For most of its existence the Sloan Foundation has been headed by a leader from the corporate world. From 1934 until his death in 1966, Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. was in charge. Since 1989, former IBM Senior Vice-President Ralph E. Gomory has been the president. (During the intervening years the Foundation was headed by former academic administrators.) This kind of leadership is unique among the large general-purpose foundations and helps to explain the Foundation's sponsership of this volume of essays. A deep understanding of the importance of corporations to American society is built into the Sloan Foundation's history.
That historical understanding, however, does not necessarily provide a basis for prescribing about the role of the corporation in today's world. But it certainly leads to questions. Does focus on efficiency of operations and shareholder return produce the best societal outcomes? Are societal outcomes a corporation's business? Are two decades of declining real wages for most of the U.S. labor force and significant growth in inequality of incomes the corporation's concerns?
The Archer Daniels Midland Company ( ADM) runs an ad on television identifying itself with President John F. Kennedy's exhortation at his inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Is that admonition a practical policy for the corporation? If American corporations, in the aggregate, shared that philosophy, how would they act differently? Or does pursuing the goals of efficiency and shareholder return serve the public interest most effectively? These are some of the questions that prompted the Sloan Foundation to undertake this project.
Harvard professor Edward S. Mason and others examined the role of the corporation in 1959 in the book The Corporation in Modern Society. But