How to Build a Happy Company
Leonsis, Ted, Newsweek
Byline: Ted Leonsis
Wall Street was perplexed last month when Google decided to flout China's censorship laws, routing Web users to an unrestricted search page based in Hong Kong. In the short term, the move threatens the company's foothold in the biggest Internet market in the world. By my lights, however, it's a brilliant long-term plan.
I have followed Google for more than a decade--first as one of the earliest investors (pre-IPO!) in the company and later as an AOL executive who helped arrange a pair of big partnerships with the search giant. But my interest has always been more than merely financial. Google is a prime example of what I call a double-bottom-line company--an organization that measures its success by both its fiscal results and its positive impact on humanity. Google aims to make money, of course, but it also has a motto ("Don't be evil") and a higher calling: to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible. By refusing to participate in Chinese censorship, the company imperiled billions of dollars in future profit. More important, it protected its status as a happy company at peace with its values--and happy companies are more, not less, likely to continue being successful.
The notion of championing principle over profit may strike some people as naive. But I'm no socialist or sap. I realize that "doing the right thing" is meaningless if it doesn't keep the lights on. My 25 years as an entrepreneur and investor, however, have shown me firsthand the link between pursuing happiness and achieving financial success.
AOL offers one of the best examples of my happiness model at work. When the company pursued the higher calling of spreading Internet access, both our bottom lines were healthy and our company was happy. When we got off that path and worshiped the false god of the short-term earnings bump, we lost our way. We sold off businesses we had pioneered, such as the online dating service Love@AOL. We walked away from a 20 percent stake in -Amazon. …