FSC Launches Center for Free Enterprise

Mar 14, 2014

by Cary McMullen | Publications editor

Florida Southern’s Center for Free Enterprise got an official send-off on March 12 with an inaugural program that included a keynote address by former U.S. Senator Alan K. Simpson.

The Center for Free Enterprise is a program within the Barney Barnett School of Business and Free Enterprise at Florida Southern College that is committed to the study and promotion of the economic philosophy of free enterprise, including the ideals of equity and ethical business leadership.

The event was attended by about 300 business and government leaders from across the state. A presentation about the Center was followed by a luncheon and a panel discussion.

Simpson served as the Republican senator from Wyoming from 1979 to 1997 and has continued to participate in the public arena, serving as co-chairman, with Erskine Bowles, of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. In his address, he called upon the audience of area business people, students, faculty, and friends of the college to become more involved in government.

“I say to young people, get in the game because my generation has given up on them,” he said. “Politics is not a spectator sport. We need to get out among human beings and get our hands dirty and try to shore up this battered world.”

In speaking of free enterprise, Simpson commended the philanthropic example of entrepreneurs like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and lamented the culture of selfishness that has become common recently.

“I don’t see a lot of people giving back,” he said.

Dr. H. Fisk Johnson, CEO and chairman of the board of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., was awarded the Center’s inaugural Prize for Economic Freedom. The prize, to be awarded annually, is given to a person who best exemplifies the principles of liberty, equity, and capitalism that undergird the free enterprise system.

In 2011, Johnson was named the 77th Honorary Chancellor of Florida Southern College and awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. In presenting the prize to Johnson, Florida Southern President Anne Kerr said he continues the legacy of such prominent capitalists as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford.

“As a scientist, a revered corporate leader, a visionary, and a humanitarian, Dr. Johnson epitomizes the best of American free enterprise,” she said.

Johnson, the fifth-generation member of his family to lead the 127-year-old company, called the prize “a wonderful honor” and cited the influence of his father, relating how he had been vilified because the company had operations in South Africa during the years when the government practiced apartheid, even though SC Johnson had integrated its workforce and management there.

“We could easily have pulled out of South Africa. But my father felt we could do more good by staying. Years later, when I visited our company in South Africa, the employees thanked me for not abandoning them. So in accepting this award, I do so in honor of my father and our employees in South Africa,” he said.

Dr. Derek Yonai, director of the Center for Free Enterprise and associate professor of economics at FSC, said in an opening presentation that the “ecosystem” of free enterprise flourishes where there is rule of law, limited government, and a free market

“The wedge where free enterprise can exist is small, but it is the engine for opportunity, job creation, and human flourishing. What I care about as an economist is poverty, and free enterprise helps lift the least among us,” he said.

Yonai noted that business people have been caricatured by the media and popular culture as greedy, unprincipled, and evil.

“In a 2006 survey of TV shows, you were 21 times more likely to be kidnapped or murdered by a businessman than by the mob,” he said.

Yonai also moderated a panel discussion about the place of free enterprise in modern business. Panelists included Andrew Corty, president and publisher of Florida Trend magazine; Bob Knight, founder and president of Knight Industrial Equipment of Lakeland; Chas P. Smith, founder of CPS Investment Advisors, also located in Lakeland; and Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“It was a wonderful event with a great mix of students and members of the community in attendance,” Yonai said. “The program served as a great opportunity for the Center to clearly state its core message that free enterprise and economic freedom is the engine behind human flourishing and prosperity.”

Dr. Bill Rhey, dean of the Barnett School, said in opening remarks that the Center is just the latest in a string of accomplishments that leaves the school poised to become one of the top 100 business schools in the nation.

“We are on a trajectory to position ourselves favorably in the minds of the best prospective students. We can become a school of preferred distinction,” he said.