The Atlantic

How to Stop Short-Term Thinking at America’s Companies

U.S. companies are hyper-focused on quarterly earnings. What can be done to push them to invest more in the years and decades ahead?
Source: Andrew Kelly / Reuters

There was a time, half a century ago, when what was good for many American corporations tended to also be good for America. Companies invested in their workers and new technologies, and as a result, they prospered and their employees did too.

Now, a growing group of business leaders is worried that companies are too concerned with short-term profits, focused only on making money for shareholders. As a result, they’re not investing in their workers, in research, or in technology—short-term costs that would reduce profits temporarily. And this, the business leaders say, may be creating long-term problems for the nation.

“Too many CEOs play the quarterly game and manage their businesses accordingly,” Paul Polman, the CEO of the British-Dutch conglomerate Unilever, told me. “But many of the world’s challenges can not be addressed with a quarterly mindset.”

Polman is one of a group of CEOs and business leaders that have signed onto the American Prosperity Project, an initiative spearheaded by the Aspen Institute, to

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