People making a difference: Steve Korman
With the US mired in a deep recession, this CEO is challenging fellow business leaders to resist layoffs.
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"We hug every day," he says, and you believe him. Mr. Korman is also best friends with his first wife, though he's been remarried 16 years. As a kid he was best friends with his grandfather. A longtime city dweller, he's now out in the suburbs, the better to be near his eight grandchildren. This is just the tip of the Steve Korman ("it's Steve") friendship iceberg.
His wide embrace encircles pretty much everyone. When he hears of poor kids needing drums for their dance group, he buys them. When a parent needs Christmas money, he plays Santa. He's a Republican who loves President Obama. He has fed the homeless for two decades, has fought for the unfairly accused, and admits that he cries easily.
He even has props for basketball coach Jay Wright as we speak on the day Mr. Wright's Villanova team faces Korman's favorite, Duke, in the NCAA tournament. "He gets it," he says of Wright – Korman shorthand for those he thinks put people first.
No wonder, then, that Korman recoiled earlier this year when he heard Pfizer Inc. CEO Jeffrey Kindler on CNBC explaining that despite the company's $16 billion profit, it planned to cut 8,000 jobs to boost that profit to $20 billion.
"It was just so cold," Korman says, though in true Korman form, he adds, "I'm sure [Mr.] Kindler didn't mean it to sound that way." But then he returns to his point: "These are not widgets we're talking about.... These are not jobs. These are people, families.... Where are you going to go to find a job these days?"
So, as a Pfizer shareholder, Korman wrote to Kindler and to the CEOs of other companies in which he held stock. He placed ads in The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer. His message? Stop the "herd mentality" when it comes to mass layoffs. Forgo some short-term profits and stock value and keep people working. The appeal landed Korman on CNBC himself. His campaign has been the subject of print and Internet reports, and he has gotten thousands of appreciative responses. Some, like one from the CEO of the Philadelphia Zoo, planned to adopt his advice. Others, like the reply from Kindler, were less specific.