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Yes, They Give a Damn

Kenyon Sayler

HOME DEPOT COFOUNDER Bernie Marcus made headlines late last year with his claim that capitalism may not survive because “nobody works, nobody gives a damn.” I respectfully disagree. While Marcus has one example—people not wanting to work or work hard enough at the stores he founded—I believe America has a terrific future based on four observations:

  • I was a Boy Scouts leader for 16 years. I like to think that Scouts teach leadership and independence. Indeed, a 2015 study by Tufts University showed that participation in the program led to an increase in kindness, helpfulness and trustworthiness.

I know what a few dozen young men from Boy Scouts are doing today. Many—but not all—went to college. They currently have careers as varied as teacher, film editor, lead custodian at a school, satellite engineer, data analyst, diesel mechanic, insurance salesperson and hotel manager. Many are married. My point: Each has gone on to contribute to society, pay taxes and become a solid citizen.

  • My own sons are part of the cohort above. Both have careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). I see and hear about the hours they put in at their jobs. They care about their work performance. They aren’t shirking. Both married bright, capable women. Their wives also have careers, work hard and are concerned about their job performance.
  • Before I retired, the young people that I worked with were similarly hard working and cared about the job they did. I had the privilege of hiring many young engineers, both men and women, fresh out of college. They all hit the ground running. To a person, they were professional, competent and dedicated.

I also worked closely with supply chain analysts, factory workers, maintenance workers and quality technicians. I’ll concede that many of the younger folks wanted to know the “why” when asked to do a job, as opposed to simply following a directive. To me, this is a plus. When explaining the outcome that I’m seeking, they often have input that makes both the process and the results better.

  • My alma mater recently invited me back to help judge undergraduate projects by senior mechanical engineering students. More than 300 students worked on more than 60 teams, developing solutions to problems large and small. They built working prototypes to prove feasibility. Some of the projects will result in new products.

Most of these graduates already have jobs lined up. Some will work with Fortune 100 companies. Some chose to work with startups. Virtually all will be contributing to America’s competitiveness.

Bernie Marcus may worry that capitalism won’t survive. But when I look at the young people that I’ve personally witnessed making contributions to America and its businesses, I’m not worried. Echoing the words of Warren Buffett, I wouldn’t bet against America.

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