By Andrew Delmonte
Last week two investment funds that recently acquired a combined 9.8 percent of Synacor Inc.’s stock sent an open letter to the board of directors demanding that the company be put up for sale to the highest bidder. The motivation? Synacor’s stock is currently selling for between $2 and $3 per share, and the disgruntled shareholders are “confident that Synacor will have serious interest … at prices far in excess of the current share price.”
Later, business analyst Richard Tullo of Albert Fried & Co. told Business First that Synacor “has needed to be sold for some time now,” and that a sale is the responsible thing to do because it will reward shareholders more than an autonomous path. He compared the potential for Synacor’s ongoing success as an autonomous company to the “hope the Syrians will throw their guns down tomorrow.”
And here’s the kicker: In their letter, the two shareholders accused Synacor’s chairman of having a “self-interested and civic-minded agenda” to keep the company in Buffalo.
What’s missing from this analysis of Synacor’s value? To pretend that the only financial impact of a public corporation is the value it produces for its shareholders is to pretend that the value to Synacor’s workers (many of the 300 employees of the company work in Buffalo), Synacor’s suppliers and Synacor’s customers does not exist.
In reality, Synacor’s “civic-minded” decision-making has the potential to produce great value, both for Buffalo and – perhaps paradoxically to these investors – for the company itself.
A recent study by Deloitte of 5,000 millennials in 18 countries found that respondents ranked “to improve society” as the primary purpose of business, not profit maximization. According to a 2012 Nielsen study, two-thirds of consumers prefer brands that give back to society. And a recent study by Net Impact showed that 58 percent of graduates were willing to take a 15 percent pay cut to work in an organization that shared their values. In the new “impact economy,” being civic-minded matters.
A new crop of businesses around the world is using new legal forms like the benefit corporation to codify their intended social impacts so that directors, workers and investors are all on the same page, and to protect against hostile buyouts.
These social entrepreneurs know that including the social and environmental value they produce as a serious part of their balance sheets leads to increased market share, higher employee engagement and a groundswell of new investment, and, most importantly, it moves our economy in a direction where business helps to heal the social and environmental ills in our society, rather than exacerbate them.
Andrew Delmonte is a business adviser and social enterprise coordinator at the Small Business Development Center at SUNY Buffalo State.