Business: A Cry for Courage and Compassion

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The Rockefeller Foundation, which has well over half a billion dollars in assets, has been willing to venture into new and sometimes contentious areas in support of education, the arts, medicine and urban problems. Founded in 1913 by John D. Rockefeller, it is now one of G.M.'s large stockholders, with 195,532 shares. Last week the foundation's board,* in explaining its vote at G.M.'s annual meeting, presented a thoughtful definition of the responsibilities of a modern corporation. Excerpts:

THE trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation believe with the organizers of Campaign G.M. that the corporations of America must assert an unprecedented order of leadership in helping to solve the social problems of our time. We realize that for corporations to exercise this leadership they must continue to prosper and to grow and to be profitable investments to their stockholders. But to stop there is to stop short of the moral and civic response required of the leaders of industry by the present crisis in our social order. There are battles to be waged against racism, poverty, pollution and urban blight, which the Government alone cannot win; they can be won only if the status and power of American corporate industry are fully and effectively committed to the struggle. What is needed from business today is leadership which is courageous, wise and compassionate, which is enlightened in its own and the public's interest, and which greets change with an open mind.

In our judgment, the management of General Motors did not display this spirit in its response to the two proposals offered by Campaign G.M. We recognize that these proposals are, from management's viewpoint, unwieldy and impractical. Because of these inadequacies we are prepared, this time, to sign our proxy as requested by management.

We do not share the view that the Campaign G.M. proposals represent an "attack" on the Corporation. This is a defensive and negative attitude at a time when all leading American institutions of government, business, philanthropy, education and religion should be seeking fresh approaches to demands for change and reform. We believe the goals of the proposals have been designed to serve the public good by increasing the Corporation's awareness of the major impact of its decisions and policies on society at large.

The concerns expressed by Campaign G.M. represent far more than the aspirations of one group of private citizens and indeed go beyond the demand of the American consumer for safer, healthier and more durable products at reasonable cost. They are clearly pointed in the direction in which General Motors and every American corporation must move if they are to function effectively and responsibly in the difficult years ahead. As stockholders and citizens we urge that management respond affirmatively to the goals of the proposals and search for acceptable ways to realize them.

* Among the members: the John D. Rockefellers III and IV, Ralph Bunche, C. Douglas Dillon, Robert Goheen, Clark Kerr, Robert Roosa, Frank Stanton, Thomas Watson, Whitney Young.