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Hallelujah: this time the quest for purpose and meaning may be more than empty promises

IbyIMD+ Published 29 December 2022 in Management • 10 min read

Michael Skapinker, who once shared the quiet pessimism of Leonard Cohen, explains why a new era of positive change may be upon us.

Most management writers have their preferred gurus. For some it’s Peter Drucker, while others might look to Michael Porter or Charles Handy. When I come across a new business fad, I turn to the words of Leonard Cohen: “Baby, I’ve been here before, I know this room, I’ve walked this floor.”

I quoted Cohen’s lines from his much-covered song Hallelujah in the Financial Times in 2019 when I wrote about the companies, from JP Morgan Chase to Glencore, that had committed themselves to acting with purpose, recognizing that they had a responsibility that went beyond Milton Friedman’s instruction to focus purely on shareholders’ desires, “which generally will be to make as much money as possible”.

The reason for my resort to Cohen was that, in more than 30 years of covering business, I have seen these corporate commitments to serve society – and not just shareholders – come and go. Company leaders usually made these pledges in good times, only to abandon them when the economy…

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