People: Has the Message Finally Become Mainstream?

The World Business Forum New York is a fantastic event. Gathering of thinkers and doers from all over the world, it is the pulse of business; it captures and sets the business trends.

When a business leader attends a conference -- it's really no longer about who can speak louder or walk taller than the others. It's a venue for the exchange of ideas. The stage is set -- one part celebrity, one part academic powerhouse, and a dose of revealing, yet, insightful exchange of thoughts. The changing face of the World Business Forum illuminates annually that while some people like to fit into crowds, others, like the speakers and attendees at this exclusive event -- like to leave them behind and seek to blaze a path of their own.

This year the Speakers were called provocateurs. Of what? Of the status quo.

Since Milton Friedman's famous definition, it was generally accepted that the purpose of the firm was to create shareholders value. It was measured only in economic terms and only for owner of the shares. Furthermore, the firm had to maximize shareholders' value, capturing for the owner every possible cent. That mindset had a tremendous impact on how we did business: the role of employees, the lack of concern over the environment and the purpose of our products and services to name just a few. "The customer is always right" was not an end, but the means to accomplish that purpose.

In the last decades we started paying attention to other stakeholders. Yes, it was recognized that various individuals and organizations had a stake, something to say about how we did business. The environment appeared as a new stakeholder -- speaking in the name of the next generations, the employees, the communities at large, and the rest of the world.

Kip Tindell, CEO of Container Store, talks about the "Employees first! Culture." Not just because by doing so we create more value to shareholders and society, but also because it is the right thing to do. "We LOVE our employees" he says, "They are all extraordinary folks. We support the effort of helping them becoming the best they can be at work... and at home!!" "Every employee that works for you is somebody's precious child. Some beautiful, wonderful person. Much of their self-esteem and the way they treat their kids, the golden retriever, their spouse and the 7/11 clerk on their way home has to do with how good or bad they feel about themselves at work. Self esteem, pride, confidence, and how a person is treated in the workplace has this huge ripple effect, this huge wake. It makes their family life astronomically better."

Could you imagine for a publicly traded company having that purpose two decades ago? No way! But on top of that, he puts his money where his mouth is and recruits great people and pays them 50 percent to 100 percent higher than the retail industry average.

Kip is part of the Conscious Capitalism movement, with his friends John Mackey from Whole Foods -- who wrote a book on the subject and surprisingly was his college roommate! -- and Herb Kelleher whom he quotes --"It is much better to run an organization based on love that fear." "If you take the companies that are the most conscious capitalist in America and compare their performance with the S&P index over the last 15 years, they've out performed them 14 times! Yes, this stuff works and not just makes you feel good."

Not only you take care of your people as people -- not just as workers -- but also you give the whole organization a higher purpose: A dream to make the world a better place. The drive for innovation is a drive for significance -- not just monetary success, but the next goal is humanitarian success. Peter Diamandis asked the audience -- what are the world's biggest problems? What can we solve?

As Blake Mycoskie proves it with Tom Shoes, that gives away a pair of shoes to children in need in the developing world for every pair sold at home, not just for the customers and the employees, but other human beings in the rest of the world. Linda Rottenberg shared her story in creating and developing Endeavor, the NGO to allow entrepreneurs around the globe to thrive.

"The art of Leadership is to create a world where they want to belong," says Linda Hill. "Whatever you do as a leader, it has to be useful and for the collective good. Invite people to-create the future with you." But then she highlights the importance of creating a sense of belonging, of community. "You have to make sure that you are connected to the people around you. Leaders that build organizations that can innovate, we found that over and over again, really worry about creating what we refer to a community culture."

Provocateurs -- the antidote for the status quo.

Over 11 years have passed since the launching of the World Business Forum. Back then we focused on the frameworks of business strategy, marketing, globalization; today speeches and testimonies were about focusing on the people in your organization and those from all over the world. "Employees first!" is the new adage and the message at the World Business Forum for 2014 is clear: the answer to success, and the best way to becoming a billionaire is to help a billion people.

This message of the importance of caring for people in business is not really new, historically speaking, but it was not generally accepted. What really surprised me this time was that it received standing ovation. It means that this message has finally become mainstream.