A panel of USN parents and an alumnus discusses the role of corporations and whose interests they should serve for the 20th anniversary Buhl Lecture.
By Juanita I.C. Traughber, Communications Director
During the Buhl Lecture, High School students got a better glimpse into the American economy and capitalism through the eyes of academics and corporate executives on Monday, February 10.
“Stakeholders and Stockholders: Who Matters and Why?” was the topic of the 20th annual lecture
commemorating the life and intellectual curiosity of Mike Buhl.
Temple Law Professor Harwell Wells '84 opened by acknowledging the sense of many Generation Z students that “there is something troubling about the way corporations are managed today.” He shared how corporate management has evolved since the 1950s with the increasingly global economy, the need for legal corporations, and the structure of the board, stakeholders, and employees. He also differentiated between American corporate structure and other nations, such as many corporate boards being composed of former senior employees in Japan and Germany’s co-determination system with a thriving middle class and 40% of boards elected by employees.
“Why do we now live in a world in which assume the corporation run for the benefit only of shareholders? Why do we live in a world in which senior management of corporations has been taught since the day they entered business school that their job is to maximize shareholder value alone?” Wells posed for students and the panelists, who are USN parents and parents of alumni: Margaret Blair, Milton R. Underwood Chair in Free Enterprise Vanderbilt Law School; Mimi Vaughn, Chief Executive Office of Genesco; and Bert Mathews, President The Mathews Company.
“When I look at America and I look at the innovation and entpreprenuership … I look at businesses that provide jobs for people, spur innovation, that create opportunities for people,” Vaughn retorted. She conceptualized shareholders for students as USN faculty who own stock through their retirement investments and USN through its endowments. “At the end of the day, there is no way that you can act only in the interest of one party at the expense of another party.”
She shared how Genesco also invests in employee training, donates shoes to school children, and sets expectations for its suppliers to not only help satisfy customers but also participate in the retailer and shoe company’s charitable causes.
Blaire gave a historical perspective on how corporate management has shifted from industry experts, such as engineers, to people who have backgrounds in finance. Matthews encouraged students to read history to understand the economy and role of corporations.
The Buhl Lecture Series began at USN in 2001 to honor the intellectual vitality of the late Arthur H. “Mike” Buhl, an esteemed USN faculty member who passed away 10 years ago. The purpose of the annual lecture is to honor Buhl’s commitment to a life of the mind and to inspire intellectual discourse among our High School students and faculty.