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Tunnel Vision

May 15, 1988

I would like to comment on the April 24 "Times 100" supplement:

First, all but one of the 13 writers were male. Can there really be such a shortage of women in business journalism?

Second, and more important, the selection criteria show an appalling narrowness of vision. You claim to have selected "the best companies in California," based on the "bottom line," "number of employees," "growth" and "market value." While these criteria may define dollar profits, growth of sales, etc., they are hardly an indication of what is "best" in any other terms.

We should be asking: What are the actual products of these successful companies, who will use them, and to what end? California's economy depends on the defense industry. Even the most avid advocate of "peace through strength" will admit that sophisticated weaponry is, at best, a "necessary evil." In that light, why should a company whose product is an "evil" be considered in superlative terms?

Is it enough to employ many people? What are the working and safety conditions, benefits and hiring policies like? Is child care provided? Are people bumped into early retirement to keep costs down?

Who actually enjoys the large profits? Do they get beyond the inner circle of large investors, governments or corporate executives? Do they reach the "cheap labor" used abroad, for example, or workers at home?

Do the companies have investments or employees in oppressive or totalitarian countries? Are they polluters or do they create toxic byproducts? Do they dump inferior or unsafe products on foreign markets?

We are choked by pollution, gridlocked by overcrowding, plagued by endless miles of partially occupied industrial parks in what was once open space or farmland. We face a staggering trade deficit and are unable to compete in the global marketplace. These are some of the hidden costs of focusing on short-term growth and profit, costs not calculated in any "bottom line." The products, byproducts and attitudes of these "thriving" companies reach far beyond their employees, shareholders or physical location, well beyond the borders of California.

Shouldn't we be searching out companies whose focus, along with profitability, is a sustainable and humane world? What people do affects other people, and the planet we share. It's that simple. Isn't it time to re-evaluate what we mean by "good business"?

CYNTHIA AHLSTROM

Los Angeles

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