The Business Roundtable (BRT) is a nonprofit association based in Washington, D.C. whose members are chief executive officers of major United States companies. Unlike the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose members are entire businesses, BRT members are exclusively CEOs. BRT promotes public policy favorable to business interests such as NAFTA, while also promoting broader public policy initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and opposing others such as the Trump administration's family separation policy. In 2019, BRT redefined its definition of the purpose of a corporation, putting the interests of employees, customers, suppliers and communities on par with shareholders. BRT members include Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, and Mary Barra of General Motors.
In 1972, the March Group, co-founded by Alcoa chairman John D. Harper (April 6, 1910 - 26 July 1985) and General Electric CEO Fred Borch, the Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable, founded by retired U.S. Steel CEO Roger Blough, and the Labor Law Study Group (LLSG) merged to form the Business Roundtable.
The March Group consisted of chief executive officers who met informally to consider public policy issues; the Construction Users Anti-Inflation Roundtable was devoted to containing construction costs; and the Labor Law Study Committee was largely made up of labor relations executives of major companies. Harper was the newly founded group's first president, followed by Thomas Murphy of General Motors, Irving Shapiro of DuPont, then Clifford Garvin of Exxon.
In 2010, The Washington Post characterized the group as President Obama's "closest ally in the business community."
On August 19, 2019, the group updated its decades-old definition of the purpose of a corporation, doing away with its bedrock principle that shareholder interests must be placed above all else. The statement, signed by nearly 200 chief executive officers from major U.S. corporations, makes a "fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders," including customers, employees, suppliers and local communities.
The Business Roundtable played a key role in defeating an anti-trust bill in 1975 and a Ralph Nader plan for a consumer protection agency in 1977. It also helped dilute the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act. But the Roundtable's most significant victory was in blocking labor law reform that sought to strengthen labor law to make it more difficult for companies to intimidate workers who wanted to form unions. The AFL-CIO produced a bill in 1977 that passed the House. But the Roundtable voted to oppose the bill, and through its aggressive lobbying, it prevented the bill's Senate supporters from rounding up the 60 votes in the Senate necessary to withstand a filibuster.
In fiscal policy, the Roundtable was responsible for broadening the 1985 tax cuts signed into law by Ronald Reagan, lobbying successfully for sharp reductions in corporate taxes. In trade policy, it argued for opening foreign markets to American trade and investment. The Omnibus Trade Act of 1988 reflected the thinking of the Business Roundtable. In 1990, the Roundtable urged George Bush to initiate a free trade agreement with Mexico. In 1993, the Roundtable lobbied for NAFTA and against any strong side agreements on labor and the environment. It provided the money and leadership for the main pro-NAFTA lobby.
The Roundtable also successfully opposed changes in corporate governance that would have made boards of directors and CEOs more accountable to stockholders. In 1986, the Roundtable convinced the Securities and Exchange Commission to forgo new rules on merger and acquisitions, and in 1993 convinced President Clinton to water down his plan to impose penalties on excessive executive salaries. Citicorp CEO, John Reed, chairperson of the Roundtables Accounting Task Force, argued that Clinton's plan would have had negative effects on U.S. competitiveness. The Roundtable's Health, Welfare, and Retirement Income Task Force, chaired by Prudential Insurance CEO Robert C. Winters, cheered President Bush's plan, which consisted mainly of subsidies to the health care industry. The nation's health care system works well for the majority of Americans, the Roundtable announced in a June 1991 statement. "We believe the solutions lie not in tearing down the present system, but in building upon it."
It has issued press releases, submitted editorials, given congressional testimony, and distributed position advertisements. After the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was signed into law in January 2002, the Roundtable issued a press release stating that it had "strongly supported passage of the legislation" and was "actively working with states on implementation."
The Business Roundtable also acts as a major lobby that aims to extend or maintain administrators' rights/power in large companies. For example, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission adopted the so-called "shareholders' access to proxy" rule, which aimed to empower shareholders in the proposition and nomination of administrators of big corporations. The Business Roundtable was strongly against that rule, as its president John Castellani reported to The Washington Post about removing this rule: "this is our highest priority [...] Literally all of our members have called about this". And they got the upper hand: the SEC rule was finally dropped after intense lobbying and lawsuits.
In June 2018, Business Roundtable issued a statement urging the White House "Administration to end immediately the policy of separating accompanied minors from their parents," and condemned the practice as "cruel and contrary to American values." Authored by the organization's Immigration Committee chairman, Chuck Robbins, the statement also commended bipartisan lawmakers for working together to reform immigration policies, and was widely supported by the Business Roundtable chair and membership.
The Business Roundtable wrote a letter to members of the House strongly endorsing the Customer Protection and End User Relief Act (H.R. 4413; 113th Congress). According to the Business Roundtable letter, a survey of chief financial officers and corporate treasurers "underscores the urgent need for the end-user provisions" in this bill because "eighty-six percent of respondents indicated the fully collateralizing over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives would adversely impact business investment, acquisitions, research and development, and job creation." The letter concluded that the Business Roundtable "supports efforts to increase transparency in the derivatives markets and enhance financial stability for the U.S. economy through thoughtful new regulation while avoiding needless costs."
On August 19, 2019, the Business Roundtable released a new "Statement on the purpose of a Corporation." Signed by nearly 200 chief executive officers including Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Apple's Tim Cook, General Motors' Mary Barra and Oracle's Safra Catz, the group seeks to "move away from shareholder primacy," a concept that had existed in the group's principles since 1997, and move to "include commitment to all stakeholders." It notes that "business play a vital role in the economy" because of jobs, fostering innovation and providing essential services. But it places shareholder interests on the same level as those of customers, employees, suppliers and communities. "Each of our stakeholders is essential," the statement says. "We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country."
Former US secretary of labor and professor of public policy at Berkeley University, Robert Reich, accused both Corporate social responsibility, and the Business Roundtable's commitment to it, of being a "con". Citing Jeff Bezos, Mary Barra and Dennis Muilenburg (former Boeing CEO), all Business Roundtable's members, Reich criticized their respective companies' recent decisions: Whole Foods, an Amazon subsidiary, announced the intention to cut medical benefits for its entire part-time workforce; Mary Barra, despite GM's hefty profits and large tax breaks, rejected worker's demands that GM raise their wages and stop outsourcing their jobs; Muilenburg could walk away from Boeing with $60m of severance pay, the 737 Max scandal notwithstanding.
Members of the board of directors include Jamie Dimon, Mary Barra, Michael S. Burke (AECOM), Safra Catz, Mark Costa (Eastman Chemical Company), Lynn Good, Alex Gorsky, Greg Hayes, Marillyn Hewson, Tom Linebarger, Kevin Lobo (Stryker Corporation), Doug McMillon, Larry Merlo, Dennis Muilenburg, Douglas L. Peterson, Chuck Robbins, Ginni Rometty, Arne Sorenson, Randall L. Stephenson, Mark Sutton (International Paper), and Mark Weinberger.