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Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution Paperback – 1 Jul 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler (1 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605093106
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605093109
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.1 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 464,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"This magnificent book is a kind of recipe for how civilization might cope with its too-big-to-fail problem. It's a hardheaded, clear-eyed, and therefore completely moving account of what a different world might look like--what it already does look like in enough places that you will emerge from its pages inspired to get involved."--Bill McKibben, author of "Deep Economy""This book is not only brilliant but also tremendously important. It's one of those rare books that opens our eyes to the fact that something we've taken for granted is actually intrinsically destructive and can be replaced by alternative, healthier forms of organization. I found it exhilarating."--Fritjof Capra, physicist and author of "The Tao of Physics" and "The Hidden Connections""As a serial entrepreneur who's started three traditional shareholder-owned businesses, I know from experience what's wrong with that model. The future belongs to the alternative forms of ownership Kelly writes about. This is a book the world desperately needs."--Jeffrey Hollender, cofounder and former CEO, Seventh Generation

About the Author

Marjorie Kelly is a Fellow at Tellus Institute and Director of Ownership Strategy with Cutting Edge Capital. She consults with private companies and leads research projects for the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and others. She co-founded Corporation 20/20, a project to create the vision for the future corporation. Kelly was the co-founder and for 20 years president of Business Ethics magazine. Her writings have appeared in publications such as the Harvard Business Review, Utne Reader, Chief Executive, Tikkun, E Magazine, and Yes Magazine. Foreword Author David Korten is an author, president and founder of the People-Centered Development Forum, and board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE). He is an associate of the International Forum on Globalization and a member of the Club of Rome. Some of his bestselling titles include The Great Turning and When Corporations Rule the World. He is a regular guest on talk radio and television and a popular speaker at conferences around the world.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Dobelli TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 20 Dec. 2012
Format: Paperback
Organizations have different values and viewpoints. Some are "extractive," which means they drain the maximum financial value out of their coffers at all costs. Ownership strategy specialist Marjorie Kelly contends that the extractive nature of capitalism led to the 2008 recession because "financialized ownership" pushed the economic system beyond its tolerance. Some organizations, in contrast, are "generative" and base their structure on "sustainability, community and sufficiency." Kelly's impassioned arguments in favor of a generative, sustaining economy could strike some readers as pie in the sky, though she offers numerous real-life examples of global businesses pioneering fresh approaches to ownership. While never advocating any particular political point of view, getAbstract recommends her informed treatise to those pondering the economic future.
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This book is a little formulaic in its structure but it tackles one of the most important topics today: can businesses serve people rather than the other way round? The examples chosen are sympathetic and enlightening and the destruction of value and people by financialisation are also well drawn. If you want a deeper, more theoretical treatment, try Colin Mayer: Firm Commitment.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 26 reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
CHANGE WE CAN ACCOMPLISH 11 Jun. 2012
By Jerry D. Riley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Many of us wonder if we, our children and grand children will even have a future much less own some part of one.

Marjorie Kelly, in this important, brilliant and compelling book illuminates in her own inimitable, story telling way that all can understand, not only how we got into the financial and environmental messes we are still mired in but also how we can get out of them and how it's the system itself that is at fault and must be changed not just a few bad apples we seek to blame.

In spite of what we are told, Kelly says there is an alternative (to capitalism or socialism). She shows us that already existing generative ownership companies not only survived but many thrived during the economic meltdown caused by the extractive system.

Briefly, we the people as well as the creation itself are suffering from the cancer of our current capitalist or dominator ownership system which Kelly labels an extractive ownership system, the sole purpose of which is to extract as much wealth (=maximize corporate profits) as possible from our labor and the environment at the least possible risk (=deregulation) and least cost to itself (=lowest possible wage for us) as quickly as possible (=short term thinking and strategies). Every one else (that`s us), the environment and the future be damned. The sub prime mortgage shenanigans, the root of our current economic problems, are a classic example of the way the extractive systems create boom and bust cycles.

Kelly's solution is the generative ownership model in which everyone has an ownership stake, shares in the profits (which will not be excessive as they now frequently are) and takes responsibility not only for themselves but also their brothers and sisters world wide and the very creation itself, our environment. This is a long term, sustainable, life supporting system.

I'm so inspired and excited about the ideas in this book that I plan on spreading the word to libraries, friends and relatives, and obviously even to strangers like you; starting a book reading group and perhaps even a book signing event if it can be arranged.

Read the book! Get inspired! Spread the word! Make change happen!
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Marjorie Kelly Does It Again 25 Jun. 2012
By Peter Barnes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If you're looking for a beautifully written book that shows how we just might make our economic system fairer and more sustainable, this is it. Buy it, read it and pass it around.

I've been a fan of Marjorie Kelly since her 2001 classic, "The Divine Right of Capital." This is a brilliant sequel. It eloquently reminds us that getting ownership right is the key to solving our most pressing economic and environmental problems.

Ownership, Kelly explains, is what undergirds our economic system and tells it what to do. Right now our dominant ownership structure is the publicly traded corporation. The people who manage these corporations aren't evil; they simply do what their ownership structure requires them to do: maximize short-term return to absentee owners. The larger consequences of this behavior -- destruction of nature and community and concentration of wealth at the top -- follow inexorably from the requirements of this ownership structure. More government regulation won't sufficiently change that. If we want different outcomes, we need different ownership structures.

What such structures could look like is the thread that runs through this book. Kelly walks us through a rich diversity of alternatives: employee-owned businesses, resident-owned trailer parks, mutually-owned banks, community-owned windmills, trust-owned conservation easements, and more. Each story is interesting in its own right. Together they depict a genuine wealth-building economy that's waiting to be built.

Kelly's personal journey is interesting. For years she wrote about efforts to make corporations more "socially responsible." This book began in the same vein. In the process of writing it, however, she realized this approach was off-target. Asking publicly traded corporations not to profit-maximize "is like asking a bear to become a swan." Other ownership structures are needed.

The real challenge, Kelly notes, isn't designing new ownership models -- that has more or less been done. The more difficult task is to scale up these models so they outweigh profit-maximizing corporations. Realistically, Kelly thinks this is unlikely to happen absent a serious crisis in the corporate system. But such a crisis may not be far off, and if we plant seeds now, new ownership models could rapidly spread after the crisis occurs.

The book's closing chapter makes this argument with a nice biological metaphor. Living systems, Kelly writes, "have the ability to make sudden, creative leaps into novelty, reorganizing themselves into something wholly new. They do this when they're undergoing intolerable stress. At critical points of instability, some new way of organizing things emerges."

As an example, she cites the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, which her sister, a hydrologist, happened to study. "Scientists expected vegetation to fill in slowly from the outside," her sister told her. "Instead, they found microzones protected from the blast which extended out to meet one another." Today, three decades after the eruption, life on Mount St. Helens is more diverse and exuberant than ever.

Building alternative economic microzones is what Kelly proposes we do, and she's right. I can't think of a better way to proceed. And I do think an economic disruption of some sort is coming.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A paradigm-shifting book, just when we need it 2 July 2012
By Mitchell Shapiro - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I thought Marjorie Kelly's first book "The Divine Right of Capital," published about a decade ago, was one of the most important and paradigm-shifting books I'd ever read, and was also an easy and enjoyable read. So, when I heard about her new book, and its provocative title, I was intrigued enough to order it as soon as it was published (something I rarely do).

I'm happy to report that, after spending the subsequent decade continuing to explore key issues raised in her first book, Kelly has followed up with another very readable and important book, which I devoured in 2 days, making notes and underlining along the way.

Building solidly on foundations laid in her first book, "Owning our Future" sheds new and important light on the emerging "generative" ownership models that can take us beyond the increasingly obvious and painful dysfunction of the over-financialized "extractive" economy that not too long ago brought us to the brink of global economic collapse.

Presented from multiple and complementary perspectives, the book's narrative threads blend easily together into a clear, compelling and insight-filled drama/analysis that speaks to both the mind and the heart. One of the book's subtitles is "Journeys to a Generative Economy," and you really do get a sense reading it that you're traveling through a new frontier with Kelly, who reminds me of an explorer mapping and charting new terrain, to the benefit of those eager to move beyond the extractive economy, but not sure how to proceed, or where it will lead.

In addition to describing a range of models (including real-world case studies), Kelly spends a fair amount of time discussing the core characteristics shared by generative ownership models, something that readers should find helpful, whether they have a very practical focus or are interested economics and human systems/organizational theory (I fall into both categories).

The timing of the book is near-perfect, since, in the decade since publication of "The Divine Right of Capital," the "extractive" economy has demonstrated with painful clarity that it cannot lead us forward to a brighter and more prosperous future. And, while we may have pulled back from the edge of financial collapse, we remain still-too-near-the-edge, and without a clear sense of direction for reaching a more prosperous future. Kelly's new book gives us a map and a compass--and a strong shot of inspiration--to help us get moving in the right direction.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Inspirational Examples for Those Seeking a Salubrious Economy 31 July 2012
By James Mcritchie - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Marjorie Kelly is the rarest of authors, discussing some of the most difficult problems we face but doing so through an easily understood narrative of her own search for answers that is bound to draw in readers from a wide variety of backgrounds. Her analysis is insightful and the recommendations contained in Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution should strike a chord with most, regardless of their political persuasion. We all want a better future for our children. Kelly is pointing in the right direction to make that happen.

Maximizing income for the few has become the focus of modern corporations. By 2004, financial firms took in nearly 40% of all U.S. profits, while manufacturing got just 5%. At root was debt and speculation. The top 1% came to own more than 50% of all the assets in the US and 70% of financial assets. We have built a house of cards where the financial economy is 4 times as large as the GDP and the derivatives economy is ten times GDP. These are bets on bets by "prudent persons," or as I like to call them "lemmings," since as long as they follow the same cliff jumping behavior of most other fiduciaries, they won't be liable. Lower average market returns have only added to the derivatives frenzy.

In the twenty years preceding the 2008 bust, 56% of the growth in U.S. income went to the wealthiest 1%. According to Kelly, "If you take the more radical stance of standing inside the law and ask how to change the profit maximization mandate-which we at Corporation 20/20 explored at length- you find yourself in the sunless thicket of corporate governance... Few who enter that thicket emerge with sanity intact."

She certainly makes those of us in the corporate governance industrial complex think twice. Kelly is looking for a shift in corporate purpose and organization, from seeking dominion to seeking community. As she says, "The right to make a living comes before the right to make a killing... fairness for the many is more important than maximizing by the few... sustaining the prosperity of larger living systems, both human and wild, is the root condition for the flourishing of all."

Fairness, sustainability and community are the fundamental values of a "generative economy." Kelly also endorses cooperative principles, which she notes include: open membership, democratic member control, cooperation among cooperatives, and concern for community. I used to head California's Cooperative Development Program, so I recognized immediately that Kelly left out autonomy and independence, economic participation and return, as well as member education. Of course, the list is endlessly reformed but I think those three are worth preserving and including in her future analysis.

I gradually moved more to the mainstream after I saw the collapse of the Berkeley and Palo Alto co-ops. Kelly appears to have moved in the opposite direction after the collapse of Wall Street, while acknowledging that cooperatives have a hard time raising capital from outside investors and banks.

Kelly may want to draw from Paul Bernstein's book Workplace Democratization, where he outlines six elements necessary for a democratic workplace. They appear compatible with Kelly's tentative model of generative ownership, would add to her model, and could be modified to include stakeholders beyond employees and traditional shareowners.

-Participation in decision-making
-Economic return
-Sharing management level information
-Guaranteed Individual rights
-Independent Judiciary
-A participatory/democratic consciousness

Ethics training, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and sustainability programs too often don't alter company purpose. For that, we need to redesign governance structures but, perhaps having seen corporate governance as a "sunless thicket," she admonishes her readers to start with positive models, rather than emphasizing reform of existing monolithic structures. The real energies of a system can't easily organize themselves around a negative, she reasons. We are best inspired by examples and dreams of the positive. "We need a need a positive vision of generative design that is so strong, it exerts it[s] own magnetic power, drawing people in - just as the vision of democracy has magnetized people around the world."

Kelly touts benefit corporations, since their broader purpose is baked into governing legal documents. Those with a living stake in the firm, such as employees and initial direct investors, should have more voting power than those who purchase stock on secondary markets. One of her examples of generative companies, the UK's John Lewis Partnership (JLP), "corrects an oddity in our economy that we rarely notice: that in extractive enterprise, the people who go to a company every day and do its work, the employees, are considered outsiders. Those who never set foot in the place, the stockholders, are insiders."

JLP is rooted in a living purpose, serving a broad base of human needs, embodied in its employees. Mission-controlled governance is reflected in JLP's constitution and employee-elected councils.

Additional examples include the New York Times, where the Ochs-Sulzberger family holds super-voting shares, and Novo Nordisk's mission to defeat diabetes -- balancing financial, social and environmental needs through a corporate structure controlled by a foundation. Equal Exchange, a fair trade employee owned coffee and chocolate company, has governing documents, which stipulate that if the company is ever sold, net proceeds must be donated to charity.

An "age wave" of ownership transfer is coming as baby boomers retire and sell their businesses. Kelly's hope is that many will transition to employee ownership, benefit corporations or foundation control. If you are in that position, the National Center for Employee Ownership and Ownership Associates can help with that transition. Substantial tax breaks are available.

I embrace Kelly's vision, as I think almost anyone who reads her book will do, and I acknowledge we need shining examples of corporations run with a human and ecological purpose. However, Kelly is also a realist: "Ultimately, we will need to change the operating system at the heart of major corporations. But if we begin there, we will fail. The place to begin is with what's doable, what's enlivening - and points toward bigger wins in the future. The place to begin is with advancing generative alternatives... Social enterprise initiatives are taking root at places like Harvard, Yale and Oxford, with funding from people like Jeff Skoll, former president of eBay."

I do have a few quibbles with this fantastic book. As one who toils daily "in the sunless thicket of corporate governance," I feel like I'm getting it from both sides. Directors at the Silicon Valley chapter of the NACD tell me they will no longer serve on boards unless dual-class stock ownership structures insulate management from the irrational demands of proxy advisors and shareowners. Now, Kelly is telling me that we need dual class stock ownership so that companies can stay on mission.

Do we really want a model that limits participation and input in our attempt to create a more salubrious environment? I'd bet Murdoch, who also dual-class voting shares to maintain control of Newscorp, sees his own form of tyranny as "mission-controlled governance" embodying a greater "living purpose." What about the Waltons? The Walton family wealth is as large as the bottom 48.8 million families (constituting 41.5 percent of all American families) combined. Walmart is driven by a living purpose: "saving people money to help them live better"

Kelly, as she pointed out brilliantly in The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy, says that 95% of what passes for investing is really trading in secondary markets and is more akin to gambling. Yes, she has a point but what about a homeowner who built their house selling to a subsequent owner? The new owner didn't create the house but the value of their house in the future will depend, at least in part, on how well they maintain it... not only the house itself but the neighborhood around it. Sure, there is gambling involved but the new owner's actions as an owner can have real impacts on future value. It is the same for shareowners and companies.

Organizing around the pursuit of wealth can lead people to view others as competitors, instead of feeling empathy. After their basic needs are met many of us turn to more important needs, such as efficacy, connectedness, autonomy and authenticity. I hope everyone gets there... especially CEOs, who too frequently measure their worth in dollars instead of contributions to their larger community.

As a quick aside: Why "generative," with its basis in offspring or producing power? I'd rather see a "salubrious" economy, promoting health and welfare. Aren't we already generative enough? Isn't our generative economy filling up the seas and skies with garbage.

Building an economy that works for all is a huge job. It will take shining examples of cooperatives, of companies like Novo Nordisk, controlled by a foundation with a noble task, and many more. Kelly's effort to document an emerging generative economy should be hailed. However, it will also take shareowners struggling for democratic forms of corporate governance from within. This is a battle for hearts and minds that will be fought on many fronts.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Life's Persistent Questions 18 Jun. 2012
By tom abeles - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Ten years ago, Marjorie Kelly published "The Divine Right of Capital" which was a tightly reasoned argument against the egregious returns that segments of the population realized from the stock markets without adding significantly, over time, to the value of the underlying corporation and those who worked there. Today, the "Hedgehog" has become the "Fox" who now understands that there are many ways around the market and those whom the "Occupy Wall Street" movement describes as the 1% whose share of the wealth dwarfs the other 99%. "Owning Our Future" is Kelly's attempt to answer one of "Life's Persistent Questions" of how the game of economics can become more equitable.

The beauty of this second volume, Owning Our Future, is Marjorie's journey to a variety of enterprises which exhibit possibilities for change in the system, "poco-a poco". This is also its weakness in that, in a wired world, many examples not covered exist outside of the North American and European spheres and are indirectly influenced by and influence this knowledge. Also, most of the examples are contemporary with little nod to the fact that these ideas and models, in various embodiments, like the game, "Whack-A-Mole", have risen, fallen and risen again, over time.

Of importance, here, is the fact that Kelly, towards the end, starts to suggest answers for the average person who wants to find ways to invest for a future without being caught by trying to find a pseudo-screened investment vehicle which never is "clean" and which can never escape the investment bankers who, like a Hindu deity, seems to have more outstretched hands than one can count.

Additionally, several of the enterprises that Marjorie describes have tackled one of the more persistent problems, succession in the business- what happens when the founder with the vision leaves or there are future generations. How does one protect what is vested with the current and future workers.

In order to appreciate the examples Kelly describes and to dig out the "lessons learned" one has to steer between the Scylla of Marjorie's " folksy road trip" style and the Charybdis of her faux erudition quoting "systems thinking" and "complexity theory". The meat is in the examples and her ability to capture the essence.

But, as the cliché goes, there be dragons here. The first of these, where the tip of the iceberg is showing in the current economic melt down, is that each of the examples arose in a particular context and exist in the larger socio/economic matrix. Most of these call for a more stable and less consumptive set of life expectations. What happens when we need to confront a world where the GDP is hit twice -first, the loss due to the realignment of the financial sector, and second, there is a global decrease in the consumption of goods and services. Most of the examples, as one building cooperative makes clear, also depend on a level of consumption that may not be off set by price adjustments. We may be looking at intentional life-style stratification as exemplified by Stephenson's A Diamond Age.

The second issue, exemplified by those promulgating the "slow money" movement, starts to imply a less mobile life style. In the US, where there is no universal health care, people stay in jobs because of this type of benefit. The models which Kelly select suggests that, at least in today's world, these new ownership enterprises do not have a fungible model for equity transfer or method of liquefaction.

It is not clear whether these businesses emphasize "community" or whether this is Marjorie's predilection. But one gets the sense that the enterprises explored are built on a high degree of trust and have much in common with the idea, though loosely, of an extended family. In other words, the idea is less citizen mobility, much like agriculture, mining or fishing where folks are "tied" to the land or the resources. The wired, mobile, world of the knowledge worker is nowhere to be found.

Again the ramification of these various enterprises can be a double-edged sword. Several of the examples, such as Novo Nordisk, in Scandinavia, are imbedded in a different culture than, for example, a retail business such as JLP in Britain. And some, like the Grameen Bank, may fail due to culture differences or human frailty when cloned.

The one solution to "Wall Street" and the 1% is a different type of investment in these new enterprise models where investors receive either debt instruments or the equivalent of preferred stock which guarantees a return on and a return of equity with little voice and no appreciation or the capital (unless, of course, as with bonds, there is a secondary market). But, essentially, Kelly's implications are that this will basically strip out the "Wall Street" middle with their fees and speculative drive to optimize shareholder value over that of those in the enterprise.

Once one strips out the social persiflage and bow to the "new science" for validation, one has the first steps to move beyond Kelly's "Divine Right" volume of a decade ago. As T.S. Eliot wrote:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
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