History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes, according to an apt but apocryphal quote frequently misattributed to Mark Twain.
We’re certainly seeing that dynamic writ large in the 2020s, though events don’t seem content with reviving just one era.
A deadly pandemic has taken millions of lives across the globe.
Inflation and mortgage rates are surging to levels not seen in decades. Fuel prices have hit record highs.
And war has broken out in Europe, driven by a nationalistic despot whose invading forces are heedless of civilian deaths and war crimes. Wary of being pulled into active conflict but not wanting to see a democratic ally fall, the U.S. president has signed a lend-lease act to provide military matériel.
While all these challenges — plus those more specific to the present moment, such as climate change, global supply chain disruptions and the Great Resignation — fall firmly within the realm of public policy and political leadership, the business community too has its role to play in influencing and addressing world events.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw Big Pharma and health care systems develop vaccines, medications and treatment protocols in real time. Companies and business leaders not directly in the fight responded in various ways, including pivoting manufacturing operations to produce in-demand personal protection equipment, and redirecting philanthropic efforts. Many businesses implemented measures beyond those required by government, such as expanding remote work and leave policies. Even the smallest actions support the overall aim of slowing the spread of a disease that has killed more than 1 million Americans as of May and continues to take more than 300 U.S. lives per day, regardless of our desire for a return to a pre-pandemic normalcy.
Similarly, following the invasion of Ukraine in late February, about 1,000 major companies worldwide voluntarily moved to sever financial ties with Russia. Far more businesses than that are providing financial aid and other support to the beleaguered Ukrainians.
Even though recent U.S. sanctions against various Russian institutions and individuals are the most sweeping actions levied against a major foreign power since World War II, many types of U.S. business transactions with Russia remain legal.
Nevertheless, here in Virginia, several large companies have withdrawn assets and investments from Russia, according to a list maintained by the Yale School of Management. These include the commonwealth’s largest private company, McLean-based Mars Inc., as well as Fortune 500 companies like Ashburn-based DXC Technology Co. Mars and DXC also have provided significant assistance to Ukrainian aid efforts.
In this issue’s annual Generous Virginians feature package (see Page 20), Virginia Business Deputy Editor Kate Andrews covers the past year’s most laudatory acts of mega-altruism by Virginia benefactors to institutions such as universities, health care systems and museums. And we also have a story from Virginia Business Associate Editor Robyn Sidersky, who spoke with Virginia-based organizations that have been contributing to Ukrainian aid efforts. These range from fundraisers at local breweries to corporate shipments of goods to the efforts of executives such as Stanislas Vilgrain, chairman of Cuisine Solutions in Sterling, who personally traveled to the war-torn nation to deliver truckloads of food at his own risk.
With so many internationally connected companies in the commonwealth, efforts such as these are a good reminder of the ability our corporate citizens have to be global forces for more than profit.
To close with another quote oft attributed to Samuel Clemens, “There are people who accomplish things and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.”