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What Companies Should Learn From Hollywood Romances

10/14/2014 12:23 EDT | Updated 12/14/2014 05:59 EST
Tony Barson via Getty Images
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 20: Director Ryan Gosling attends the 'Lost River' photocall at the 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2014 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Tony Barson/FilmMagic)

In the film Crazy Stupid Love, Canadian actor and renowned ladies' man, Ryan Gosling, along with a hapless Steve Carell, both learn that finding true love requires a genuine effort to be more lovable. Perhaps today's corporations could use such a lesson, because the movie Wolf of Wall Street might be the image more people are likely to have of them.

An international poll released last month by American cable network CNBC finds the number one word--by far--that everyday people across much of the developed world associate with corporations is "greed." More than half surveyed believe companies have not changed their ways in the wake of the global financial crisis, that businesses actively seek out loopholes to avoid paying their fair share of tax, and that CEOs are motivated by profit and power--all over the interests of their customers, employees and society at large.

We first heard of this survey at the recent annual conference of the Clinton Global Initiative. Ironically, we were surrounded by some of the world's top business executives, who gathered with political leaders and activists to commit to solving serious global problems, ranging from poverty and gender inequality, to climate change, land mines and saving African elephants. There's no doubt there was a lot of caring in the room. But the deep public distrust of the corporate world makes it hard for any organization to escape cynicism.

We wondered, what would it take for a company to get past the negative public perception and become actually loved? Businesses give us a lot--provide jobs and benefits, generate tax revenue and supplying the goods and services we need and want. But to truly win our hearts, companies may have to go beyond decent wages and customer service, to show a genuine commitment to doing good in the world. If you want to win love, show love. And show it loud.

That's what Calgary-based WestJet did. After Hurricane Odile left tourists stranded in the Mexican resort town of Los Cabos a few weeks ago, the airline flew down 4,000 bottles of water and juice for those affected and offered free flights for any Canadian needing a lift home. More than 150 people took up the offer, and when we recently met the airline's CEO he told us, "It cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it was the right thing to do."

Good deeds like this one and last winter's famous Santa moment that went viral--when WestJet snuck personalized, wrapped Christmas gifts onto the arrival carousel for every passenger on a holiday flight--are the kind of out-of-the-ordinary gestures that counter the "greed" narrative and get companies off society's naughty list. Of course, the positive PR and boost to employee morale will also show up on the bottom line in the long run. And that's exactly the point: with a little creative thinking and a genuine desire to be great corporate citizens, businesses can do good by society and shareholders at the same time.

Ben and Jerry's, for instance, is loved as much for its corporate values as for its ice cream. It sources ethical ingredients, supports local communities, embraces eco-conscious manufacturing and vocally supports social justice campaigns. Canadians love Mountain Equipment Co-op for its gear and outdoor expertise, but also for its ethical sourcing, commitment to sustainability and willingness to fix or replace parts for just about everything they sell.

Today's society clearly expects more from the companies we work for and buy from--not just in the product or service they offer, but also in terms of how they treat their employees and their philanthropy in the community at large. There's love out there for corporations that, like Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell, decide to invest the extra effort.

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day.

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