May 26, 2022 - Economy & Business

The rise of aspirational capitalism

Illustration of a coffee mug with the Axios logo with steam forming a thought bubble

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The modern American business era is defined by CEOs celebrated for their wild growth, wild personalities and wild wealth.

Why it matters: Running my second company as CEO, I am increasingly convinced this celebrity, grind-it, growth-at-all-costs model won’t cut it for the next generation.

We need a new twist on cutthroat capitalism — let’s call it aspirational capitalism.

  • You see it every day: Workers, made more powerful than ever by tight talent markets and easy social media activism, simply will not tolerate wealth or profit as the only end goal.
  • Calm down, conservative readers: I am not talking about surrendering to activism or shifting into soft socialism. A very small minority of workers want either in the workplace, in my experience. What they want is deeper meaning.

What I am talking about is a different way to think about business success and obligation. Here are four markers the Axios founders have set out to judge whether we are creating something truly great and lasting:

  1. Aspirational products. Create products and services that authentically solve problems or ease pain for people, communities or companies. They need to be healthy, intuitive, safe and fairly priced.
  2. Aspirational longevity. Be proudly capitalistic because it takes profit to grow and protect jobs and scale a business that outlasts its creators. A cool, ephemeral product that wins applause but fades away or dies after the founders leave would be a massive failure.
  3. Aspirational meaning. Most people around my age, 51, or older wanted and expected little more than a paycheck from employers. The new generation demands more — and rightly so. We spend a huge chunk of our waking hours working, so why shouldn’t we all do good, learn more, help others at work?
  4. Aspirational betterment. Don’t roll your eyes, cynics. We truly believe if you create the right culture and values — and stick to both when its hard — people can leave your company better people: smarter, more talented, more collaborative, more empathetic.

So many of our institutions have lost credibility and clout, so businesses might be the last, best shared reality to build back what makes America great.

The big picture: Tuck this one away. While several of you will email me that seems too new age-y or naïve, I bet a decade from now the most successful companies will operate this way.

  • We sure hope Axios does.
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