Weekly Chasidic Story #779 (s5773-08 / 13 Mar-Cheshvan 5773)
The CEO Who Cared
CBS News featured a special report which reviewed his altruistic decision
Connection: Weekly Reading–exactly opposite to the business practices in Sodom.
[Aaron Feuerstein was born in 1925 as the son of a businessman. His father and grandfather had owned and operated a textile company named Malden Mills since 1906. Malden Mills was one of the largest employers in the town of Lawrence Massachusetts. In the 1960’s Aaron Feuerstein took control of the company. Then in 1995, disaster struck: a large fire destroyed the entire factory. The owner’s response was unique.]
The seventy-year old Torah-observant Jewish businessman, received international acclaim for preserving the jobs of his employees. In an age of corporate downsizing, he not only preserved their jobs; he kept his 1400 (!) employees on the payroll for several months until the factory reopened. In addition, he continued their health benefits. A number of years later, CBS News had a special report which reviewed his altruistic decision, and it stated:
“He kept his promises. Workers picked up their checks for months. In all, he paid out $25 million and became known as the “Mensch of Malden Mills” – a businessman who seemed to care more about his workers than about his net worth.
“The press loved him, and so did politicians. President Clinton invited him to the State of the Union Address as an honored guest. He also received 12 honorary degrees, including one from Boston University. He became that rare duck – the businessman as national hero.
“‘I got a lot of publicity. And I don’t think that speaks well for our times,’ says Feuerstein. ‘At the time in America of the greatest prosperity, the god of money has taken over to an extreme.’
“For guidance he turns to the Torah, the book of Jewish law.
“‘You are not permitted to oppress the working man, because he’s poor and he’s needy, amongst your brethren and amongst the non-Jew in your community,’ says Feuerstein, who spent $300 million of the insurance money and then borrowed $100 million more to build a new plant that is both environmentally friendly and worker friendly. And it’s a union shop that never had a strike, thanks to the Feuerstein family stance towards their workers. (‘The Mensch of Malden Mills,’ CBS News, July 6, 2003)
[A religious Jew, Feuerstein went on to explain that the ideals of his religious heritage had played the major role in his decision, quoting the famous first century Talmudic scholar Hillel twice:
“In a situation where there is no righteous person, try to be a righteous person” (Pirkei Avot, ch. 2).” And: “Not all who increase their wealth are wise” (ibid).]
In September, 1996, Columbia University honored Aaron Feuerstein with its 1996 Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics. An attending Jewish dignitary gave the following report:
“A graduate of Yeshiva University, Mr. Feuerstein closed poignantly on a religious note. In business, he said, he merely carries out the dictates of his daily prayers. Each morning as he recites the opening line of the Shema Yisrael prayer (which he did on the spot), he affirms the singular unity of God: the God he worships in the synagogue is the same God who inhabits his home and who presides over his business. One God alone informs all that he does.”
Aaron Feuerstein demonstrated that he did not live a schizophrenic existence where one part of his life is guided by the principles of capitalism and another part of his life is guided by the principles of the Torah. He developed a unified self through allowing the principles of the Torah to guide “all” of his life.
Have a Unifying Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen for “Hazon-Our Universal Vision” Jan 7, 2009
Source: Adapted and supplemented by Yerachmiel Tilles from various sources in honor of the first yahrzeit of Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen on Shabbat, 4 Cheshvan (Oct. 20, 2012).
Connection: Weekly Reading-exactly opposite to the business practices in Sodom.
Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.