Constructive Capitalism and Dr. Bronner
|Dr. Emanuel Bronner 1908 - 1997|
Dr. Bronner was a third generation soap maker descended from Orthodox Jewish soap manufacturers in Germany. The first part of his life was marked by tragedy - his parents were killed in the Holocaust, and later, he was committed to an insane asylum where he endured barbaric electroshock treatments for his bizarre (but at least peaceful) views. He managed to escape from the institution to California where he founded his soap company in 1948. Fortunately, his latter days were marked by blessing. He reconciled with his abandoned children (so committed was he to his cause of uniting Spaceship Earth, they spent much of their childhood in foster homes) who in turn helped run the company. In spite of a sadly complicated and imperfect past, Dr. Bronner, in his geriatric years, enjoyed helming a successful family enterprise as well as an Eden-like existence of nude sunbathing and eating fresh guacamole, his favorite health food, on a regular basis.
His soap continues in the same excellent tradition despite Dr. Bronner having passed away in 1997. The company is run by his relatives who hold to the same purity standards espoused by Dr. Bronner and have taken them to another level. The company's product is completely organic and fair trade certified, and they're especially proud of an organic, fair trade olive oil project in the Holy Land. The company has always donated a percentage of their net profits to charity. In recent years, the percentage donated has increased to over 70% of net profits. The relatives have also capped their salaries so that they are never grotesquely out of proportion to the lowest paid employees in the company. And they give generous bonuses to all of their employees, not just the top management. (As anyone knows, this is so unfortunately not true in many American companies and corporations where a sense of entitlement prevails in upper management to the long-term detriment of the companys' morale and financial health.)
|Dr. Bronner's line of soaps|
Many people are unaware that it was Dr. Bronner who first conceived and used the term "constructive capitalism." Increasingly, financial and economic pundits are trying to take credit for the term. Dr. Bronner was truly a pioneer, well ahead of his time, and his work has helped pave the way for contemporary offshoots such as "conscious capitalism" (the Whole Foods business model before being acquired by Amazon in 2017.) While generosity is nothing new in American capitalism - industrialists Rockefeller and Carnegie, in their twilight years, were big givers from their, some argue, ill-gotten wealth - Dr. Bronner's business was one of the first to marry the concept of social responsibility with profit in a very practical way.
I have been a consumer of Dr. Bronner's soap for years - it's great for everything, including stinky, dander-infested pets. (Caution must be exercised in using the peppermint soap on private areas since the high quality peppermint has a surprising "zing" to it.) Over time, the kooky labels with excessive exclamation points have become more and more endearing, like the rantings of a favorite, eccentric, old fart relative. Apparently, Dr. Bronner's family feels likewise. Even though a number of Dr. Bronner's relatives are born-again Christians and don't quite agree with everything on the labels (e.g. the Halley's Comet connection to the Messiah), they have left them unchanged out of respect for their founding patriarch. The family states on each label, "No one agrees with everything on the label, but everyone finds something which inspires and touches them." So true. The labels contain a random assortment of original quotes by Dr. Bronner from his "moral ABC" and quotes by famous people. Here is a sampling:
"To love, to live!
to see to it that I give and grow
and give and give!"
"God must have loved the common people of the earth...he made so many of them."
"Our technology has outstripped our humanity!"
"We're ALL-ONE or NONE!"
(Management consultant and executive coaching pioneer Julian Moody and I touch on the subject of God in the topic "God" which is part of our project Dialogues with Julian Moody: On Life, Business, Sustainability, and Other Things.)