These Simple Business Lessons From ‘Casablanca’ Could Save The American Economy

Ilsa Lund

One mistake many companies make is emphasising short-term profit at the expense of long-term value.

In squeezing every dollar out of a business today, the companies often reduce much greater value they could have created tomorrow.

By focusing only “shareholder value,” they also often neglect other constituencies–namely, customers, employees, and communities.

The best companies create value for all of these constituencies, not just shareholders.

They make a reasonable profit, not a “maximized” one.

And they continually sacrifice short-term profit opportunities in the service of long-term investments and other values, some of which have nothing to do with money.

I was reminded of this recently when I rewatched “Casablanca,” the 1942 Warner Brothers movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

It’s mostly a love story and war story, of course. But there are plenty of business lessons in there, too.

The trend of maximizing profits at the expense of other values is part of what’s wrong with the American economy these days.

So it’s worth highlighting the business lessons of Rick’s Cafe Americain.

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[slide
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title=””Everyone comes to Rick’s,” Captain Louis Renault says at the beginning of the movie.”
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title=”He’s not kidding.”
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title=”Rick’s is jammed.”
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title=”It’s so popular, in fact, that it’s more than just a fixture in the community.”
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[slide
permalink=”it-is-the-community-5″
title=”It is the community.”
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[slide
permalink=”other-businesses-thrive-within-ricks-in-modern-tech-parlance-ricks-might-be-called-a-platform-6″
title=”Other businesses thrive within Rick’s. (In modern tech parlance, Rick’s might be called “a platform.”)”
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[slide
permalink=”ricks-is-successful-in-very-large-part-because-of-its-excellent-and-loyal-staff-for-example-theres-sascha-at-the-bar-7″
title=”Rick’s is successful in very large part because of its excellent and loyal staff. For example, there’s Sascha at the bar…”
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title=”Carl on the floor…”
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title=”And, of course, Sam at the piano.”
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[slide
permalink=”later-well-see-why-ricks-staff-are-so-loyal-and-why-they-do-their-jobs-so-well-but-first-we-meet-rick-himself-10″
title=”Later, we’ll see why Rick’s staff are so loyal and why they do their jobs so well. But first we meet Rick himself.”
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title=”He’s in the casino, playing chess with himself.”
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[slide
permalink=”the-first-thing-he-does-is-authorize-a-payment-told-you-this-was-a-business-story-12″
title=”The first thing he does is authorise a payment (told you this was a business story!).”
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[slide
permalink=”then-a-bigshot-german-banker-knocks-on-the-door-and-wants-to-come-in-and-gamble-the-bouncer-looks-over-at-rick-13″
title=”Then a bigshot German banker knocks on the door and wants to come in and gamble. The bouncer looks over at Rick.”
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[slide
permalink=”rick-shakes-his-head-14″
title=”Rick shakes his head.”
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[slide
permalink=”the-bigshot-german-banker-gets-agitated-rick-goes-to-the-door-and-rejects-him-personally-he-doesnt-want-this-particular-customers-money-the-movie-was-made-in-the-middle-of-world-war-2-dont-forget-15″
title=”The bigshot German banker gets agitated. Rick goes to the door and rejects him personally. He doesn’t want this particular customer’s money. (The movie was made in the middle of World War 2, don’t forget).”
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[slide
permalink=”outside-in-the-main-dining-room-sams-playing-to-a-packed-house-16″
title=”Outside, in the main dining room, Sam’s playing to a packed house.”
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[slide
permalink=”the-owner-of-a-rival-restaurant-signor-ferrari-arrives-ferrari-is-the-classic-financial-businessman-he-doesnt-care-about-anything-but-money-ferrari-tells-rick-he-wants-to-buy-ricks-cafe-17″
title=”The owner of a rival restaurant, Signor Ferrari, arrives. Ferrari is the classic financial “businessman.” He doesn’t care about anything but money. Ferrari tells Rick he wants to buy Rick’s cafe.”
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[slide
permalink=”rick-says-ricks-is-not-for-sale-at-any-price-for-rick-business-is-not-just-about-the-money-18″
title=”Rick says Rick’s is not for sale. At any price. For Rick, business is not just about the money.”
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[slide
permalink=”the-greedy-ferrari-tries-another-tack-well-what-do-you-want-for-sam-19″
title=”The greedy Ferrari tries another tack: “Well, what do you want for Sam?””
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[slide
permalink=”rick-says-i-dont-buy-or-sell-human-beings-20″
title=”Rick says, “I don’t buy or sell human beings.””
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[slide
permalink=”ferrari-tells-rick-he-should-get-into-that-business-because-its-casablancas-leading-commodity-21″
title=”Ferrari tells Rick he should get into that business, because it’s Casablanca’s leading commodity.”
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[slide
permalink=”rick-says-suppose-you-run-your-business-and-let-me-run-mine-22″
title=”Rick says, “Suppose you run your business and let me run mine.””
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[slide
permalink=”ferrari-takes-his-offer-directly-to-sam-sam-says-i-like-it-fine-here-23″
title=”Ferrari takes his offer directly to Sam. Sam says, “I like it fine here.””
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image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c188eab8ea337c00001e/image.jpg”
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[slide
permalink=”rick-says-ferrari-will-double-what-ricks-paying-sam-sam-smiles-again-and-says-i-dont-have-time-to-spend-the-money-i-make-here-24″
title=”Rick says Ferrari will double what Rick’s paying Sam. Sam smiles again and says, “I don’t have time to spend the money I make here.””
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[slide
permalink=”ferrari-gives-up-25″
title=”Ferrari gives up.”
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[slide
permalink=”and-goes-back-to-swatting-flies-at-his-own-restaurant-the-decidedly-less-successful-blue-parrot-26″
title=”And goes back to swatting flies at his own restaurant, the decidedly less successful Blue Parrot.”
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[slide
permalink=”back-at-ricks-sascha-the-bartender-tells-rick-a-german-gave-him-a-check-and-asks-if-the-check-is-all-right-27″
title=”Back at Rick’s, Sascha the bartender tells Rick a German gave him a check and asks if the check is all right.”
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image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c18c69bedd4d4100000d/image.jpg”
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[slide
permalink=”rick-rips-up-the-check-again-its-not-about-the-money-and-behind-him-in-a-sub-plot-the-jilted-yvonne-prepares-to-confront-him-where-were-you-last-night-it-was-so-long-ago-i-cant-remember-28″
title=”Rick rips up the check. Again, it’s not about the money. (And, behind him, in a sub-plot, the jilted Yvonne prepares to confront him: “Where were you last night?” “It was so long ago, I can’t remember…”)”
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[slide
permalink=”later-rick-is-talking-with-captain-renault-outside-the-cafe-when-emil-the-croupier-walks-out-rattled-nervously-he-tells-rick-that-a-gentleman-has-won-20000-francs-thats-a-huge-loss-for-the-cafe-and-more-cash-than-emil-has-on-hand-im-so-upset-monsieur-rick-emil-says-29″
title=”Later, Rick is talking with Captain Renault outside the cafe when Emil, the croupier, walks out, rattled. Nervously, he tells Rick that “a gentleman has won 20,000 Francs.” That’s a huge loss for the cafe, and more cash than Emil has on hand. “I’m so upset, Monsieur Rick,” Emil says.”
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[slide
permalink=”rick-is-unphased-forget-it-emil-things-like-that-happen-all-the-time-30″
title=”Rick is unphased. “Forget it, Emil. Things like that happen all the time.””
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[slide
permalink=”as-rick-walks-to-the-safe-to-get-the-money-renault-tells-him-that-they-are-about-to-arrest-one-of-his-customers-renault-chose-the-cafe-for-the-arrest-he-says-because-everyone-would-be-there-to-see-it-again-ricks-is-so-successful-that-its-the-heart-of-the-community-31″
title=”As Rick walks to the safe to get the money, Renault tells him that they are about to arrest one of his customers. Renault chose the cafe for the arrest, he says, because everyone would be there to see it. Again, Rick’s is so successful that it’s the heart of the community.”
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[slide
permalink=”the-customer-that-gets-arrested-is-signor-ugarte-a-petty-thief-who-rick-earlier-called-a-cut-rate-parasite-the-part-that-rick-objected-to-by-the-way-was-cut-rate-32″
title=”The customer that gets arrested is Signor Ugarte, a petty thief who Rick earlier called “a cut-rate parasite” (The part that Rick objected to, by the way, was “cut rate”).”
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image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c191ecad047814000015/image.jpg”
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[slide
permalink=”as-the-police-chase-him-ugarte-rushes-to-rick-you-must-help-me-33″
title=”As the police chase him, Ugarte rushes to Rick: “You must help me!””
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[slide
permalink=”rick-doesnt-help-then-for-the-second-time-he-utters-one-of-the-most-famous-lines-in-the-movie-i-stick-my-neck-out-for-nobody-34″
title=”Rick doesn’t help. Then, for the second time, he utters one of the most famous lines in the movie: “I stick my neck out for nobody.””
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image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1966bb3f76c7b000003/image.jpg”
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[slide
permalink=”of-course-thats-a-crock-rick-sticks-his-neck-out-for-lots-of-people-starting-with-his-employees-and-a-young-bulgarian-woman-named-annina-who-has-come-to-casablanca-with-her-husband-in-hopes-of-getting-an-exit-visa-and-going-to-america-35″
title=”Of course, that’s a crock. Rick sticks his neck out for LOTS of people. Starting with his employees. And a young Bulgarian woman named Annina who has come to Casablanca with her husband in hopes of getting an “exit visa” and going to America.”
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[slide
permalink=”annina-tells-rick-that-she-has-no-money-to-buy-a-visa-rick-is-unmoved-then-annina-tells-rick-that-captain-renault-will-give-her-the-visa-if-she-has-sex-with-him-thats-all-rick-needs-to-hear-36″
title=”Annina tells Rick that she has no money to buy a visa. Rick is unmoved. Then Annina tells Rick that Captain Renault will give her the visa if she has sex with him. That’s all Rick needs to hear.”
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[slide
permalink=”anninas-husband-jan-is-in-the-casino-trying-to-win-the-money-at-roulette-but-hes-losing-everything-37″
title=”Annina’s husband Jan is in the casino, trying to win the money at roulette. But he’s losing everything.”
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[slide
permalink=”while-glancing-at-emil-the-croupier-rick-tells-jan-have-you-tried-22-tonight-38″
title=”While glancing at Emil, the croupier, Rick tells Jan: “Have you tried 22 tonight?””
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permalink=”jan-tries-22-39″
title=”Jan tries 22.”
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[slide
permalink=”its-a-good-bet-40″
title=”It’s a good bet!”
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[slide
permalink=”watching-nearby-carl-is-thrilled-he-knows-anninas-story-and-he-knows-what-rick-is-doing-41″
title=”Watching nearby, Carl is thrilled. He knows Annina’s story. And he knows what Rick is doing.”
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[slide
permalink=”jan-wins-four-huge-stacks-of-chips-rick-tells-him-to-leave-them-on-22-42″
title=”Jan wins four huge stacks of chips. Rick tells him to leave them on 22.”
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[slide
permalink=”its-another-good-bet-43″
title=”It’s another good bet.”
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[slide
permalink=”rick-tells-jan-to-cash-in-his-chips-44″
title=”Rick tells Jan to cash in his chips.”
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[slide
permalink=”carl-is-overjoyed-45″
title=”Carl is overjoyed.”
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[slide
permalink=”he-rushes-to-the-bar-to-tell-sascha-46″
title=”He rushes to the bar to tell Sascha.”
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image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1aa69bedd3841000010/image.jpg”
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[slide
permalink=”sascha-is-so-happy-and-moved-he-rushes-around-the-bar-to-kiss-rick-you-have-done-a-beautiful-thing-47″
title=”Sascha is so happy and moved, he rushes around the bar to kiss Rick: “You have done a beautiful thing.””
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image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1adeab8ea720200000c/image.jpg”
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[slide
permalink=”once-again-for-rick-its-not-just-about-making-money-its-about-creating-value-its-about-using-ricks-as-a-force-for-good-and-this-makes-employees-like-carl-care-much-more-about-their-work-than-if-it-were-just-a-financial-transaction-48″
title=”Once again, for Rick, it’s not just about making money. It’s about creating value. It’s about using Rick’s as a force for good. And this makes employees like Carl care much more about their work than if it were just a financial transaction.”
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title=”Later that evening, the real trouble starts. The Nazi contingent in the cafe, led by the story’s villain, Major Strasser, begin to sing a German anthem.”
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permalink=”the-freedom-fighter-victor-lazlo-and-rick-hear-the-singing-and-emerge-from-ricks-office-50″
title=”The freedom fighter Victor Lazlo and Rick hear the singing and emerge from Rick’s office.”
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[slide
permalink=”lazlo-rushes-downstairs-and-tells-ricks-band-to-play-la-marseillaise-51″
title=”Lazlo rushes downstairs and tells Rick’s band to play “La Marseillaise””
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[slide
permalink=”nervous-the-band-members-glance-over-at-rick-the-nazis-have-taken-over-france-after-all-52″
title=”Nervous, the band members glance over at Rick. The Nazis have taken over France, after all.”
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[slide
permalink=”rick-nods-his-assent-53″
title=”Rick nods his assent.”
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[slide
permalink=”the-band-and-lazlo-launch-into-la-marseillaise-in-an-instant-everyone-in-the-cafe-joins-in-54″
title=”The band and Lazlo launch into “La Marseillaise.” In an instant, everyone in the cafe joins in.”
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[slide
permalink=”the-nazis-briefly-try-to-outsing-them-but-in-a-moment-their-song-is-drowned-out-55″
title=”The Nazis briefly try to outsing them. But in a moment, their song is drowned out.”
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[slide
permalink=”vive-la-france-56″
title=””Vive La France!””
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[slide
permalink=”strasser-is-humiliated-and-furious-he-orders-captain-renault-to-shut-the-cafe-down-57″
title=”Strasser is humiliated and furious. He orders Captain Renault to shut the cafe down.”
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]
[slide
permalink=”captain-renault-blows-his-whistle-and-orders-everyone-out-this-cafe-is-closed-58″
title=”Captain Renault blows his whistle and orders everyone out. This cafe is closed!”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1b5eab8eaf179000017/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”rick-confronts-renault-how-can-you-shut-me-down-on-what-grounds-59″
title=”Rick confronts Renault: How can you shut me down? On what grounds?”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1b6ecad048816000013/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”renault-says-he-is-shocked-shocked-to-find-that-gambling-is-going-on-here-60″
title=”Renault says he is “shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!””
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1b8ecad048916000002/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”at-that-moment-emil-the-croupier-arrives-to-give-captain-roulette-his-winnings-renault-pockets-them-graciously-61″
title=”At that moment, Emil, the croupier, arrives to give Captain Roulette his “winnings.” Renault pockets them graciously.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1b76bb3f7877d00000e/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”well-running-an-place-like-ricks-is-an-expensive-proposition-especially-when-you-have-all-those-employees-and-theres-no-cash-coming-in-so-its-time-for-a-money-meeting-with-carl-62″
title=”Well, running an place like Rick’s is an expensive proposition, especially when you have all those employees and there’s no cash coming in. So it’s time for a money meeting with Carl.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1b8eab8ea1b02000001/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”fortunately-carl-has-good-news-you-are-in-pretty-good-shape-herr-rick-63″
title=”Fortunately, Carl has good news: “You are in pretty good shape, Herr Rick.””
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1b9ecad04061200000a/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”how-long-can-i-afford-to-stay-closed-rick-asks-64″
title=””How long can I afford to stay closed?” Rick asks.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1b9eab8eaff7b000011/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”two-weeks-maybe-three-carl-says-65″
title=””Two weeks. Maybe three,” Carl says.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1bbeab8ea6c02000001/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”so-its-the-moment-of-truth-will-rick-furlough-all-his-employees-until-he-persuades-captain-renault-to-reopen-the-cafe-will-he-frantically-cut-costs-to-save-his-money-66″
title=”So, it’s the moment of truth. Will Rick furlough all his employees until he persuades Captain Renault to reopen the cafe? Will he frantically cut costs to save his money?”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1ba6bb3f72679000010/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”nope-everyone-stays-on-salary-67″
title=”Nope. “Everyone stays on salary.””
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1bb69bedd304100002f/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”so-those-are-the-business-lessons-of-ricks-cafe-great-companies-sacrifice-short-term-profits-to-take-care-of-their-employees-and-do-the-right-thing-in-so-doing-they-build-long-term-value-that-is-often-worth-more-than-money-68″
title=”So those are the business lessons of Rick’s Cafe: Great companies sacrifice short-term profits to take care of their employees and do the right thing. In so doing, they build long-term value that is often worth more than money.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c19769beddbc4000002e/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”what-can-a-70-year-old-story-about-a-cafe-in-north-africa-teach-us-about-how-to-fix-todays-american-economy-a-lot-69″
title=”What can a 70-year old story about a cafe in North Africa teach us about how to fix today’s American economy? A lot.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c179ecad044512000015/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”today-too-many-big-american-companies-are-run-like-signor-ferraris-blue-parrot-theyre-all-about-maximizing-profit-at-the-expense-of-other-values-70″
title=”Today, too many big American companies are run like Signor Ferrari’s Blue Parrot: They’re all about “maximizing profit,” at the expense of other values.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1c2ecad048e14000020/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”the-profit-margins-of-big-american-companies-have-hit-an-all-time-high-71″
title=”The profit margins of big American companies have hit an all-time high.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50ba6d476bb3f7ea5000000e/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”and-the-wages-these-companies-pay-their-employees-the-human-beings-who-make-them-successful-have-hit-an-all-time-low-72″
title=”And the wages these companies pay their employees–the human beings who make them successful–have hit an all-time low.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50ba6e1769bedd752600001f/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”as-casablanca-makes-clear-truly-successful-businesses-are-about-much-more-than-money-73″
title=”As ‘Casablanca’ makes clear, truly successful businesses are about much more than money.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1b16bb3f7407b000007/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”theyre-about-people-74″
title=”They’re about people.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1a9ecad040712000029/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”and-community-75″
title=”And community.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c199eab8ea047f000016/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”and-doing-the-right-thing-76″
title=”And doing the right thing.”
content=””
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1b46bb3f7697b00000d/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[slide
permalink=”american-business-in-other-words-could-use-a-little-less-ferrari-and-a-little-more-rick-77″
title=”American business, in other words, could use a little less Ferrari and a little more Rick.”
content=”It’s Time To Stop Maximizing Profit And Start Maximizing Value >
image=”http://static.businessinsider.com/image/50c3c1c3ecad04841400000b/image.jpg”
caption=””
credit=””
credit_href=””
]
[/slideshow]