Last week, I praised Exxon’s CEO for standing up to climate change activists and defending his company’s moral right to produce oil—a source of energy on which our survival and wellbeing depends. Today, I’ll comment on an opposite story: unprincipled—but unfortunately, not rare—appeasement of anti-oil sands activists by Canada’s iconic coffee shop chain Tim Hortons (now owned by Burger King).
The media has covered the story, so here is just a brief recap. Tims had an advertising contract with Enbridge, an oil pipeline company that transports crude oil from the Alberta oil sands. TV screens at Tims locations across Alberta were displaying ads for Enbridge. A U.S.-funded group ForestEthics launched a coordinated social media attack on Tims for doing business with Enbridge—and Tims caved in, canceling its contract with Enbridge and pulling the ads. Yet, as the Rebel.media reports, Tim Hortons happily operates in oil-producing OPEC dictatorships, such as Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia, whose oil is presumably “clean” while the oil sands oil presumably is not.
Such conduct displays, if not a complete lack of understanding how important acting on moral principle is to business success, moral cowardice. Although the latter is worse in my view, there is no excuse for either.
Although I can only speculate as to the motives of Tims’ leaders for appeasing their attackers, I am guessing that they were a combination of not understanding the importance of moral principles (perhaps due to evasion), and consequently, moral cowardice. If a person understands how critically important adhering to moral principles is to one’s (and a company’s) survival and flourishing, he is much less likely to compromise principles and appease any and all critics that challenge them. As I have explained in other posts, acting on moral principle is the only way we, as fallible humans without automatic knowledge of the right goals and the means to achieve them, can reach our values such as a successful career or business.
There is no excuse for not understanding the importance of moral principles. It is true that today’s culture is dominated by the wrong, anti-life moral ideal of self-sacrifice—that we should always put others’ interests ahead of our own. It is also true that the moral code of self-sacrifice is incompatible not only with life and happiness but with business, whose goal is to pursue self-interest—profits—through the production and trade of goods and services. And it is also true that many businesspeople recognize the destructiveness of self-sacrifice to themselves and also to their “beneficiaries” who would soon run out of “benefits” when the sacrificers have been milked dry. Finally, it is also true that many businesspeople, failing to see an alternative to the moral code of altruism that tells them to sacrifice their self-interest for others (for example, by hypocritically refusing to do business with pipeline companies), often resort to pragmatic appeasement of anyone who claims moral superiority (such as anti-oil sands activists).
Yet, there is no excuse for not grasping the importance of valid moral principles and of upholding rather than compromising them. The knowledge of such moral principles was discovered by Ayn Rand. This knowledge has been communicated and published by her and by many others (including by myself in my book and in this blog, and Peter Schwartz’ brilliant new book, In Defense of Selfishness). Yes, the education system, including business schools, can be blamed partially for not teaching students to think for themselves and for inculcating the destructive alleged virtue of self-sacrifice. But barring cognitive impairment, every person is capable of discovering the proper moral principles for guiding their self-interest, their survival and wellbeing (which, of course, does not involve violating the rights of others). Every person is also responsible for applying the moral principles that help in achieving their values.
This is the difference between Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson and President of Tim Hortons Canada David Clanachan. Rex Tillerson’s conduct indicates that he gets that adhering to valid moral principles, such as rationality, integrity, and independence, is the only way we can achieve our values in any context, including business.
When you know you have discovered the right principles, you don’t compromise them when attacked but stand up and defend yourself. Compromise leads to further attacks and loss of business from those whose values your appeasement harms (such as the thousands of workers in the Canadian oil and related industries). The latter has the powerful effect of silencing or subduing the critics—as happened at Exxon’s annual meeting, facilitating achievement of your values, including the production and trade of oil and coffee beverages for profit.