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Can corporations have a personality, thereby being people?

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In light of Supreme Court decisions granting constitutional rights and corporations the same as those rights extended to individuals those opposing the personhood of the Corporation point to a 2010 dissenting opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens. Stevens wrote, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.”

These words reflected Stevens’ opinion that corporations should not be allowed to make unlimited donations to political campaigns. In the case of Citizens United vs. FEC Stevens held the position that corporations were not protected by the United States Constitution.

There are strong indications, to the contrary, that corporations do have consciences, beliefs, feelings, thoughts and desires. Evidence exists at multiple companies showing many corporations have a humanistic content of character.

IBM and Microsoft

In the early 1990s Microsoft and IBM attempted a joint venture to develop a new operating system. The partnership was to build a new computing platform by using the talent that IBM along with that of Microsoft to replace DOS with a new PC platform. Despite incredible talent, the teams from IBM and Microsoft could not mesh.

Why?

Because of the personalities of their corporations. IBM was ultraconservative and, at the time, frowned upon men wearing anything other than a white dress shirt and suit. Microsoft, on the other hand, was business casual. These “appearance cultural differences” were only a sign of larger differences in the personalities of their companies.

But the differences did not just extend to these individual employees making up the partnership team. It was a personality of the entire corporation. The conservative nature of IBM was reflected in the product lineup, the services they offer, the political contributions they made the same held true of Microsoft with their more contemporary management personality.

Although not every corporation provides as much insight into the personality of their company as shown by IBM and Microsoft, other companies obviously have a strong content of character that extends to their products, services, social responsibility actions in political contributions. Well-known companies such as Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Hobby Lobby, Apple Computer, Chick-fil-A and others are associated with his personality emulating from their corporate culture.

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins writes about the need of organizations to carefully examine the content of their character and to develop the corporate culture that does not consider “good” to be acceptable. It takes a lobotomy according to Collins to change the culture to a focus on “great”. His point is that it is very difficult to change the personality of a company. Likewise it is difficult to change a personality of the person – giving further evidence of the human nature of a corporation.

Whether or not a corporation as a person has been settled by the Supreme Court in over two centuries of decisions. Despite this the debate continues throughout social media. Perhaps it comes down to understanding how a company or any other organization develops humanlike characteristics throughout its life span and as such should they be entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of success.

©2014 Max Impact, used with permission.

Business resources:

Small Business Administration in Detroit.

Detroit chapter of SCORE, pro bono business advisors.

Max Impact offers free business strategy and leadership development materials.

Life’s Leadership Lessons”: 53 anecdotal leadership lessons, most from people in the Detroit area.

Repository of business surveys offers many informative and/or fun surveys about the business world.

Books about developing your business.

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