The Blue Way: How to Profit by Investing in a Better World

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"There is a myth in America that victory on the great battlefield of capitalism is won by those willing to set ethics aside-by those willing to scorch the earth, put our safety at risk, and squeeze their employees in the name of profit.... But what if this cutthroat view of capitalism were really just a myth? What if we could prove-using hard, peer-reviewed data from financial markets-that responsible, progressive corporate leadership doesn't just make a company nicer but makes its shareholders richer? What if progressive values were better, not
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Overview

"There is a myth in America that victory on the great battlefield of capitalism is won by those willing to set ethics aside-by those willing to scorch the earth, put our safety at risk, and squeeze their employees in the name of profit.... But what if this cutthroat view of capitalism were really just a myth? What if we could prove-using hard, peer-reviewed data from financial markets-that responsible, progressive corporate leadership doesn't just make a company nicer but makes its shareholders richer? What if progressive values were better, not only for employees, the environment, and our country but for investors and for a company's financial bottom line? That is precisely what we will describe: an ethical business strategy that we call the Blue Way."
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This call to arms for Democratic investors from the cofounders of Blue Investment Management, an ethical investment fund, belies the widespread myth that progressive investing is financially unsound. The Blue Index-the companies in the S&P 500 that are socially responsible and have also supported Democratic candidates over the last five election cycles-outperform the market by nearly 20%, and outperform red S&P 500 companies by 23%, they assert. While "blue" companies often have cultures and business models that are more innovative, more flexible, more employee-friendly and more eco-efficient, they tend to be dismissed as less viable investments. The bulk of investment capital continues to prop up conservative causes, the authors say, claiming that most investors don't realize that no matter where they invest their money, much of it is likely to funnel directly into the Republican Party. Surprisingly, 84% of S&P 500 companies support Republican causes; according to the authors the ravenous lobbyist culture keeps the money flowing. The authors set forth a solid plan for progressive investors who want to make sure their money supports their politics. Many will find this exhortation to "build our own political capital market" a well-presented political and financial wakeup call. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416547341
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 10/9/2007
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1The Great Illusion

There is a myth in America that victory on the great battlefield of capitalism is won by those willing to set ethics aside -- by those willing to scorch the earth, put our safety at risk, and squeeze their employees in the name of profit.

Many of us absorb our first, formative business lesson on a grade school playground when we hear "Nice guys finish last." This lesson is echoed over and over by mentors, colleagues, competitors, and even the financial authorities: "Either you can choose to do good or you can choose to make money." Just consider the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the official standard-bearer of good sense in American financial markets. The SEC requires any mutual fund that invests in ethical companies to disclose this fact -- not because the fund deserves special recognition, but, to the contrary, because the SEC views ethical investing as a risk to investors.

But what if this cutthroat view of capitalism were really just a myth? What if we could prove -- using hard, peer-reviewed data from financial markets -- that responsible, progressive corporate leadership doesn't just make a company nicer but makes its shareholders richer? What if progressive values were better, not only for employees, the environment, and our country but for investors and for a company's financial bottom line?

That is precisely what we will describe: an ethical business strategy that we call the Blue Way. Conscientious, values-based leadership doesn't just lead to a cleaner environment and more equal opportunity. It also produces greater innovation, prosperity, and success. While this business strategy may sound too goodto be true, we believe it is a blueprint for a sweeping progressive revival in which every American can participate. The principles that guide progressive leaders are equally valuable to voters who want to win elections and to investors who want to beat the stock market.

This book marks the first time that anyone has set down the Blue Way in print as a guide for investors, business leaders, concerned citizens, and political organizers. But the Blue Way's basic principles have been intuitively understood by a generation of the most successful, progressive entrepreneurs and CEOs. These visionaries -- leaders of what we call "blue companies" -- have had the courage to brush aside the conventional wisdom and follow an unpopular but ultimately more rewarding view of economic enterprise.

These blue company leaders have done the hard work for us. They are the ones who have generated the wealth of empirical evidence, from stock market performance data to personal stories and anecdotes, that illustrates the power of the Blue Way. They have put the principles of progressive leadership to the toughest possible test -- the test of the free market -- and passed with flying colors.

What this chart shows is that not only have blue companies beaten the S&P 500 index, they have done so consistently and dramatically.* We're pretty sure that these results will be just as surprising to most American progressives as to any archconservative ideologue. Progressives are used to hearing that their values and policies will help low-income Americans make it out of poverty, ensure equal protection under the law, or cut air and water pollution -- not that they'll help companies dramatically outperform the stock market. Meanwhile, the media machine regularly tars Democrats as "socialists" whose utopian economic views will strangle America's great companies and send the stock market crashing. This smear campaign has had an impact not only on CEOs and the business press but also on plenty of ordinary progressives who have internalized the idea that their values are bad for business.

If the data above are not astonishing enough already, over the next several chapters we will show that being "blue" has been a better predictor of stock market success than traditional financial metrics, including a strong forward PE ratio and a good dividend yield. Even more striking, this phenomenon is widespread, spanning nearly every segment of the economy from consumer staples to telecommunications to utilities to financial services. Is this "freakonomics"? No, it is the traditional marketplace, where ethical companies are rewarded. The Blue Way is a wake-up call: progressives should be proud of their economic record. As we will discuss later, Democratic presidents have been better stewards of the economy over the last century than their Republican counterparts. "Blue" CEOs have on the whole administered better, more successful companies than their conservative counterparts. Core progressive values -- equal opportunity, protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms, environmental sustainability, and fair treatment of all citizens regardless of race, gender, class, or orientation -- are not only a better basis for running the American economy, they're a better basis for running a business.

One of the great things about The Blue Way is that, thanks to the hard data available from financial markets, you don't have to sit back and take our word for it. As you read on, you'll see how anyone with a spreadsheet, Internet access, and a little patience can replicate our work and confirm just how financially successful the "Blue Sector" of consistently progressive companies has been.

Most investors will of course be intensely curious about the specific ways that socially responsible values contribute to corporate success. As we hunted for the distinctive qualities of Blue Sector companies that could plausibly explain their financial outperformance, we discovered that blue company leaders' deeply held values tend to express themselves in what we call the Six Pillars of Progressive Leadership:

- A culture of innovation. Blue companies include many of America's most innovative companies -- not only technology and Internet firms but companies that set themselves apart from their sector by adopting particularly innovative business strategies.

- Organizational flexibility. Blue companies are more likely to experiment with flat, flexible, participatory organization structures that allow good ideas to flow freely from the roots of the organization to the top.

- Ecoefficiency. Blue companies have a strong record in improving the efficiency of their energy and natural resource consumption.

- Investment in employees' well-being. The Blue Sector includes many of America's most employee-friendly companies, with above-average benefits packages, profit sharing, and strong commitment to employee diversity.

- Constructive relationships with critics. Blue companies tend to respond productively to critics and advocacy groups, acknowledging problems and seeking a collaborative response.

- Long-term perspective. Blue company leaders display a long-term vision and refuse to get sidetracked or seduced by short-term considerations.

Later in The Blue Way, we will explore each of these pillars in greater detail, drawing on the strategies of CEOs who have employed them to maximum effect. We will also see how the lessons of these private-sector progressives are essential in reviving progressive politics.

In fact, politics will be front and center in this book. An investor who wants to get rich the blue way can't just look at the social and environmental behavior of America's biggest companies. Plenty of companies manage to put up a good PR smoke screen or do the minimum necessary to pass various social screens. Those companies have not really internalized socially responsible values, and they don't enjoy the financial benefits that flow from genuine progressive leadership.

Instead, investors need to look critically at companies' demonstrable political behavior. CEOs show their true colors when it comes time to make personal and corporate political contributions. Blue Sector corporations all support Democratic candidates with the majority of their political spending -- a practice that flies directly in the face of one of America's most cherished prejudices.

Getting the Blues

The two of us stumbled onto this insight from different sides. For his part, Joe Andrew saw the Blue Sector years before he understood what he was seeing. In 1999, Joe was elected the national chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). A successful corporate lawyer and entrepreneur, Joe now turned his attention to being the CEO of the party. One of the national chair's roles is to raise money for the Democrats and oversee how it is spent. As a result, Joe was constantly on the move, visiting CEOs from many of the big companies in America. Joe was no stranger to corporate boardrooms, but what he found surprised even him.

Some of the CEOs were receptive to his requests. Some turned Joe down flat. At first, Joe wondered whether he was a sore loser, because he repeatedly got the feeling that the receptive companies were better than the ones that turned him down flat -- not just in terms of their values but in terms of their financial success. As time went by, Joe became sure that it wasn't just him: these companies really did tend to be more successful, both in terms of market performance and business ethics.

Of course, as Joe got to know corporate America, he also realized the scale of the Republican fund-raising advantage. Today nearly five times as many of America's richest companies support Republicans as Democrats. More than twice as much corporate money is donated to Republicans than to Democrats. And that's just formal federal political contributions from the companies' political action committees and their senior leadership -- it doesn't count the deep, hidden aquifer of corporate capital that nourishes conservative lobbyists, think tanks, university programs, and media. Joe's term as chair of the DNC ended in February 2001, just as George W. Bush began demonstrating the full power of this corporate-fueled Republican machine.

A few years later, Joe was introduced to a young entrepreneur who had also noticed that progressive companies were thriving: Daniel de Faro Adamson. Whereas Joe had observed the Blue Sector from the political side, Daniel came at it from the world of private equity and investment management. Joe had a general impression from observing progressive CEOs in action; Daniel had the numbers to back it up. Joe understood the power of private-sector capital and possessed insights to revitalize the Democratic Party. Daniel, a veteran of Wall Street and McKinsey & Company, understood the potential for progressive investors to beat the market by putting their money into pro-Democratic companies.

Today, we're writing this book to invite every progressive American to consciously take part in the great untold story of the U.S. economy, as well as for every business leader, Democrat or Republican, who would like to use ethical management principles to deliver shareholder value. The Blue Sector has remained unidentified for years. When socially responsible investment became popular, analysts and investors began examining companies' environmental and human rights records but continued to avert their eyes from companies' politics -- perhaps feeling that there is something messy or sinister about politics in general. As a result, we believe they missed out on the primary factor that distinguishes companies that have a good "socially responsible" public relations spin from those that benefit from real progressive leadership. We believe, in short, that the analysts and investors missed out on the chance to make the world a better place while also making money.

We are also writing for a new generation of progressive organizations and activists that are unafraid of corporate America. They understand that responsible, progressive corporations are not just a source of political funds but the cornerstone of a thriving, fair, and sustainable economy; they also know that capital is the mother of invention, in politics as in business. Blue CEOs have plenty of lessons for like-minded leaders in the nonprofit and government spheres. The traits that make progressives great in the private sector can also contribute to an energetic revival of progressive politics.

The progressive movement needs to reverse the three fundamental advantages that American conservatives have enjoyed for the last few decades. First, the Republicans have the majority of America's big corporations on their side, with all the power, money, and organization that implies. Second, they've channeled their flood of corporate contributions into a highly developed political capital market, which sustains their successful political organizations and fuels a steady succession of promising start-ups. Finally, the conservative movement has outplayed progressives in the game of infrastructure building, setting up a formidable network of right-wing media outlets, think tanks, grassroots mobilization outfits, leadership training institutes, political advocacy groups, and so on.

This thriving political infrastructure -- and in particular the sophisticated financial infrastructure that pipes money to all the other bits of the machine -- is the seminal reason that the Republicans have been able to shift American politics so far to the right. Their success in institution building has gained them more power than the results of any single election. Despite periodic setbacks like Bill Clinton's victories and the meltdown of the GOP Congress in 2006, the conservative machine will keep coming back stronger unless we can cut off the fuel that sustains it: corporate capital.

The Blue Sector hits the conservative money machine in its ideological foundations by disproving the myth that the new Republicans are the natural party of business. Unfortunately, like most people, corporate bosses would prefer to tune out uncomfortable truths about the need to change their ways. Despite our backgrounds, on the spectrum of people with the power to get CEOs to sit up and pay attention, "a couple of Democrats writing a book" fall somewhere between "the shoeshine guy" and "the intern who makes the coffee." We need to get our message out to the people who can really concentrate minds in corporate America. These people are more influential than members of Congress, or the EPA, the SEC, or even the Wall Street Journal editorial board. We're writing to investors and consumers.

If progressive Americans concentrate their support behind the Blue Sector -- through their consumer decisions, through shareholder proxy votes, through choosing to invest in progressive companies -- we'll be able to divert the largest river of capital that feeds the conservative pool. For that diversion to benefit the progressive movement, though, we need to match the other two conservative advantages: we need to build our own political capital market and a new generation of political infrastructure that adopts the best lessons from the Blue Sector. In the final chapters of this book, we will describe what we've got right now on the Democratic side, and offer a blueprint for all that we still need to develop.

The Blue Way is not just a moneymaking guide. It is also a progressive call to arms. We want to open Americans' eyes to the impact of corporate money on politics. We want to highlight the success of the Blue Sector and demolish the myths that keep American business locked into the Republican camp. At the same time, we want to bring the best lessons from the Blue Sector into progressive politics. The Republican model has faltered, and the progressive movement is searching for a new way forward. There is no better time to pull back the curtain on the powerful but flawed illusions that sustain the conservative money machine. There is no better time to build a new foundation for the progressive movement.

Copyright © 2007 by The Blue Way LLC

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Table of Contents


The Blue Sector
The Great Illusion     3
Seeing Red     13
Being Blue Puts Companies in the Black     39
The Principles of Progressive Leadership I: Innovation, Flexibility, Ecoefficiency     55
The Principles of Progressive Leadership II: Dealing with Employees, Critics, and the Long Haul     75
Buying Blue: A Guide for the Awakened Consumer     99
Painting Wall Street Blue: Politically Responsible Shareholder Activism     123
The Blueprint: Building a Blue Financial Infrastructure     147
The Progressive Ecosystem     171
Blue America: The Future Progressive Majority     197
Notes     211
Acknowledgments     229
Index     231
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