From the CEO

Corporate Feng Shui

Recently, I tried a new pub that my friends frequented that supposedly served only local craft beers. I figured I could at least get my favorite Shiner Bock draft as it was a Texas brew. I sidled up to the bar and asked for a Bock. I was told that they did not serve that brand as Shiner Brewery had been bought out by a big evil corporation, and their establishment did not sell corporate beer.

This experience had become a common one in food and drink venues around Austin and the larger circle of the natural foods industry. As long as you were a small corporation or a family owned business it was okay. But if you were too big, then you were evil.

Where was the line? What happened if your small company was successful and grew large? Did you become evil simply because you were successful, incorporated, or was there some other criteria? How did it come about that we look at corporations as a bad thing?

Corporations are the basic building blocks of capitalism. Capitalism is a mode of conducting business where a person or group invests cash that they don’t otherwise need for survival (known as capital) in an enterprise to make more money. Basically, the point is for investors to make money with money, not hard work.

There are many types of corporations. There are C corporations, S corporations, limited liability partnerships, and non-profit companies. The main advantages for creating a corporation are for one’s business to have a continuous existence (beyond the founder’s death), legal rights, and liabilities independent of its owners and investors.

Corporations became a common way of life in the seventeenth century through the spice and cotton trades. They fostered a global slave trade, exploited and stole the communal land of those who weren’t enslaved, and converted a sustainable farming/animal husbandry way of life (in place for thousands of years) into a monoculture poverty stricken labor force in order to feed their factories with the raw materials necessary for profit.

Modern corporate structures blossomed in the nineteenth century through the creation of state subsidized railroad companies. The railroads defrauded thousands of investors of millions of dollars (billions today) all over the world in what amounted to nothing more than a massive ponzi scheme (reminiscent of the Great Recession of 2008).

These forms of corporations are to this day responsible for an exponentially lower standard of living for the majority of the population of the world, and for the terrible degradation of the environment in their insatiable quest to supply their machines of production with raw materials and cheap labor. This is all done in the name of profit and the accumulation of wealth (and of course, the consumers’ demand for mass produced goods.)

The many depredations perpetrated by these corporations led to anti-corporate/monopoly/trust legislation in many countries, especially in the U.S., and a general anti-corporation public consciousness.

A corporation typically has to have investors and stock holders to grow fast and large. The stock holders and investors usually don’t work for the company and are simply in it for the yearly dividends they get paid for their investment. Through the Board of Directors, the investors actually control the corporation and can fire the corporate officers if they do not perform up to the investors’ expectations.

In these types of corporations, the focus is kept on profit, which sublimates all else to that goal. Employees are interchangeable cogs in the machine and the environment is seen as a supply depot to be used and abused as needed without regard for any broader repercussions. Cheaper and or dangerous ingredients are used, recipes changed, and processes are made more efficient and automated. As a result, there is little reciprocal support for the community of human beings (employees and consumers) that is in reality the very foundation of a corporation. Many corporations today not only treat their employees in an unsustainable manner, but they slowly poison their consumers with health damaging products.

The owners of these corporations, after having made huge fortunes on the backs of abject poverty and unimaginable suffering, turned to philanthropy and public works in their retirement. A pattern can be observed throughout corporate history: the creation of the core product or services, incorporation and the fight for survival, actively eliminating the competition and manipulation of stock, reducing costs largely through downward pressure on wages and labor lifestyle, massive profit taking, and ending in retirement and philanthropy.

Why not engage in philanthropy with one’s own employees and customers all through the company building process? Why not engage in environmentally sound business practices and sustainable resource harvesting? Why not focus on human beings and their quality of life? This is what “supporting the community” means. This is what “supporting the environment” means. This is what being “sustainable” means.

Destructive behavior is not endemic to the corporate structure. It depends largely on the company owners’ personality and goals in life, but also on growing slowly and in a sustainable manner. In this way a corporation can remain independent and adhere closely to any founding community and environmentally supporting ideals.

This is the path White Mountain has chosen to tread. We aren’t out to be the biggest or only yogurt maker. We aren’t trying to eliminate other yogurt makers. (There are plenty of yogurt eaters out there for anybody who wants to make and sell it.) We aren’t taking advantage of our employees’ hard work by paying them poorly. We aren’t taking advantage of our consumers by using low quality ingredients or additives. We aren’t interested in selling out to some corporate giant and retire in the lap of luxury.

We’re simply making products we feel good about, making a living doing it, and enjoying the hard work and community building that goes along with living a responsible and sustainable life.

What Are Corporate Ethics?

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s definition of “ethics”:

1. ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction: the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
2. a.  a set of moral principles: a theory or system of moral values · the present-day materialistic ethic · an old-fashioned work ethic—often used in plural but singular or plural in construction · an elaborate ethics · Christian ethics
b.  ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction: the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group professional ethics
c.  a guiding philosophy
d.  a consciousness of moral importance · forge a conservation ethic
3. ethics plural: a set of moral issues or aspects (as rightness) · debated the ethics of human cloning

The term “corporate ethics” represents a good and bad structure applied to the operation of a corporation and how it interacts with people—employees, end users of its products or services, investors/stockholders, and government regulators. Ethics are not necessarily codified into law, but rather are generally considered a set of rules that are largely self-applied and self-policed.

Currently, there is a growing movement for corporations to become more ethically “good.” Corporations in general are seen as a bad thing, most recently due to the results of the Great Recession of 2008 and the highly publicized distribution of large bonuses to the corporate officers of publicly bailed-out companies. This trend has become a cutting-edge marketing technique that companies hope will help them stand out from their competitors.

The idea of using corporate ethics as a marketing strategy is aimed at persuading the consuming public to use its buying power to purchase the products and services of ethically certified companies and avoid those that have not been so certified—a variation on the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest or, in this case, the most ethical.  

There are various certifications that a company can apply for to make its case for recognition as a benevolent ethical business entity (B Corporation, for example, offers such a certification). Other elements of corporate ethics are the appointment of an independent board of directors that exerts control over corporate officers so they don’t loot the company at the expense of the stockholders; implementation of a policy that the CEO’s salary will not be exponentially higher than that of the average employee; and company engagement in environmentally supportive activities. But in the end, it all boils down to how human beings treat each other, and that can only come from inside a person—the individual in control. Any outside rules, regulations, or certifications can be circumvented when deemed necessary or out of simple greed.

Ethics are rooted in how we are from birth, how we were raised, what we were taught as children, and what we have witnessed during our lives. Simply put, it is part of who we are as individuals. As we age, we are affected by increasingly complex influences as we merge into our society and culture. In Western cultures, especially the United States, our cultural goal is to attain the holy grail of financial security and the lifestyle of the rich and famous through the accumulation of wealth. We are taught these views in grade school, through the many media streams we consume, and in our professional career training. The corollary to our wealth accumulation training is that we are also trained to desire and purchase consumer goods. The consumer dynamic is even held up as our patriotic duty to ensure a strong national economy. This dual perspective—the desire to make money coupled with the desire for consumer goods—creates the polarity that keeps the engine of business running and people willing to spend their entire lives operating in it.

To attain the goal of financial security, competition has been accepted as a normal way of life and as necessary for a healthy capitalistic society to function. Treating people poorly is the natural result of this worldview, as respect for others is usually the first ethic to fall by the wayside in the quest for wealth through competition. Our lifestyle goals place enormous strain on any ethical structure we create. How can we be outraged at corporate officers who seek to accomplish these encoded financial goals by giving themselves large bonuses and paying themselves exorbitant salaries, when attaining those goals is considered the apex of success in our culture?

We must replace those lifestyle goals with something more inclusive, while at the same time providing for our social and financial security. We have to be accountable to each other, connected to each other, and helpful to each other; we need to look out for each other. In other words, we need to return to our hunter-gatherer tribal roots and incorporate more egalitarian ethics into our everyday lives. We have to realize that we depend on each other for our ultimate happiness and enjoyment in life and that how we feel about ourselves is based on our treatment of others—not on money or consumer goods.  

In this country, we attempt to promulgate to other countries a set of ethics involving democratic processes, human rights, morals, and the benefits of capitalism while at the same time, here at home, we pillage each other in the name of business to the point that many of us can’t afford to have a reasonably healthy life or a home. We should seek our security in our connections to other human beings and not in cold hard cash.

In the business environment, White Mountain Foods feels these new ethical goals should translate into what we call “right livelihood” (making a living with work that makes us feel good about ourselves and supports the community); treating each other as equals with differences; and an overarching tribal/egalitarian view of work, responsibility, and profit.

The corporate environment is a living, breathing entity, or corpus—Latin for “body,” a structure of life, and the root word of corporation. For survival, the corporate entity depends on all of its various parts (team members) to be present and working properly. Is one part more important than another if it takes all for the entity to function? How does one maintain all those parts harmoniously? It begins with respect for individuals and acceptance of those individuals as they are. Only then can you build a team that is focused on the ethical production of healthy products, the ethical support of each other, and the ethical support of consumers—all of which ultimately contribute to the support and advancement of the company and, by extension, the community/environment in which it resides and operates.

Authentic, Old World Style Yogurt

The nutritional contents of food are held up as its defining attributes, the scientifically verifiable and quantifiable, what we should be using food for. We are told to seek out or reduce calories, protein, fat, sugars, and certain vitamins and minerals in order to attain a state of good health. The nutrients have also been linked to the support of bodily functions, our organs, glands, the immune system, the regenerative system, and our blood. This has all been scientifically proven - but when was the last time you ate food that actually made you feel good as you were eating it and was supposedly good for you?

Yes, our yogurt has a high probiotic count. It is made with a dairy product high in protein and calcium. It has no chemicals, preservatives, or texture modifiers added to it; has a traditional tart taste; and is packed in glass. Science has shown that yogurt supports the immune system and overall gut health. In this way we try to describe our yogurt by comparing it to other yogurts, by illuminating it with generally accepted quantifiable attributes.

But it's the unquantifiable that makes our yogurt truly attractive and unique, that makes our consumers fall in love with it, and enjoy it so much. Their body craves it. It reminds them of home. It reminds their body of what real, gut satisfying, health supporting food tastes and feels like when it goes down. Not just in their mouth, but in their gut.

Yogurt is not just milk with live culture added to it, and White Mountain yogurt is not just any yogurt. When the culture is allowed to work on the milk for an extended period of time and allowed to become true old world style yogurt, the result is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Our yogurt is appreciated by what we call our "rabid consumers" (those who seek to infect others with the White Mountain Yogurt bug) because of its unquantifiable attributes. It simply makes them feel good.

Introduction: Who We Are

Hello, my name is Jeff Murray, and I am the owner and CEO of our thirty-six-year-old family business, White Mountain Foods. Based in Austin, Texas, we manufacture and distribute Bulgarian yogurt and vegan, meat-alternative health food products. The yogurt is distributed nationally and the vegan products are available in the Texas/Southwest region. 

My relationship with White Mountain Foods started in 1997. During my time here, I’ve discovered that the founder, Reed Murray (my brother) , our customers, and I share a common philosophy: human beings first, business and profit second.

Our food philosophy can be traced back to the early 1960s, when my parents (who both grew up on farms) decided to try eating healthier in hopes of avoiding the cardiovascular disease that had killed several of my paternal relatives at a young age. Influenced by information from the Framingham Heart Study, which they read about in Reader’s Digest, my parents gradually eliminated many harmful foods and introduced us to the concept of food as medicine.

That concept of food as medicine grew to become my life’s passion. I have experimented with food and the environment’s effects on my body and those around me for over forty-five years. I have discovered that all the harmful substances we ingest or subject ourselves to have definable effects on our bodies and minds that can develop into life-threatening disease or mental instability.

Producing wholesome, additive-free foods that support health is the best way I know to make a difference. Accomplishing that goal begins with providing our employees with a healthy, enjoyable, safe, and supportive work environment. That atmosphere of support directly transfers to our products. Our products are and will always be made with one thing in mind: the health and support of our customers and our environment.

In the future I will use this page to share some of my thoughts and experiences about food and its relationship to our mental and physical health.  

It is my hope that our products and my experiences can make a positive contribution to your life.

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