Until just the past few years of his career, said Mark Cuban Friday on the Main Stage of the 2020 Inc. 5000 Vision Conference, "I was go, go, go, go, go. Ready, fire, aim. And if I wasn't the most compassionate or empathetic person, that was OK, because I was on a mission."
The Dallas Mavericks owner, Shark Tank star, and serial entrepreneur followed by saying that he's changed. And times have changed. "We are in a different era now, and if an organization doesn't treat its employees with empathy, and doesn't recognize the differences and nuances in people's backgrounds, then those people are going to want to get out of there as quickly as possible." The same goes for stakeholders and customers, he added.
It was one moment in a thoughtful conversation in which Cuban made the business case for tackling issues such as income inequality and racism. He offered several useful ways to think about applying what he calls "compassionate capitalism."
1. Invest in your community.
"We are mostly a consumer-driven economy," Cuban said, "and the weaker the consumers are, the weaker our communities are, the weaker our cities are. And the weaker the people in those communities and cities are, the harder it is for any of us to do business." He described his reasoning as a virtuous circle. "If you do what you can to make your community a little stronger, not only is that the right thing to do, not only are you supporting the people that support you, but you are helping the economy for the future of your company. And the bigger your company gets, the more you can do to help."
2. Hire from your target market.
Cuban admitted that it took him a long time to learn the lesson that when you're trying to sell products to a certain community, you need to hire people from that community. "They might not have the pedigree I might have hired for in the past," he said. "But in training them you get a very loyal employee who understands a market in ways that you might not."
3. Treating everyone the same doesn't work.
As recently as a few years ago, Cuban said, "I looked at everything as a math equation. Treating people equally was treating people equally. What I said to Tom, I said to Sally. But what I've learned is that treating people equally does not mean treating them the same, because everybody is different and you are not recognizing the opportunities that come with those differences."
Cuban said he had deep conversations with many of his employees of color, who made him aware of "The Talk"--a conversation they have with their children to prepare them for situations where they encounter systemic racism. If you understand that a Black person might enter a store expecting to be eyed suspiciously, for example, you can anticipate and be more sensitive to that. "Understanding the background and needs of each individual is going to make you a better entrepreneur and a better CEO," Cuban said, "and you are going to have a more successful company."