As a father of two college-aged young adults, a professor at the University of Maryland and Georgetown University and as a citizen, I must admit that I do have a bit of compassion for the protesters on Wall Street and now around the globe. These are frustrating economic times in a highly competitive job market and certainly the prospect of student loan debt with no income might motivate someone to wear masks and stand out all day in the rain. But as I always have told my own children; be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it.
Is the goal of this movement to really disrupt the capitalism, entrepreneurship and innovation that has made this country so great for nearly 250 years? Do they really think that socialism or even communism is a better governance system? Is there not more than enough historical evidence to demonstrate that an opportunity-driven, capitalist society offers the best type for economic security and a life filled with passion, challenge and quality of life?
I suspect that many of you reading this column right now are among the 1% that everyone appears to be frustrated with – or are in the 5% that still lives pretty darn comfortably or in the 20% that aspire one day to be in the top 10% or in the 40% to 60% that has more than achieved the American Dream of owning a home, a car, a good job and also enjoys a quality lifestyle. This is not a game of numbers; it is about putting your priorities, your energy and your convictions in the right place.
Ask the immigrant who came to this country with $500 in his pocket and now runs a highly-successful technology company who is in this one percent if he sympathizes with these protestors. Ask the African-American partner of a global professional services firm who grew up in the deep south in abject poverty who is now in this 1% if she sympathizes with these protesters. Ask the software entrepreneur in Fairfax County who has overcome three different business failures but whose grit and persistence propelled his fourth company to success and who is now in the 1% whether he sympathizes with the protesters. The lion’s share of this “dreaded 1%” are not hedge fund managers or 5th generation silver spooners, but are citizens like you and I who have worked very hard to get to where they are and to accumulate what they have. And they too had to navigate through frustrating and volatile economic and social conditions to achieve their success. Let’s not penalize their efforts with protest, an unfair tax system or a political attempt to create a social divide that could destroy the very fabric of this great nation.
Don’t get me wrong. Governance best practices dictate that board members and executives should always be carefully monitoring the possibility, risks and consequences of excessive compensation, especially if the rewards given to those who excel are greater than the returns that they provide to the shareholders of the company. The spotlight should be shined on a CEO making $3.5 million at the helm of a company which has lost money for past six consecutive quarters. Scrutiny should be given to the increase in annual board fees of a company whose directors have been asleep at the switch. But the holders of that spotlight need to be the stakeholders who have earned the right to question compensation relative to performance, not a group of frustrated protesters who have no real skin in the game.
When CNN interviewed one young protester recent and asked him what he wanted as an outcome of this movement, his response was “I want someone to pay off my student loans.” Really? Really? Well, I might want a Maserati, but I just don’t see that wish coming to fruition as a result of a protest.
Let’s refocus our efforts, energy and passion on making sure that this country remains great, as a thought leader, innovation pioneer and exporter of entrepreneurship. That’s what we need to wish for and that’s what is going to keep the protesters off the streets and into good jobs and career paths.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew J. Sherman is a Partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Jones Day, with over 2,500 attorneys worldwide. Mr. Sherman is a recognized international authority on the legal and strategic issues affecting small and growing companies. Mr. Sherman is an Adjunct Professor in the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) program at the University of Maryland and Georgetown University where he has taught courses on business growth, capital formation and entrepreneurship for over twenty-three (23) years. Mr. Sherman is the author of twenty-three (23) books on the legal and strategic aspects of business growth and capital formation. His twenty-third (23rd) book, Harvesting Intangible Assets, Uncover Hidden Revenue in Your Company’s Intellectual Property, (AMACOM) has now been released. Mr. Sherman can be reached at 202-879-3686 or e-mail email@example.com.