Writer Anand Giridharadas criticizes business leaders

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  • Writer Anand Giridharadas took the opportunity to speak with thousands of board members to gut the group and say they are making empty promises.
  • “A lot of your children and grandchildren don’t respect your work,” Giridharadas said Monday during a speech at the annual summit of the National Association of Corporate Directors, according to audio obtained by Business Insider.
  • Many administrators were shocked and disgusted by the remarks, with attendees saying some threatened to demand a refund for the event or to leave NACD.
  • Giridharadas has also faced criticism from economist Glenn Hubbard, who called Giridharadas’ thinking “mad” as two debates of win-all capitalism at the top.
  • “I wasn’t interested in a theoretical conversation about capitalism… without noting that we had on call an economic arsonist who was now hired as an expert in firefighting,” Giridharadas told Business Insider.
  • “The key to NACD’s mission, especially at our annual NACD summit, is to expose our 21,000 members to contrasting perspectives on the issues that will redefine the way businesses create value,” said said Peter R. Gleason, CEO of NACD.
  • Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.

When Anand Giridharadas was invited to speak at the annual summit of the National Association of Corporate Directors, the writer – known for his harsh criticism of billionaires and the global elite – did not hesitate.

“A lot of your children and grandchildren don’t respect your work,” Giridharadas told more than 3,000 directors who were virtually watching the summit on Monday, according to audio obtained by Business Insider.

Giridharadas criticized directors for their lack of action, portraying companies as making empty promises while shirking responsibility.

“This being a group of corporate administrators, I ask again, where have you been? Giridharadas said in his remarks. “Where were you in the lead-up to the climate crisis? Where have you been during the rise of inequalities over the past four decades? Where were you in the lead-up to the subprime mortgage crisis? Where were you in the run-up to the opioid crisis? Where have you been? ”

The aggressive remarks shocked many of the hundreds of people who virtually attend the summit, which is billed as “the world’s largest and most influential directors’ forum.” NACD is made up of 21,000 directors, including board members from 97% of Fortune 500 companies – the same people Giridharadas called.

The summit chat room exploded into chaos as Giridharadas condemned corporate executives. The conversation was moving so fast that it was hard to keep pace, according to Lauren Harrell, a board director who had attended the summit for its second year in a row.

Giridharadas was the summit’s first speaker, marking a surprising introduction to the event for many who did not expect to be so harshly criticized at an industry conference.

“There were people who were like, ‘I want my money back, I’m not going to sit here and listen to this,’” Kent Lundberg, who attended the summit, told Business Insider.

The insulted participants said in the chat that they would either drop the summit or mute Giridharadas until he stopped speaking. Some have even threatened to cancel their NACD membership in protest, according to Lundberg.

“The key to NACD’s mission, particularly at our annual NACD summit, is to expose our 21,000 members to contrasting perspectives on the issues that will redefine the way businesses create value,” he said Peter R. Gleason, CEO of NACD, said in a statement to Business Insider when asked to comment on the backlash.

Read more: McDonald’s Hires Former Obama Advisor to Lead New Team Focused on ‘Positive Change’, As Company Doubles Its Values ​​Amid Scandals

Giridharadas quarreled with economist Glenn Hubbard, who called Giridharadas “crazy”

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Glenn Hubbard faced Giridharadas.

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Giridharadas’ remarks were followed by an appearance by Glenn Hubbard, which led to a drastic deviation in a more conservative direction.

Hubbard is a professor at the Columbia Business School and an economist who advised the George W. Bush administration. Contrary to Giridharadas’ remarks, Hubbard promoted the idea of ​​free market capitalism.

The event had been bill as a discussion of “the pros and cons of win-win capitalism and the role that business should play in creating a more equitable society”. A brief question-and-answer session involving both Hubbard and Giridharadas – led by Gillian Tett, the chair of the Financial Times editorial board – further increased tensions.

Giridharadas took the opportunity to criticize the Bush-era tax cuts, which Hubbard helped design. Hubbard responded by criticizing Giridharadas’ thinking as “crazy.”

“I tried to hold Glenn Hubbard on the account he deserves to be detained on,” Giridharadas told Business Insider when asked to comment on the interaction. “He had a very theoretical discussion on these questions: if the markets are working perfectly, then, blah blah blah. He spoke of Milton Friedman as a scholar surrounded by books, but he lives in a country in pain. ”

“I was not interested in a theoretical conversation about capitalism, markets and democracy without noting that we had on call an economic arsonist who was now hired as an expert in firefighting,” added Giridharadas.

Giridharadas said it was “unbelievable” that someone teaching on a college campus used “crazy” as an insult in a debate.

“All he had to offer was that I was ‘crazy’ and my ideas were ‘rant’ and ‘incoherent’,” Giridharadas said. “I hope that for him, as a person who teaches on a college campus, he will become a little more sensitive to the mental health issues in this culture that have frankly made calling people crazy in a debate, this is not really the behavior we would expect from a teacher.

Hubbard declined to comment on the event or Giridharadas referred to him as an “economic arsonist.”

“Anand Giridharadas and Glenn Hubbard offered divergent perspectives on the future of capitalism, which sparked strong engagement, both positive and negative, from some of our more than 3,000 business directors and other professionals. governance, ”NACD’s Gleason said in a statement. “This underscores the difficult challenge for boards of directors as they attempt to balance so many sometimes competing interests for their businesses. “

Most directors didn’t expect the forum to start with such a blunt review

Giridharadas’ comments, followed by the backhand with Hubbard, surprised many.

“I think it got to a point where part of the audience stopped listening because they felt like they were being attacked,” said Cynthia Ruiz, who was attending the summit for her first time. “Because he was like, what did you guys do?” Why didn’t you do this? ”

Lundberg said part of the anti-Giridharadas crowd may have “raged” out of the conference in protest after the first minutes of the writer’s remarks. But, as the event continued, another perspective emerged in the quick discussion, according to Lundberg.

These participants encouraged other directors to listen to Giridharadas, even if they were not comfortable. (Lundberg himself has stated that he is a fan of Giridharadas and, after watching videos of the writer, knew what to expect from the Fire Mark – although others were taken aback by the calls. .)

Harrell, a participant who has spent the past decade in governance and boards, was one of the directors to address the discomfort. She told Business Insider that she believes Giridharadas raised important questions about whether directors are performing their duties.

“I appreciate sometimes that we don’t feel comfortable and that’s okay,” said Harrell. “Sometimes we maybe have to think, well, why does that make me uncomfortable?”

However, Harrell said, the majority of people speaking in the chat were defensive or shocked instead of taking the opportunity to listen to a different perspective. The refusal of these participants to commit disappointed Harrell.

“Those who were adamantly opposed to hearing this prospect – it got me thinking [how] these are the people who are in the boardroom, ”Harrell said. If you have points of view that you don’t necessarily like or like, are those conversations stuck at the table? What are you missing if you don’t engage in this opposite perspective? ”

Ruiz also took the opportunity to hear Giridharadas’ remarks, although he saw the majority of the audience respond defensively. As a woman of color who was chair of the Los Angeles City Pension Board, Ruiz said she attended the summit to have more exposure to the world of boards. She saw the different perspectives of Giridharadas and Hubbard as a chance to learn.

“I’m one of those people who appreciates diversity because it helps me form an opinion,” Ruiz said. “I honestly believe we are going through a paradigm shift to put people first, and I think this is driven by many factors, including consumers. “

Giridharadas says he wanted business leaders to know their own children are furious at their complicity

Paul Polman

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, was also arrested by Giridharadas.

Reuters / Benoit Tessier

Giridharadas told Business Insider that he had not seen the cat and that the summit was virtual, he was unable to see how the public was reacting.

“I think the message was bound to be difficult, because they were trying to have a conversation about… shareholder capitalism versus stakeholder capitalism, and I think they were trying to have this conversation in the absence of a conversation about complicity, ”said Giridharadas.

Giridharadas said his comments about children and grandchildren disrespecting their guiding parents were prompted both by data on generational divisions and his own individual interactions. He says he receives a large amount of emails from young readers of his book, “Winners Take It All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” who say they share the book with their parents or grandparents with prospects. different.

“I have heard countless stories of how they have used the book to try to persuade their family members that their family members have contributed to a desolate world of opportunity for their own children and grandchildren. children, ”Giridharadas said.

“I think there is this dynamic where a lot of young people are not only angry with the system, but they are angry with – in some cases – what their own parents and grandparents did to make the system. what it is, ”he added.



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