Last Tuesday night (July 18), Henry Schein CEO Stanley M. Bergman became Chief Executive’s 32nd CEO of the Year. In his powerful acceptance speech, Bergman discussed his own immigration to the United States from South Africa in 1976 (“the country welcomed us with open arms”), discussed the importance of teamwork to Henry Schein’s success (“It takes teamwork to make a dream work”), and told the CEOs who had assembled to honor him that “we are here to bear witness to the irrefutable fact that the United States of America provides that rare environment that allows people to dream big, and to turn those dreams into reality,” creating “the special energy and DNA that gives birth to so many American stories like the Henry Schein story.” Building on that theme, he discussed the role of CEOs in what he noted may be the most important business development of this century: the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Here is an excerpt of his powerful words.
Since this audience tonight is comprised of so many influential business leaders, I would like to use this occasion to reflect on something that has been on my mind in recent months.
My concern is that the environment of what many call the Fourth Industrial Revolution is threatening this unique American DNA. Right now, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is reshaping our world by accelerating the pervasiveness of technology. We as business leaders have a responsibility to be engaged in the shaping of society.
So here is my appeal to all business leaders: We cannot leave people behind.
Too many in business have been too focused on going fast and not focused enough on going together. The result is a minority of huge beneficiaries and an increasingly vocal majority of those left behind. If we focus too much on the speed of change rather than ensuring that all benefit from change, then we risk greater disenfranchisement and civil dissent, which jeopardizes global stability and all democratic societies.
“here is my appeal to all business leaders: We cannot leave people behind.”
We and our companies are beneficiaries of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and we have an obligation to civil society to do a better job expanding these benefits to others. Everyone should benefit from the huge bounty emerging from the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Everyone should have a stake in the emerging technologies.
We need a creative commitment by business leaders to impart the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution more broadly. This is not about taking positions regarding taxes, where there is room for genuine disagreement, but about bringing more people into the digital economy.
That is my appeal to you today. As business leaders, we should be societal leaders during this time when civility is severely challenged and when trust in business, government, international institutions, the media and civil society leaders are at historic lows.
As business leaders, we should work with all, including our elected officials, to instill a spirit of bipartisanship and civil discourse. We should demand that our elected officials, regardless of political belief, put aside their political differences to work together for the greater good of all Americans.
Americans thrive on the diversity of thought that is freely expressed by people from all walks of life and diversities. As business leaders, we should work to foster greater tolerance and respect for our differences.
Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel’s counsel still holds true. He said, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
Business leaders must work together to bridge our political, religious and cultural differences, which is more important now than ever before. Our democracy is too precious to be torn apart by our differences. Something greater than ourselves is at stake, and that is exactly what a hero of mine once said: The late South African president Nelson Mandela said, “You mustn’t compromise your principles, but you mustn’t humiliate the opposition. No one is more dangerous than one who is humiliated.”
As business leaders, we have the platforms and the duty to gather people together to foster and promote a civil dialogue among people of every political, religious, economic and cultural background.
We should start with our own teams and communities, which we should bring together to advance a dialogue rooted in civility and focused on finding common ground.
I ask you to bridge the divide that rapid technological and societal change has wrought, so that we may fulfill the African proverb of “going far together,” so that no dream remains “too big for Americans.”
It is a big task ahead, but we can take encouragement from President Mandela, who famously said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” I have total confidence and trust that we can extend the benefits of tomorrow’s world to more people today. There can be no doubt that our best years lie ahead of us, and we are deeply grateful to be a part of it.