Thursday, January 06, 2011

Raise A Pint of Guinness to Jim!

I don’t even know if he drinks beer but if he does I’ll explain why it could very well be Guinness Stout. I am so proud of Jim Wilkerson and Duke University and Durham. While the bellyaching of so many enterprises makes me want to ask if “they would like to have some ‘whine’ with that cheese,” Jim is showing how to do the right thing.

As the head of Duke Stores, Jim pitched in lend DCVB a hand when I worked there, but I never met him in person or got to know him. I knew he has been a national proponent of better working conditions in factories around the world devoted to producing goods for sale in the US.

He also worked hard in coalition with Duke students to ensure that none of the products sold in Duke Stores were produced in overseas manufacturing operations employing child labor.62080

Jim had a breakthrough last year when he led an effort to open the first apparel factory in a foreign country to pay a “living wage”. He received a nice write up in The Durham News this week.

His observation quoted in the article epitomizes values in Durham’s overarching brand, "I've never seen more motivated, productive and appreciative group of workers in my life." Durham’s a very caring community.

I’ve never been a beer drinker. I learned during high school that even one drop reacts unpleasantly with my digestive system. I know now that it wasn’t the alcohol nor was it the stern silence of the stare I got from the top of the stairs from my father when I got home.

But I ‘m a big fan of at least one beer in particular after reading Stephen Mansfield’s 300 page book The Search for God and Guinness – A Biography of the Beer That Changed The World published just 12 or so weeks ago. It doesn’t have much to do with beer, really! Now don’t go all evangelical on me. The author is a former pastor, Christian speaker and I think he’s probably Republican. He’s written on both the spiritual journey of President Obama, whom he admires but did not support during the campaign and more recently Sarah Palin. So stick with me a minute.

I worked in part on behalf of truly small businesses for nearly 40 years. I know how they struggle and I think that they will be inspired by this book enough to shout down the rhetoric of the corporate-fueled anti-healthcare reform trying to manipulate them to lobby for repeal of the healthcare insurance reform act enacted last year.

Guinness was founded in 1759 in Ireland, just the year after one of my ancestors, James McCrory was born there. The company’s founding family had an uncanny grasp of how an economy functions. They understood the concept that good consumers are healthy consumers and live in clean communities and need time with family and what is given, goes around and what goes around, comes back around.

To give you just a “sip” from the book, Guinness regularly paid wages 10%-20% above the levels of the time and by the 1920’s the company was already providing unheard of benefits to workers, even by today’s standards. They didn’t dismiss them as entitlements, they granted them as “the right thing to do” and trusted the company would still be the beneficiary in the long run.

Here is a sample of what Guinness provided its workforce way back in the 1920s:

  • Full medical and dental care
  • Massage services
  • Reading Rooms
  • Subsidized meals
  • A fully funded pension
  • Funeral expenses
  • Educational benefits
  • Sports and fitness facilities
  • Free lectures and concerts

source: The Search for Guinness And God – A Biography of the Beer That Changed the World

Under Guinness family leadership until 1986, the company also had an extraordinary sense of the importance of “place” and reinvested heavily into historic preservation, again just because it was “good business.” Today, nearly 2 billion pints of Guinness are consumed worldwide each year and it is arguably one of the most recognized brands anywhere on the planet.

Then, as today, it pays to do the right thing. Just ask Jim Wilkerson.

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