Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Corporate Culturism, Frances Kellor, and Gary Oberoi

Gary Oberoi is the lead trainer and CEO of my company, Starnest. One of his presentations helped me connect Frances Kellor (on whom I just completed my dissertation), culturism (my published manifesto), and my new job. Thus he combined my three great current and lasting passions. And his pep talk may have a lifelong impact on me.

Gary told us about an internet-based shoe company he toured in Las Vegas: Zappos. They gave him the royal treatment. Zappos has tried to create worker productivity and low turnover by making the employees, (likely called ‘team members’), totally content. To this end they give them free books, childcare, free food, health benefits, 24 hour, cooking facilities at some work stations, concierge service, and more. These perks allow Zappos to live up to its slogan, “powered by service.” Happy people are really much nicer to customers.

Frances Kellor (1873 – 1952), the leader of the Americanization movement, led in the effort to create what, her day, was termed ‘welfare capitalism.’ This was her form of corporate culturism. Seen as a solution to worker unrest and strikes, this effort sought to address worker’s concerns via a voice in management and great working conditions. She also protected immigrants from abuse in our society at large. These initiatives were typical of her efforts to ‘Americanize’ immigrants. Once happy and invested on our soil, people would never go back home and they would love, and be loyal to, America.

Because Kellor used this technique outside of, as well as inside of, businesses, she was not just practitioner of corporate culturism; she was a practitioner of national culturism too. Culturism counterbalances multiculturalism. My book, Culturism: A Word, A Value, Our Future, profiles many culturist heroes such as Kellor. Just as Kappos’ leaders tried to build unity and team spirit, these culturists sought to unite and improve our national culture. Noah Webster tried to knit our nation together with his dictionary containing American English spelling. Frances Scott Key’s national anthem still unites America today. And Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s attempt to unite America made him a culturist too.

Gary’s speech sent me away determined to study Zappos. This led to the research that led to my epiphany about the connection between corporate culturism, Frances Kellor, and culturism. Gary later led us on a culture-creating exercise about the power of goal setting. His handouts guided us to writing 10 goals, with dates, that he said he would make sure we would see again at the end of 2010. After reflecting on his lecture, I would like to add a goal. I wish to be a trainer or some kind of corporate culturist by late April 2010. Thus Gary’s spawning thoughts about the parallels between culturism, Frances Kellor’s work, and corporate culturism, may well impact the trajectory of my career.

John Kenneth Press, Ph.D. is the author of Founding Mother: Frances Kellor and the Quest for Participatory Democracy. has more information
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