March 5, 2021

Is there a better way of doing business?

In 1995, I was a cub reporter at The Wall Street Journal covering small businesses and venture capital. I thought it was the best job in journalism, writing about entrepreneurs and their backers, but my work wasn’t exactly front-page stuff. The Journal, like the corporate leaders and investors it served, valued news about the public markets, scoops on companies such as General Electric and AT&T, and profiles of star CEOs who maximized profits for their shareholders.

The cover of Fast Company’s debut issue, in 1995, established the New Rules of Business.

That same year, editors Bill Taylor and Alan Webber, entrepreneurs in their own right, unveiled a new magazine with a thoroughly different view of capitalism. “We want to shape the conversation about business at its best and the real meaning of success,” they wrote in the premiere issue of Fast Company, published 25 years ago this month. Taylor and Webber weren’t peddling soft news—they cut their teeth at Harvard Business Review—but they also weren’t primarily interested in what moved the markets. They wanted to throw out big ideas, highlight the importance of human connections in the workplace (even as they extolled technological achievement), and explore the role of business in society.

Corporate culture has, in many ways, come around to Taylor and Webber’s vision. Unrelenting income and racial inequalities, worsening climate change, and a global health crisis are forcing companies to rethink their place in the world. Some of the organizations that rushed to address COVID-19 are recognized in our Innovation by Design Awards, featured in this issue. Fast Company has been honoring design change makers since 2004, when then editor-in-chief John Byrne launched the annual Masters of Design package. My predecessor, Robert Safian, expanded the program in 2011 to honor innovators and businesses using design to solve big problems—a mandate that seems especially urgent this year.

Motivated by a similar imperative, we gathered members of the Fast Company Impact Council, entrepreneurs and executives from different industries and disciplines, to offer a road map for business leaders for the next 25 years. Their New New Rules of Business, which appear in this issue, call for companies to be more humane and to put innovation and corporate responsibility at the center of their business.

I’m not so naive as to think that most companies will choose the planet over profit, nor will many CEOs rethink their lavish pay packages. But I am heartened that so many executives are initiating conversations about equity, sustainability, and long-term thinking. Perhaps in a few years—let’s hope it isn’t 25!—our New New Rules of Business will feel de rigueur, and Fast Company will have to draft even more ambitious guidelines.

Postscript: I eventually took a job reporting on telecom companies at The Wall Street Journal, before assuming writing and editing roles at Fortune, Bloomberg Media, and Vanity Fair. Twenty-five years later—and almost three years into my stint working with Fast Company’s outstanding editorial, creative, and publishing teams—I once again think I have the best job in journalism.

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