In the post‐Enron/WorldCom/Tyco environment of public distrust and tightening regulation, corporations must proactively work to regain public trust. In this skeptical environment, they must do more to reflect the fact that corporate legitimacy depends on public acceptance. The new wave of legislation and regulation can achieve only limited results. What is needed is a more radical rethinking, by corporations themselves, of their true role and purpose in society. Restating corporate purpose in terms of social needs rather than solely of maximizing profit is the surest way to be distinguished from the competition, to regain public trust, and to ultimately increase stakeholder (not merely shareowner) value. To ensure the success of this reformation the agenda for executive action must address five key points: (1) develop consensus on a revised statement of corporate purpose and values; (2) clarify the role of profit in the business equation; (3) articulate and communicate the distinctions between the old purpose, values and behaviors and the new; (4) set a strong personal example; and (5) revise the management measurement and reward system.
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