Being in business has far more to it than just financial success. It’s about the people involved and the families it touches. A company’s values are key to its success and must be “lived” by its leaders.

Too often, businesses and their leaders get called out for something negative: moving jobs overseas, not treating employees fairly, being at odds with local communities and so on. But every now and then, business leaders make the news for displaying positive people-focused values, which may be contradictory to financial returns. These attributes are ones to which we might all aspire in a small way.


We have used some American examples below, the ethos of what they did can easily transition into New Zealand SMEs.

Taking care of their own

The attacks of 9/11 hit the American economy hard, especially its airline industry. As a result, most carriers initiated massive layoffs almost immediately after the attack. Southwest Airlines though, recognized the importance of its workforce and days after the attacks announced that it would not lay off any of its employees. As a result, Southwest continued to be a popular discount carrier, gaining customers even as other carriers stripped down their levels of customer service.


Most people do not think about transparency when thinking about business leaders or corporate structure but it turns out that some leaders are paragons of transparency. One example comes from Toyota. The company had a potential PR disaster on its hands in 2010 with a recall on brake parts for many of its vehicles. Instead of hiding behind a spokesperson or ignoring the wrath of angry customers, Toyota executives instead put on a Q & A on a social media site. This gave customers a chance to air their grievances and Toyota executives a chance to listen.


When real estate agents blacklisted the Redfin real-estate brokerage for giving back two-thirds of the commission most brokers charge, CEO Glenn Kelman wrote a self-effacing blog. It revealed some ugly truths about the real estate business. But this public baring of his corporate soul has only led to increased business.

Another example of humility is Costco CEO, Jim Sinegal. He works out of a small office, answers his own phones and only (in American terms) collects a salary of $350,000 per year. His humility makes him approachable to employees and has led to employee loyalty in an industry plagued by high turnover.

Compassion and Empathy

Stereotypes usually paint corporations and their leaders as heartless and uncaring. For some leaders though, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In the late 1990s, several Starbucks employees were killed in an in-store shooting. CEO, Howard Schultz, flew to Washington DC to acknowledge employees and their families and show his compassion.

Toro, the lawn equipment company, makes compassion a big part of its business model. It sends executives to meet with the family and friends of those hurt or killed in accidents involving its equipment. The number of lawsuits related to these deaths has dwindled exponentially since it started doing this. But it is also just the right thing to do.

Trusting Employees

In the late 1980s, TD Industries was on the verge of bankruptcy. Instead of filing, though, it decided to trust its employees. The company disbursed the retirement fund to all of the employees, with a request that employees invest the money back into the company. Employees actually invested more than what TD Industries paid out and the employee-owned company still thrives today.

Take Away

When you think about your company values, these are five very worthy of consideration.  Read more about how we can help you with developing leadership in your organisation.