation in business, along the same lines as the one precipitated by Martin Luther in 1517. On October 31 of that year, he wrote an attack on the sale of indulgences (remissions of punishment for sin) in 95 theses which he  …

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Visser, W. & Sunter, C. (2002) Beyond Reasonable Greed: From Accounting to Accountability. Accountancy SA, September 2002.

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The Art of Business

The Art of Business

Prose by Wayne Visser

~ The art of business is, if anything, the art of being human ~ 

Business is, by its very nature, an adventure in creativity, an exercise in imagination, an enterprise in innovation.
 
If you think about it, commerce is all about creation – creation of markets, companies, products, brands and jobs – as well as finding inventive ways to target, design, position, package and sell these.
Even before ‘entrepreneurship’ entered the business lexicon, successful enterprise has always been the nexus where invention meets opportunity, innovation meets needs and resourcefulness meets markets.
 
So it is somewhat surprising to reflect on how little business has drawn on that paragon of creativity – the arts – to challenge, inspire, inform and project itself.
By contrast, the arts themselves have never shied away from using business as the inspiration for their creative endeavours.
 
So what happens when we open the Pandora’s Box of artistic perspectives on business?
Can we piece together a mosaic of creative visions on commerce?
Or join up the dots of imagination on trade?
By using the arts – including painting, film, theatre, literature, cartoons and poetry – we get to see business’s public persona reflected (including its shadow self).
We are able to illustrate, through the medium of the arts, how business is perceived in different parts of the world and at different times in history, including up to the present day.
 
So where might we start looking for images of business-in-the-looking-glass?
Would it be movies like Wall Street (“greed is good!”) or The Corporation (“the pathological pursuit of profit and power”)?
Or perhaps the poetry of former Fortune 500 executive James Autry (author of “Love & Profit”) or the literary genius of Shakespeare (“all that glitters is not gold”)?
 
Would we question why so many business leaders take inspiration from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” or Machiavelli’s “The Prince”?
And would we be amused or infuriated by the doctored logos of multinationals or spoof corporate websites that fall foul of anti-globalisation protesters?
Is there “many a truth in jest” to be found in the “fat-cat” businessman caricatures that go back centuries, or the cartoon vitriol of Enron’s jailed executives?
 
Do these artistic commentaries give us a window into the soul of business, or simply a superficial view of its popular mask?
Whichever way you see it, these highly visual, evocative and stimulating illustrations all have something to say about the role of business in society, especially its contribution to (or violation of) the public good.
All the current debates around environmental responsibility in the face of climate change and ecological destruction, or trade justice in the context of persistent poverty for the majority of the world’s population, are brought into sharp, colourful focus by the arts.
 
And the picture they conjure is not always negative.
 
The creativity of the arts has often been used in business to encourage innovation, motivation and responsibility, whether it is the use of industrial theatre for AIDS awareness in South Africa, or Haiku poetry in leadership workshops in the UK.
And after all, what can be more creative than the advertising industry itself?
 
The power of using the arts as a lens through which to view business is that we get an insight into the psyche of the modern corporation.
We tap into the mood of the public and their often unspoken fears and prejudices about business.
And we also begin to see business for what it really is – a deeply human enterprise, with all the foibles and potential which that implies.
 
Hence, the art of business is, if anything, the art of being human:
An eternal stage for playing out so many of our most familiar dilemmas –
The struggle between head and heart, between ambition and morality, ego and altruism, self-fulfilment and service to others.
And the art, as opposed to the science or economics, of business, is to find beauty, truth, and yes, even love, in the creative process that is enterprise.
 

Wayne Visser © 2002

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Economics: An Environmental Perspective

Economics: An Environmental Perspective

Unmasking the Myths of the Predatory Lion Economy

Article by Wayne Visser

It is not uncommon to hear our present global economic system being compared to a predatory natural environment. We might imagine the market as a great African plain where competition for scarce resources dominates the life of every species. We can see successful companies as the supreme hunters in this eat-or-be-eaten world, like the awesome lions of the bushveld.

It is certainly a compelling analogy and one that is perpetuated in boardrooms and business schools around the world. We need only look at our economic and business language to realise that predatory behaviour is believed to be imperative to survive and thrive in the marketplace. We must “target” our customers, “chase” higher growth and better profits, “hunt” for potential merger or acquisitions partners, and “go for the kill” in our sales pitches.

But is this lion-king economy really the kind of place that we want to live in? Of course, it’s great if you’re at the top of the food chain, but what about the other, more vulnerable species? Is the free market really working “for the common good”, as it should according to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”? Or are communities and the environment being sacrificed to keep companies well fed?

This article questions many of the beliefs which dominate economic thinking today, and asks whether we can design an economy “as if people and the planet mattered” – a sustainability-driven elephant economy.

Myth 1: The bushveld exists solely to serve the lion-king

One hundred years ago, nobody questioned the role of the economy in our lives. Business and the economy existed to serve the welfare of society – to provide the goods and services we needed in order to maximise our quality of life. Certainly, it was not the other way round. People did not exist to serve the economy.

And yet, some time in the past century, the tables have turned. Personal, community and even country survival are increasingly dependent on working within the formal, money economy. Furthermore, companies are able to justify all kinds of unethical practices in the name of profits or job creation, whether it is restricting the accessibility of lifesaving drugs, or causing wholesale destruction of the natural environment.

Partly this is a systemic problem in the way our economy works. It encourages dependency on money, institutionalises growth and incentivises short-sighted thinking. It is also about the balance of power and accountability. Today, many companies are more influential than whole countries, yet they remain accountable only to their shareholders, whose sole criterion is dividends.

This entrenched situation is the same as saying that the entire bushveld exists only to serve the lion-king. Which, of course, is neither desirable nor sustainable, even in a “survival of the fittest” context. In actual fact, nature is dominated by cooperative, symbiotic relationships that weave together into a complex, dynamic balance.

Myth 2: The bushveld contains unlimited food for the lion

We all know that economies depend on the natural environment, both to supply resources and act as a sink for our wastes. But the rate at which most modern economies are gobbling up raw  …

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Visser, W. (2002) Economics: An Environmental Perspective – Unmasking the myths of the predatory lion economy. The Enviropaedia: World Summit Edition, Eagle Environmental: Durban.

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Reformation and Pragmagic

Reformation and Pragmagic

Chapter by Wayne Visser

Extract from Beyond Reasonable Greed

As we write this introduction we are very conscious of magic. Magic, it seems, is a catchy theme right now, both in our own lives and in the world around us. This is hardly surprising, what with J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories having come to life on the big silver screen. But the magic we are talking about is not of the wizardry kind. Merlin can stay in his cave. Nor is it of the David Copperfield genre where the audience knows that they’re being hoodwinked but are prepared to suspend their belief in the interests of excitement. No, we are talking about something more genuine, more tangible, more practical – what brain-mind researcher Marilyn Ferguson called ‘pragmagic’.

In our interpretation of the word, magic is the revelation that results from a profound change in perception or understanding. The superstitious world of the Middle Ages was magically transformed by the wizards of art and science – Da Vinci, Galileo, Copernicus and Newton. Then the quantum physicists waved their wands and subtly altered Newton’s clockwork universe. Today, the magic continues as the seemingly impossible is conjured up with breakthroughs in areas like biotechnology, artificial intelligence and human consciousness.

But magic is not restricted to the sciences. Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk weaved their own form of magic to create the New South Africa. Unlike in art and the sciences where the magic is normally provided by individuals working on their own, the magic in politics often comes from the development of a positive chemistry between the leading players. This chemistry then leads to an outcome greater than the contribution of any individual member and takes them all by surprise.

Nevertheless, as with everything in life, there’s good magic and bad magic. The Swastika was bad magic. When Hitler unfurled it, he temporarily turned the most scientifically advanced nation on Earth back into savage barbarians. In his footsteps followed Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who turned their followers into killing machines of their own people. By the millions. And the chemistry was pure evil. Today bad magic continues to bedevil regions like the Middle East and Northern Ireland where thirst for revenge plunges ordinary people into acts of lunacy and callousness. In the name of God or Allah. And He is always on your side.

What, you may be asking, has all this to do with business? Well, magic has everything to do with business and this book. For the simple reason that bad magic has moved many companies into a state that is beyond reasonable greed. And the public have a good idea of the boundary between ‘reasonable’ and ‘obscene’. Recently, in South Africa, we have had several disclosures on the size of individual packages and the terms of share incentive schemes which have caused tremendous hue and cry. They have been clearly out of wack with the norm. To give companies the benefit of the doubt, they may not have consciously exceeded the limits of reasonableness. Their boards probably comprise the normal spectrum of saints and sinners; but somehow they have allowed themselves to be collectively swept along by the prevailing paradigm of success which is purely financial, and that in turn has led to unreasonable behaviour. …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”info” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/beyond-reasonable-greed”]Page[/button] Beyond Reasonable Greed (book)

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Visser, W. (2002) Reformation and Pragmagic, In W. Visser, Beyond Reasonable Greed: Why Sustainable Business is a Much Better Idea! Cape Town: Tafelberg Human & Rousseau,  11-17.

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CSR 2.0 Licensee Training – Payment

Click on Buy Now to purchase one place on the online CSR 2.0 Licensee training, delivered by Dr Wayne Visser (CSR  International, Kaleidoscope Futures) and Roberto Salazar (Hexagon Consoltores). The link will take you to a Paypal page. If you don’t have a Paypal account and wish to pay by credit card, simply click on the link “Don’t have a Paypal account?” and follow the instructions.

 


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