“It is the mind that makes the body rich”…
…is one of most celebrated quotes from Andrew Carnegie, the famous Scottish-born American businessman and major philanthropist. Most reasonable people would agree with this statement, a plausible motto presiding human pursuit of happiness. The sentence also encapsulates a sentiment that responsible billionaires seem to experience in the mature stages of their lives, after having accomplished extraordinary secular successes. It is a sentiment that reflects the vacuity and ephemeral pleasure brought by solely mundane achievements. It is also a call to cultivate the soul and not just amass material wealth. In the case of Andrew Carnegie, it also expressed the desirable generous attitude of giving back to society the returns of the wealth made possible by the same society.
Last Thursday, William Gates III announced his plans to step down as the company's chief software architect and to cede his role as chairman of Microsoft in 2008, in order to concentrate his time on the charitable activities of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The announcement has caused an intense flow of comments in the blogosphere both on the post-Gates Microsoft age as well as on the expectations aroused by his professional dedication to charitable activities. How do renowned managers and entrepreneurs perform as chief executives of social causes? Is it expectable that Bill Gates -a still young, revolutionary entrepreneur, worldwide acclaimed manager and guru- will make a profound impact for the good in fields such as global health and education?
This week’s cover story of Businessweek shows what an arduous task is the implementation of projects related to social problems, complex by nature and only solvable in the long run by combining actions at many different levels, even if lead by reputed managers. The announcement of Bill Gates reminds me of when George Soros, another great entrepreneur and philanthropist of our times, told the participant CEOs of the Leadership Forum Programme at my business school last fall that he planned to progressively step down from his corporate responsibilities to devote himself to the Open Society Institute activities. One the attending CEOs asked Mr. Soros why he didn’t continue making money in his core businesses and leave the managers of his charities do their job. However, history shows that prominent businesspeople can actually perform brilliantly as managers of social causes. In fact Lou Gerstner of IBM fame said that managers should provide their managing expertise and time rather than making cash donations.
We need social entrepreneurs. Last year, we established a social entrepreneurship track at Instituto de Empresa Business School that is currently attended by 20 MBA students. Participants will engage in different projects related to social projects, interacting with other schools in Latin America. I am sure that they will be able to apply all their energies, enthusiasm and knowledge to solve social problems. Again, good business is probably one of the best antidotes to the world’s illnesses.