Educational sessions began for the annual Fall Mississippi Association of Self-Insurers (MASI) conference on Thursday. After an employer-focused re-hashing of the Affordable Care Act delivered by Chris Goff of the Employers Health Coalition of Ohio, retired General Harold A. Cross took the stage for the keynote address. His theme, “Doing Business with the American Spirit” was not just a celebration of entrepreneurship, but also a reminder of the forces behind government and community that allow entrepreneurship to be an enduring American trademark.
Given the premise of his keynote as a lesson in “business ethics,” General Cross asked attendees to think about what ethics actually means in practice. “We need to keep in mind that we’re here to do business with each other, in the greatest country the world has ever known. I never heard the word business ethics until the late 60s, it was a buzzword back then…But in this talk I’m not going to refer to it as ‘ethics,’ we won’t have to use the term ‘business ethics’ […] because we’ll be able to use the word ‘patriotism.’” Cross explained.
In between a few sales jokes, General Cross proceeded to address the issue of patriotism in business as he understands it – meaning “the American spirit.” Identifying that spirit as a commonality to all Americans, wound the audience through a series of reflections about American ingenuity and history – from the Revolutionary War to modern technological advancement.
Careful to avoid pitting generations against each other, he emphasized the multi-faceted responsibilities of the businessperson as he or she operates in American free markets. Quoting George Washington several times throughout, General Cross urged the crowd to remember our roots as embodied by the first American president’s ideals when he said: “If our people are not the freest, happiest, most productive people in the world, the fault will most certainly be our own.”
According to General Cross, “business ethics,” the American spirit, and positive corporate citizenship comes down to three tenets: honesty, courage, and compassion. Offering numerous examples of each throughout American history, General Cross hammered home the simplicity of good business, regardless of where in history we are as a people at a given moment. “That spirit, those building blocks, are uniquely ours,” he said. Citing both the volatility of current world events and regulatory challenges for employers, General Cross concluded by asking attendees to consider Charles Dickens’ famous opening from A Tale of Two Cities, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and how, though they cannot change the winds, they can adjust the sails.