Emerging from the crowd
Don’t groan, but there’s another business group in town that’s relaunching itself with a promise to shake things up.
No, the Alliance for Business Leadership doesn’t want to be the new Vault, the legendary organization of executives who used to meet in secret to make big decisions about the future of Boston. In fact, this group wants to be the anti-Vault. Perhaps that’s just as well, since another bunch of honchos, known as the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership , has designs on becoming the new Vault.
Instead of closed-door power brokering, the new alliance wants everyone to know that the business community is not just about making a buck; it can be socially and environmentally responsible, too. The alliance, for example, supports raising the state minimum wage from $8 to $11 an hour by 2015 and is all for the controversial Cape Wind project, the expensive offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound. Other business groups have been way on the other side of those issues.
“We’re all a bit frustrated by the traditional business organization,” said Phil Edmundson, chief executive of Boston insurance brokerage William Gallagher Associates, who becomes the alliance’s chairman next week at its annual fall summit. “We don’t want to be against everything.”
Edmundson won’t name names, probably because he could spend all day listing the various business groups that have formed over the years. There’s the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Massachusetts Business Roundtable. Then there are industry specific groups like Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, Massachusetts High Technology Council, MassTLC, MITX, I could go on and on, but then you would probably stop reading.
With so many groups competing for high-profile members, the alliance has managed to count some big names among its 150 or so participants: Vertex founder Joshua Boger, Tufts Health Plan CEO Jim Roosevelt, Harvard Business School star Rosabeth Moss Kanter, former Akamai CEO Paul Sagan. It has also attracted a politically active crowd, including current and former gubernatorial candidates: Treasurer Steve Grossman, venture capitalist Chris Gabrieli, and Cape Air founder and state Senator Dan Wolf.
Boger has been one of the driving forces behind the alliance, which formed in 2006 and became known as the Progressive Business Leaders Network. Surely you remember the PBLN? The alliance name came last year as part of its reboot.
“The model of business group as juggernaut for its own self interest is just old-fashioned,” he said. “The lobbying, self advocacy group — we’re done with that.”
Boger said pushing for a higher minimum wage is a prime example of what he means. Workers can’t live on the current rate, and companies should want to pay their workers a decent wage. To achieve that, products and services might cost more, and profits could get squeezed. But ultimately, people with good-paying jobs can pour money back into the economy because they can afford to, instead of being a drain on government services.
“This is not hippies and flowers,” said Boger. “This is a business principle that says running business in the long term for social good is good business.”
So many groups, so little time, and I’m sure each in its own way fills a need. I just wish one could have stopped the software tax before it escalated into an all-out kicking and screaming showdown with Beacon Hill and Governor Patrick. Guess that one got lost in the crowd.
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John Drew, the president of Action for Boston Community Development, isn’t getting much sleep these days.
More than half of his $135 million budget comes from the federal government, money used to provide heat for seniors, help the homeless, feed the hungry, among a gazillion other things the antipoverty agency does. Since the shutdown began, ABCD has lost $15 million in funding.
Now ABCD is getting help in the form of a new Business Advisory Council, which met for the first time a few weeks ago. Among its members: Pat Moscaritolo, the head of Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau; former BostonCoach CEO Larry Moulter; and Ernie Joseph of RBC Wealth Management.
The goal is to help ABCD drum up more money and find ways it can better operate at a time when federal dollars are iffy. ABCD has already tightened its belt because of federal sequestration cuts, forcing 100 layoffs and lower pay for others.
If you want to “Do the Right Thing” and help, Drew suggests buying a ticket to ABCD’s annual gala featuring director Spike Lee on Nov. 1. Drew hasn’t had time to push sales.
“I am little distracted,” he said, “the government may go out of business.”