Balancing stakeholder value is a challenge for every business leader. This is especially true for public companies, who have to contend with the ever-present scrutiny of financial analysts, acting on behalf of the investing public (or so the theory goes.) Some companies do very well at this, and others receive more critical reviews. But private companies also have to manage these often diverse interests. While some business observers contend that owners/investors interests predominate (e.g. H. James Harrington, in his article “The Organization’s Stakeholders: Resource or Obligation?”), it is my experience that there is only one correct view of this mix of stakeholder interests: The customers’ interests ALWAYS, ALWAYS come first. Notice that I did not say that customer demands come first, or customer requirements come first, or even that customer satisfaction comes first.
Knowing what is in the best long-term interest of the customer is the most important marketing challenge facing any corporate executive. Putting that customer interest first is the most important leadership challenge facing executives.
Investors’ interests are best served when their companies build value. Great companies build value by prioritizing their customers’ interests ahead of everything else.