I don’t expect you to remember the first and second episodes of my three-part interview with John Montgomery. I’ll simply reintroduce him. He was one of the top corporate lawyers in the country and is now working for a major change in the world: Transforming Capitalism. He has both the legal mind and philosophical depth to do it.
After creating positive global impacts as a lawmaker, he is now bringing conscience and care to corporate behavior. He’s producing a documentary, called Awakening a Force for Good, and guiding a new generation of leaders to change the way business is done.
Leslie: John, you now have a company called Lex Ultima.
Leslie: And I think that’s part of transforming corporate values. As you say, it’s on its way. But what actions are you taking now?
John: Well, Leslie, you’re interviewing me at pivotal time. After 35 years, I have decided to graduate from the technical practice of corporate law. I’m no longer taking on corporate law clients and drafting agreements and board minutes. There are plenty of skilled corporate lawyers that can do that. The Benefit Corporation is well established. It’s going global. Italy and Colombia have adopted legislation. France just adopted something recently that’s similar and British Columbia became the first Commonwealth jurisdiction to adopt the benefit corporation.
This is a global movement and creating new corporate forms such as the benefit corporation has momentum. When I first started this work, I naively thought that all we had to do was change the DNA of the corporation, and that would change the economic system.
Well, unfortunately, in order to get benefit corporation legislation passed, we had to make it optional because there was no way that we could have imposed the requirement on every existing corporation to become a benefit corporation. The resistance was fierce. From the outset, we’ve aspired to build a better economic system. What I’ve come to realize is that the law is not the only discipline that’s contributing to that economic system.
Leslie Do you want to talk about other disciplines and approaches to transforming our economic systems?
John: There are, for example, accountants who are creating multiple capital accounting systems. There are economists like Kate Raworth who are coming up with new economic theories such as Doughnut Economics. There’s a band of us around the world who are quietly building components of an alternative economic matrix that is life supporting rather than prone to sociopathic behavior.
Behind our current system, there are a small number of sponsoring thoughts, some of which date to papal bulls of the 1400s. To affect meaningful change, we have to change the sponsoring thoughts of the current system.
Leslie: Can you give us an example?
John: Embedded in the current system is the permission that the Vatican gave to the kings of Spain and Portugal during the Age of Exploration to conquer foreign territories and exploit them for the benefit of the royal treasury. Under a series of papal bulls, any non-Christians found in these territories were not deemed human and could be subjugated and their territories and resources were therefore ripe for conquest and exploitation.
This ethos is the antithesis of the emerging one in which we are one common human family sharing one common planetary home. The prevailing economic system carries the imprint of its pillage and plunder origins. The corporation was the agent of empire as evidenced by the Dutch East India Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company. The prevailing corporate form is a medieval institution that is designed to conquer and exploit markets with little regard for people and the environment.
We have to change the sponsoring thought that it is ok for corporations to profit at the expense of society and the environment.
How do we change those sponsoring thoughts? How do we get corporate leaders, for example, to transcend the limitations of shareholder primacy, which keeps them – and us – stuck in a box?
My work has evolved from technical legal work to changing the sponsoring thoughts of the economic system. I became an executive coach to work with the people that run things. I hope to inspire business leaders to help change the sponsoring thoughts of our economic system. I hope to inspire them to join in the creation of a more just, sustainable, and regenerative economic system that benefits more people, and preserves the biosphere so that our children and grandchildren can have the amazing experience of life on this incredible planet.
I’m also working as the executive producer of a documentary film about the global movement of business as a force for good – Awakening a Force for Good. The filmmakers and I hope to produce a film that inspires its audience to join the party to create an economic system that works better for everyone.
Leslie: Wonderful. And you know what? I now understand a lot more about B Corps, corporate law, and how to even begin to transform corporate values. I’ve especially enjoyed hearing about your own personal evolution.
John: Thank you. Ultimately, it’s all about consciousness, Leslie. We have to elevate the consciousness of those who are leading and help humanity evolve to have world- centric consciousness. This is where we view ourselves as one human family, living in one common planetary home. We’ve simply got to take better care of each other and our home. That’s the mandate.
This world-centric consciousness could be the next disruptive technology. Business could be the force that gets us there. If every corporation were a benefit corporation led by men and women who lead from the heart, we’d rapidly have an economic system that strengthens society and preserves and protects the biosphere. That’s the future. That’s what the future looks like to me.
Leslie: And, of course, here in California, consciousness isn’t a scary word.
John: That’s right. To be clear, I have expanded my role from being primarily an ambassador for the B Corp and benefit corporation to also being an ambassador for the global consciousness that’s necessary to drive the change. We really do need to throw a better party!
Leslie: Wonderful metaphor, John.
John: Well thank you, Leslie.
Leslie Thank YOU.
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