By Dan Schafer
Like many others, I am sure, particularly those of us who were born before about 1980, I felt a little nostalgic about the news of Sears' bankruptcy. They were the thing of dreams to a young boy coming up to Christmas time. From model farm sets, to train sets, to bicycles, to fiberglass archery sets they had everything I could imagine to make my wish list -- open the two inch plus thick catalog on the living room floor and dream.
Their big mail order catalog brought the equivalent of big department stores into the homes of millions of families. They had found a way of retailing that filled a void in the market -- especially for rural and small-town America.
Another thing they did, which wasn't of the least interest to me as a farmer's son then, but made a huge difference to thousands of their employees, was that they shared their profits in the form of retirement fund contributions. According to the New York Times a typical salesman, 50 years ago, could walk out of their career at Sears with a retirement nest egg worth the equivalent of over a million dollars in today's dollars. Of course I am a lot more interested in that now, but so are a lot of present-day employees in the American workplace.
The problem is that in our world, the companies that make a priority of the welfare of their workers are not many. Emphasis has shifted from the wellbeing of employees to the wellbeing of the company's share value on the stock exchange. I don't suppose that most executives or corporate board members consider it greed. Doubtless they just regard it as good business prudence.
Don't get me wrong. Millions of present-day American employees are very glad for their jobs and are very loyal to their employers. And most employers try to be fair to their workers. But there has been a great shift. The preoccupation with share value and the tremendous difference in pay scale between CEO's and those providing the labor for the day to day business of the company tilt the emphasis toward the person who is perceived as the share price wizard. Profit sharing and stock grants for employees apparently seem to be regarded as too risky for that all-important share value.
It seems we have lost more than just a 125-year-old company. There was a light and a warmth that seem to have dimmed and chilled in our world now even with so many technological advances and advantages. We need to learn to face the present and the future with wisdom, and in some way learn to make a priority of the things that really matter- such as the people where we work.