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Archive for April, 2005

The Social Responsibilitiy of a Corporation

Monday, April 25th, 2005

Steve Ballmer’s recent memo to Microsoft employees explaining the policy reversal on support of the antidiscrimination bill for gay people is a failure of corporate leadership and accountability.
(If you’re not familiar with the issue, here’s an NYTimes article.)

This is not a black and white issue. Every CEO has a very real obligation to stockholders to maximize firm value in a responsible way. And admittedly, there are likely to be Microsoft employees among the 35,000 rank and file who oppose the passage of this bill. However, there are plenty more who are in favor of its passage. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that the proposed boycott of software by the Christian Right would have a huge economic impact on Microsoft.

It is absolutely the responsibility of business to promote the social progress of the society in which it does business. To hide your head in the sand and say “Not My Problem” is morally reprehensible on a corporate level as much as it is on a personal level. Maybe more. How are we to feel about the businesses that leveraged the Nazi machine to remove Jewish business leaders from Boards or Executive positions? Or those that happily watched as Jewish competitors were closed down? Today, do we consider it acceptable that those social issues were “not the problem of businesses”?

Let’s be clear here. This proposed law simply extends protection against discrimination in employment, housing, etc, based on sexual orientation. As a society, we have accepted that it is illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, handicap or national origin. Be refusing to support this bill, we are saying that it’s OK to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Steve Ballmer and Microsoft are saying that they can’t support a law which would forbid discrimination.

Microsoft is a world leader in business and with that leadership position comes responsibility. It IS Microsoft’s responsibility to take a stand on social issues and to speak out against injustice. As a Microsoft employee, I was reviewed against my “confidence”, my willingness to take a stand in difficult issues. Seems hypocritical, to say the least.

Leaders take stands in difficult times (Peter Drucker famously said that Leadership WAS Responsibility). They look within themselves and do the right thing for their company, for the people who work for them, and for society. Management must take a long-term when assessing their strategies (something Microsoft is historically good at). For Ballmer and Bill Gates to say that they personally support the bill but won’t do it on behalf of the company is a feeble inaction for which they will someday be ashamed.

As a once-proud employee, I know I am.


Outlook and Hotmail are reunited!

Monday, April 25th, 2005

Just a quick one tonight: my Hotmail is talking to my Outlook again. It’s really a beautiful thing.

Apparently Microsoft’s new policy was supposed to prevent NEW accounts from using Outlook to access Hotmail. My account should have been “grandfathered” in but was erroneously misconfigured. The folks at Microsoft have fixed it. See? I told you that they were good people.

Special thanks to Omar and Oliver for helping me out on this one.


Craigslist and Google Maps

Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

This is the coolest use of free Web Services that I have seen in a while. Check out Paul Rademacher’s combination of Craigslist and Google Maps. I’m looking for a new apartment and this is just a killer app.

I’m not sure if he’s taking requests, but I’d love to filter at the neighborood level 🙂

Discussion point: when does an app become so compelling that people can charge for it? And who claims value? Google and Craigslist? Paul Rademacher?