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The personal side of business — for better and not just for worse

"Business" is made up of people — for better or for worse. While there are enough examples showing the "worse" side of business, I recently observed one of the "better" interactions — a simple act of kindness.
"Business" is made up of people — for better or for worse. While there are enough examples showing the "worse" side of business, I recently observed one of the "better" interactions — a simple act of kindness.

The past several days have been a smorgasbord for anyone interested in international affairs, complete with intrigue, politics, economics and potentially history-changing events. From the improbable nuclear deal between the United States and Iran, to market-rattling machinations of a possible Greek exit from the European Union, to the prison escape of Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpin that seemed straight out of an episode of "Breaking Bad."

When it comes to the nuclear deal with Iran, there is no shortage of strong opinions. On one side is President Obama with his unequivocal pronouncement that this deal will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The president is so confident that he is essentially bypassing Congress by threatening a veto of any effort to limit, or potentially improve, the current deal. In fact, the president immediately took the deal to the United Nations for ratification before Congress had the chance to vote or even read the fine print. On the other side are those equally convinced that this deal hastens the path to armed conflict with a nation that continues to support U.S. enemies and whose supreme leader recently restated the resolve to continue to do so.

On the Greek bailout, watching the drama of whether Greece was in or out of the European Union was like trying to keep up with the Kardashians. As the dust settles, we are experiencing déjà vu all over again, with Greek leaders repeating past promises of austerity measures related to raising taxes and cutting spending in exchange for a third bailout. The consequences of the Greek government’s failure to live within its means could have been predicted by anyone who has taken a high school finance class. Without fundamental structural reforms, the conclusion of this next round of austerity measures and related bailouts is equally predictable.

So, with no shortage of material to write about, I was surprised by what I ultimately discovered to be a truly worthy topic — the personal side of business. While the political debate around corporate America typically includes sloganeering like “big business is bad” and “corporations are not people,” the truth is that business is made up of people — for better or for worse. I experienced some of that “worse” after beginning my professional career at Arthur Andersen and then unexpectedly facing the real risk of losing my job because of some crooks at a company called Enron.

This weekend I observed some of the “better” while shopping at Salt Lake Running Company. I’m not normally a gawker, but I couldn’t help but notice the couple next to me at the cashier stand. It was evident that the woman was having ongoing medical treatment because of her visible medical port. The man was purchasing two pairs of running shoes and the couple was getting some tips from the store clerk on fitness training.

As I finished my purchase, I watched as the clerk handed the bagged items to the couple, and with a smile that exuded genuine care and concern said “I don’t know all the challenges you have going on in your life right now, but I just wanted to wish you all the best, and let you know these items are on us.” The couple was speechless. In fact, they just stared for a moment at the clerk, so he repeated what he said. He held the bag out to them again, and they said quietly and repeatedly “thank you, thank you so much.” As I walked out of the store, I glanced back at the couple and saw them wiping away the tears from their eyes. So did my wife and I as we drove home and considered the magnanimity of what we had observed.

There is a lot of turmoil in the world today, so it was nice to see a simple act of kindness that made a big difference to a little family. Kudos to the Salt Lake Running Company for showing that while corporations may not be people, they are made up of people, and that people can be a great source for good in the world.

Derek B. Miller is the president and CEO of the World Trade Center Utah. Previously he was chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert and managing director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.