Let us review some often-neglected basics. Business is a game of cash flow. The ultimate goal is to maximize the free cash available to owners by getting the company to exchange utilities for the cash offered by customers. A lot of actors are important in business, but the two undeniable star performers are customers, who provide the cash, and owners, who appropriate that cash.

All the politically correct chatter about the rights of multiple stakeholders tends to obscure this bedrock truth. And because it obscures the basics, this pseudo-egalitarian rhetoric inevitably understates the importance of customers. Think about it in terms of the Gilbert and Sullivan line: “When everyone is somebody, then no one is anybody.” If the business exists equally for the benefit of all stakeholders — be they employees, managers, and suppliers as well as owners and customers — then it does not really exist for any of the above.

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