Though the aims of business and the middle and lower classes may not always be in sync, the economy depends on a certain level of cooperation and cohabitation. Businesses come and go, prosper and die, all the while supplying the economy with jobs and opportunities for individuals to gain experience, learn new skills, and ultimately climb the economic ladder.
Though the past several years have really put the middle class at odds with those on the upper crust, there are business leaders out there who recognize the importance of lifting everyone up, even those on the lower rungs of society. A prospering middle class is essential to a healthy national economy, and without a steady number of opportunities for individuals to make a decent living, America would fall apart at the seams.
Through history, we can look at Henry Ford as being one of the first business leaders to really put the middle class on his back. By offering fantastic wages and revolutionizing the way people work, Ford was able to influence the way we see jobs today. He played a role in building the strong middle class America relied upon for the past 100 years or so, and his legacy is being carried on by many to this day.
So, what business leaders are effectively capturing Ford’s spirit? There are many, and we’re going to highlight seven of them. These individuals, and the companies they preside over, are different from what we may call the “best places to work”, as they lift up Americans from uneducated and unskilled backgrounds, and give them a chance to develop skills and build a professional life. Through a variety of means, these individuals are truly offering a helping hand to the economically disadvantaged, and lending a voice to those who need it.
Read on to find out more about our seven business leaders who are champions of the middle class.
1. Charles Butt
Many people across the country are probably unfamiliar with Charles Butt, but he is the CEO of Texas-based grocery store chain HEB. Butt began his career in the family business at the age of eight, bagging groceries. As the CEO, he has run the company since 1971, is the majority shareholder, and has made billions of dollars. He also treats his employees very well, referring to them as “partners,” dolling out holiday bonuses, and also handing out lots of money in donations to charities and local organizations.
2. Howard Schultz
Howard Schultz is becoming more and more of a household name. As the CEO of coffee giant Starbucks, he also offers employment opportunities to a huge number of people with the company’s thousands of locations worldwide. Recently, Starbucks made news by announcing that they would offer free tuition through the company’s College Plan, helping employees further their education and develop new skills. He has also taken initiative on raising wages, helping his associates even further. While the company still gets its fair share of criticism, Schultz is taking some initiative toward improving his employees’ lives and well-being.
3. Bill Gates
The man who needs no introduction, Bill Gates now spends his time and vast billions of dollars helping the less fortunate through the non-profit he established with his wife, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates was also integral in bringing modern computing to the average American, making affordable personal computers and software a mainstream commodity. He has also been a vocal advocate for the Giving Pledge, in which he has made the promise to donate a majority of his wealth to philanthropic purposes.
4. Craig Jelinek
A lot of people know that Costco is renowned for treating its employees with the utmost fairness, and under CEO Craig Jelinek, that legacy has continued. Costco pays its employees — even at the most basic of positions — much higher wages than what the law calls for, and promotes associates from within. Living wages, benefits, and reinvesting profits back into the company are what has helped Costco remain one of America’s favorite businesses. The strategy works, too, putting other retailers to shame as they employ drastically different business methods.
5. Nick Hanauer
Few people in the business world have become more outspoken regarding the current economic situation in America than Nick Hanauer. A Seattle-based businessman and venture capitalist, Hanauer has used many media — be it TED Talks or articles in popular magazines — to warn fellow one-percenters that things need to change, and fast. He has been a supporter of minimum wage increases, and additional investment in public resources to give the less-advantaged a helping hand.
6. Arthur T. Demoulas
This past summer, a drama played out at northeastern-based supermarket chain Market Basket. The company’s CEO Arthur T. Demoulas was ousted, in an attempt by management to cut back on employee perks and increase profits. The company’s workforce rallied around Demoulas, and he was eventually restored to his position. When does that ever happen? Demoulas is beloved for offering living wages, profit-sharing plans, and opportunities to climb the corporate ranks to six-figure salaries. Demoulas and Market Basket do things differently, and that’s what makes them special. A rising tide raises all ships, and Demoulas is one business leader who truly sees the wisdom in that.
7. Warren Buffett
Last but certainly not least, Warren Buffett has lent middle class Americans a helping hand with his influence and pledge to donate his enormous amount of wealth. He has publicly come out in favor of higher taxes on the wealthiest earners, and also in favor of raising wages to help stem inequality and help lower-class workers gain a more solid economic foothold. Buffett famously subscribes to a very modest lifestyle, shunning extravagant homes and cars in favor of a simple life in Omaha, Neb. Buffett leads with his actions more than his words, and has become a very influential and heavy-handed advocate for middle-class Americans.
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