Elon Musk, founder and CEO of the electric car company Tesla, has become for some Americans a hero, the epitome of the free businessman who rebels against the arbitrariness of the state in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. For others, he is an unscrupulous selfish man who is putting the lives of the 10,000 employees at his Alameda, California, factory at risk, which Musk wants to reopen at all costs despite being banned by county authorities.
The South African has threatened to move the plant to another state and has even written on Twitter that he is willing to be arrested. President Donald Trump, on the same social network, has supported the reopening of the company. After the Tesla effectMusk’s dilemma arrives: can an entrepreneur disobey quarantine (in the United States or anywhere in the world) to move his business forward?
“As a general moral principle, all citizens must obey a law if it is fair,” says Joan Fontrodona, professor of Business Ethics at the IESE business school.” And when is a law fair? Well, theoretically when, if the contrary cannot be proved, it has been promulgated by the competent authority. It is very risky to say that a law is unjust and, therefore, one has moral legitimacy to disobey it. At the same time, it is also true that sometimes the legal and the moral do not go in the same line, and that you can make a reflection on the morality of certain laws. But it is dangerous to decide, at the first change and because one does not do well, that a law is unjust and skip it. Beyond the specific case of Musk.
David Levy, CEO of the financial advisor Diverinvest, and involved these weeks in solidarity actions through his foundation migranodearena.org, believes that “an entrepreneur must have as its main mission to obtain economic results that make the business viable in a sustained manner over time, but never forgetting the development of its employees. That is why many times decisions have to be made trying to balance these two aspects because if one of them fails, the company will not prosper.”
“Sometimes the pressure or being close to achieving a predefined objective causes decisions to be made in which all the rules of the game are not respected. Sometimes the rules pursue objectives other than those of the entrepreneur, but no less important. We can see with the case of Musk, who on this occasion has prioritized his objective, which is very close to him, of placing Tesla within the S & P500 (the most important stock index in the United States), and for this he needs, among others, to have four profitable quarters, instead of respecting the objective of the authorities to preserve the health of the workers”, assures Levy.
A cultural question
Is this solely a financial strategy by the founder of Tesla, or does the Musk dilemma also speak to the differences between the United States and Europe regarding the role of the entrepreneur in society? “Entrepreneurs must be asked for exemplarity in any of their decisions because they are public figures. In the same way that we demand exemplary in other areas, we must also ask for it when it comes to complying with just laws,” says Joan Fontrodona, who does not, However, it does emphasize that “in the Anglo-Saxon culture, there is a greater pre-eminence of the individual over the common good; while, in European culture, there is a greater sense of society and that the individual should not be above it, of adaptation to what is that the authority asks for”.
David Levy, who has worked for several years in the United States, points out that “considering that there is a saying that what is good for General Motors is good for the country, one clearly sees where society is oriented.” “I do not know if there is greater respect for the entrepreneur, but they are very clear about the concept of success and prosperity and, therefore, they adapt as best as possible to achieving these objectives. giving the maximum of facilities. For example, there you do not need social capital to start a business, nor a local. In addition, they allow failure with business, since neither the entrepreneur nor the administrator are legally responsible for the debts.
Around the world, from the first moment, most of the private sector has mobilized to put its shoulder to the solution of the crisis, from the adaptation of the factories to the production of sanitary material (face masks, hydro-alcoholic gel, gloves, respirators, disinfectant …) to the distribution of food to vulnerable families or hospitals, through the cancellation of electricity bills or the relaxation of demands on customers and suppliers hit by the crisis. However, now entrepreneurs are demanding a general reactivation of the economy, through initiatives.