Occupy Wall Street, a movement that started in mid-September, has grown to over 70 major cities in the U.S. in just a few short weeks. The group consists of non-violent protestors demanding a change from the current financial and political malaise plaguing our economy. The group’s motto, “We are the 99%” refers to the inequality in income between the top 1% and the remaining 99% of the U.S. population. The effects of Occupy Wall Street have even been felt locally as protesters occupied Philadelphia over the past week. Though there are varying opinions about the group, their message has hit close to home: stop corporate corruption, end the political impasse in Congress, and redistribute wealth to Main Street by spurring jobs and stemming home foreclosures.
But what exactly does Occupy Wall Street intend to achieve? Do they intend to dismantle the financial industry, or are they simply hoping to spark a change by drawing attention to the current political and economic quagmire? Much of the ill will toward Wall Street executives stems from a series of public miscues by big business leaders over the past few years. In an age when E-media, Facebook and Twitter blogs are dominant drivers of public opinion, several Wall Street executives have contributed to a tarnished reputation for the finance industry; and thanks to social media outlets, negative publicity and sentiment have spread like wildfire.
As Wharton students and future CEOs, we must take heed of the turbulent economy we are experiencing. Even during this challenging economic environment, many Wharton MBAs find themselves visiting New York on a weekly basis in an attempt to ‘occupy’ Wall Street in a very different way. The challenges we have faced in this market have allowed us to gain valuable experiences and new perspectives in a dynamic business environment.
Today, Wharton students are more conscious of our environment and the challenges facing governments and businesses across the globe. Having gone through the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression has made us more adept. In a “New Normal” economy we concede that realGDPgrowth has fallen, that one in five U.S. homeowners are currently “underwater” on their home mortgages, and that the federal deficit is at an all-time high, but do we fully understand the responsibilities incumbent upon us? The reality of the current situation may very well seem dire, but as Wharton MBAs we have been challenged to become part of the solution. After all, some of the most influential leaders have emerged during the worst possible conditions, when they were needed more than ever.
Occupy Wall Street argues that our current leaders too often overpromise and under deliver. The public, already overwhelmed by layoffs, home foreclosures and non-stop political infighting, is looking for a tangible change in the right direction. As leaders, we recognize that we will be held accountable for our actions in an increasingly public financial and political sphere. We must strive to make conscious moral and ethical decisions, as someday soon, we will likely find ourselves leading organizations and making tough decisions that will affect the livelihood of thousands, even millions, across the globe. We should lead by example especially when we find ourselves at a crossroads between doing what is right and doing what is popular, the right decisions are not always the easiest. At a time when corporate greed runs rampant, effective leaders can make a change by giving back to our communities (not just in the form of charitable donations). By accomplishing these goals we can begin to lead toward a more sustainable economic and political model.
As corporate leaders seek to solve problems of profitability, and government leaders seek to solve problems of public policy, not much tangible progress has been made to solve the problems of those who fuel the fire of the American economy, the 99%. As future CEOs, the 99% will soon look to us for intelligent and effective solutions. Though there is no easy fix for the task at hand, the first step toward making a change in the right direction is recognizing that we a part of the solution.