BOSTON — In today’s corporate world where profits triumph all and where social responsibility initiatives are often little more than marketing gimmicks, Arnold Hiatt: Turning Business into a Force for Good is a welcome reminder that there is another way.
This is the first biography of Arnold Hiatt, Stride Rite CEO during its boom years, social and political activist, and a philanthropist who used his bully pulpit to call for corporate support of early childhood education and social issues decades before others.
Hiatt launched the nation’s first on-site corporate childcare center and later the nation’s first intergenerational center, promoted women to senior leadership positions years before anyone had heard of a glass ceiling, and encouraged his employees to take time off with pay to volunteer in distressed neighborhoods.
He sacrificed some of his own stock options in order to convince the Board of Directors to invest an unheard of 10 percent of pre-tax profits into the Stride Rite Foundation which provided millions of dollars to fund scholarship programs to encourage college student to consider careers in public service as well as nonprofit organizations, mostly those supporting children and community outreach initiatives.
“Business is the most powerful force in our society – particularly if it is willing to accept moral, civic, and financial leadership. Business has the tools, the energy, and the will to fill the growing leadership vacuum in government,” he said at a conference at the President Reagan Presidential Library in 2002.
The corporate world is just beginning to follow Hiatt’s lead. In recent months, the Business Roundtable called for businesses to support high-quality early childhood education and the heads of nearly 150 companies signed a letter urging the Senate to act to curb gun violence.
Hiatt is widely recognized for turning the Stride Rite Corporation into one of the most admired and successful companies in the United States in the last half of the 20th century.
Virtually every toddler and child in the country seemed to wear Stride Rite or Keds shoes, and the company’s value skyrocketed – a $100,000 investment in1984 was worth $1.4 million less than eight years later.
This inspirational story tells the story of a man who dropped out of Harvard to join the Merchant Marine, bought a bankrupt shoe company when he was only 24, turning it into such a success that Stride Rite made him an offer too good to refuse.
He left Stride Rite after only a few months (he later returned) to become treasurer of the presidential campaign of Sen. Eugene McCarthy, a leading opponent of the Vietnam War. That experience launched a lifetime of involvement in progressive political causes.
Hiatt has been one of the more influential individuals in the country for more than 30 years in aggressively pushing and supporting campaign finance reform.
He was one of the two co-founders of Business for Social Responsibility, the largest non-governmental organization in the world that works with corporations in developing and implementing standards for child labor, health, safety, the environment, working conditions and women’s rights.
Arnold Hiatt: Turning Business into a Force for Good also offers new information on some of Hiatt’s least publicized activities, including his important behind-the-scenes role in seeking to recover the stolen artwork from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, serving as mentor to one of the nation’s leading chefs, and his pivotal work in launching Business for Social Responsibility.
This biography by Barry Wanger is based on more than 30 interviews with Hiatt and those who worked with him on his corporate and charitable endeavors, access to corporate and personal records, and a review of extensive media coverage of Hiatt and Stride Rite.
The author will donate 25 percent of book sales to Mila Milagros, a program in Guatemala designed to improve children’s health care and education and combat hunger and malnutrition. The book is available at Lulu.com, Amazon.com as well as selected bookstores.