Evaluating the profit-and-cost of a hometown business

Business, fundamentally, is about profit and loss – not just for employers, workers and investors, but for society as well. Yet anyone familiar with accounting will tell you that the amount of revenue and expenditure is not always a clear proposition. Often the results depend on who is counting.

In the novel To gain, Richard Powers challenges us to think about these issues by telling a couple of involved stories. One is the history of a business, Claire Inc., an enterprise that started businesses, occupied soaps and became a multinational chemical, agricultural and consumer powerhouse. The other is the story of Laura Bode, a real estate broker, single mother of late twentieth-century Leswood, Ill., Who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

“There must have been a time when Leswood didn’t mean Claire Inc.,” Powers wrote of the rich company town that shaped the lives of Laura and her neighbors for generations. But no one remembers … All of Leswood’s grace flowed through that company’s wide drain. “

But what was the price of that grace? Published in 1998, To gain Yet a novel for our time. The world today is reassessing the purpose of business, changing the notions of profit-loss-financial and otherwise – societies derived from their activities. And that goes beyond the global effort to reassess the strength of the big tech companies. Tycoons who were once promoted on the cover of magazines have become the target of annoyance. Free trade and globalization, formerly the pillars of elite orthodoxy in the United States, are now being questioned more than ever that a global epidemic has exposed the fragility of the complex web of world supply. The role of private enterprise in inequality and social justice has also been questioned by business leaders.

Examines U.S. history through a single symbolic company, To gain Business, technology, public policy and social change can help us understand how they affect each other. And by not answering the question of whether Claire is responsible for Laura’s cancer, it tells us to think not only of the good business but also of the losses that we can begin to measure or understand. The book forces the world to consider that business has helped us to create a very humane position for ourselves.

Powers quite deliberately chose the success of Claire Inc. based on the soap, which led us to ask if there were any sins, real or otherwise, that the company had to wash away from its soul.

Business is always a gamble, and the Claire dynasty was the first gambler to come to America and through it. The trouble started in 1802, when he bet on one sure thing – using inside information about the impending fall in sugar beet prices to take advantage of a trading partner. When his home in Liverpool burns down, Jephthah Claire and his family camp for the New World. Soon, the Claires would build a successful business venture based in their new home in Boston, which lasted until the so-called Customs of Abominations business began to suffocate in 1828. Salvation comes to the door of one of Jephthah’s sons. An Irish immigrant chandler and soap maker hawking his belongings এবং and what they were. The candles and soaps of this quality and purity produced by such geniuses seemed to be another sure thing when married to the remnants of Claire Capital.

Throughout the book, we follow the growing business as it exploits the opportunities provided by the Civil War, overcoming the frequent 19th century financial panic, and tackling the more unnecessary challenges surrounding businesses, including competition and labor relations. , And marketing. Is a constant change. The proliferation of gas lamps prevents the growth of candles. But as increasingly wealthy Americans have an insatiable desire for cleanliness, soap will move the firm forward. In the guild era, during inequality and employee discontent, Claire enjoyed labor peace mostly thanks to a patriarchal tradition – and profit sharing in the form of shares for workers.

Most new businesses do well if they can last for years. How did Claire survive and thrive over two centuries? From the beginning there has been a fanatical dedication to quality, to giving customers full value and to innovation. Repeatedly, Claire indicates more promising opportunities when a rich production process or product line breaks down. Soap and candles are at the heart of the business, which means science and technology do the same. The family relentlessly cultivates its profits in innovation.

Claire also invests in her communities, including Leswood – and for Laura Body, that can be a problem. In addition to building a glossy departmental headquarters campus in the city, Claire manufactures agrochemicals there. Laura doesn’t suspect at first that it has anything to do with her cancer, but her ex-husband, Don, who has moved on to return to a time when she desperately needs it, has a guilt-ridden mentality.

He soon discovered that a class action suit was being made against the company by cancer patients across the country who blamed its products. There is no evidence, of course, and will not. Claire has already gone through something comparable when the world turned against phosphate in her detergent (sometimes turned into a worse substance for the environment). Laura and her ruthless teenagers, meanwhile, face more cancer patients in the suburbs বা or their survivors ও including the widow of a plant worker who somehow knows where she got the disease.

Powers has quite deliberately chosen Claire’s success based on soap, which prompts us to ask if there are any sins, real or otherwise, that the company needs to wash away from its soul. People have already martyred themselves for business. Family Science Maven, Benjamin Claire, has been devastated by Claire’s habit of chemical experimentation on himself, often by taste. The same approach has had similarly devastating effects on another key scientific executive in charge of Clare’s industrial lab (the country’s first). Americans have not always been as concerned about workplace safety as they are now.

The author explores, dramatic fashion, ethics and business influences are at his best. In an extraordinary paragraph, Franklin Keniber, who became the company’s first outside CEO in 1983, is preparing for an interview where he will be asked about his business intentions. In just 300 words, the citation in this column is still a bit long, but I urge you to keep track of it. The first thing on his list is “profit.” Others include “creating the things people need,” “providing the best for the maximum number,” and “finding business objectives.”

Whatever the purpose of the business, if people stop believing in its benefits more than its social cost, it will feel endangered. American corporations differ from individuals in a number of important ways, at least not in their capacity for immortality. Yet most corporations have a limited life and end To gain, A distinct possibility for the extinct Claire. There would be a lot of grief at such a death, but Laura Bode and her family would not be among them.

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