For those who knew me well at the beginning of my career, my writing a book about corporations and their role in society would really be odd. I began my professional career in the mayor’s office in New York City, and after four years of helping shape city policy and managing the largest public-service internship program in the country, I founded and led a not-for-profit think tank and community advocacy organization. Following that I served as deputy schools chancellor, helping lead the nation’s largest school district through a period of turbulence. My experience in city government, education, and not-for-profit enterprise expanded my views on public policy and provided knowledge on issues like education, but a deep knowledge of corporations was not among my assets. I basically saw the private sector as just another funder for my reform ideas. I lacked substantive knowledge about the private sector. Of course, that all changed when Lou Gerstner, then IBM’s CEO, while leading a massive corporate turnaround, recruited me to IBM to lead corporate citizenship. In over two decades, and under the leadership of three IBM CEOs, I’ve gained intimate knowledge of the private sector and specifically its role in society. That is why the most recent U.S. presidential election sparked my interest in writing this book.

The 2016 presidential campaign focused a good deal of attention—overwhelmingly negative—on the role of corporations in society. Big companies were accused of ...

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