What Mr. Shark Can Learn from Mr. Congeniality

By Shlomo Maital  

Freddie Freeman

  What can Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, Mr. Shark,  learn from Atlanta Braves’ first baseman Freddie Freeman,  Mr. Congeniality?

   How to compete fiercely and be nice, at the same time. How to serve.

   Zuckerberg, in his early days, started senior management meetings by pumping his fist and shouting, “company before country”.  Facebook’s own data show how immense harm has been done to teenage girls, especially – by an algorithm built to foster our darker feelings (which makes Facebook ‘stickier’).   Grow at all cost. Trample, and/or swallow, the competition.  Facebook’s shares are now worth $930 billion – almost $1 trillion.  Mr. Shark is happy.  

   Now, consider Freddie Freeman,  2020 Most Valuable Player in the National League.  Six time over-300  hitter.  Now helping Atlanta in its division series against Milwaukee, tied 1-1.   In today’s New York Times, James Wagner recounts how Freeman plays ball.  He competes – and collaborates.  He gives tips to opposing teams’ hitters who reach first base.  He compliments them on reaching base.  He chats with them.  He has fun.  And – he competes.  This season, he batted 0.360, [that means, he got a hit more than once out of every three at-bats!], hit 31 home runs, and batted in 83 runs.   

    He told Wagner, “It doesn’t matter if it’s the biggest game in the world. If you get a base hit and you come to first base, I’m going to tell you, ‘Nice job, nice hit’.”

    I recall a study by political scientist Robert Axelrod.  He used as his vehicle the fiercely competitive Prisoner’s Dilemma game, where two hard-nosed competitors can easily destroy each other.  The best strategy, he found?   Be nice.  Be forgiving.  Be clear. 

     Zuckerberg?  Well, as Mr. Shark,  he gets one out of three. He is clear. Facebook uber alles. Freeman: 3/3.  He bats 1,000. 

      Over the decades, I have taught at many leading business schools.  Mostly, they teach their students to be sharks – company before country.  I had little luck bucking the trend.  Zuckerberg never went to bizschool.  But somehow he learned the shark stuff anyway.    

    Zuckerberg should have lunch with Freeman. And he should read about long-time Scott Paper CEO Thomas McCabe. 

    Whom do we serve?  McCabe said.  First, our customers, then our employees. Then our communities. Then, our countries.  Last, our shareholders.   Last????   In capitalism??

    McCabe explained simply:  If we serve the first four well, in the long term, we will also best serve our shareholders.  And he was right. He built Scott Paper into a thriving profitable global company.   McCabe served his country well.  He fought as a soldier in World War I.  And he served as Federal Reserve Chair, under President Truman.

      But he is forgotten, as the sharks now seem to have captured global businesses.    Very sad.