When my colleague Fred Smith started the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Advancing Capitalism, his goal was to get more business leaders involved in the fight for economic freedom. This came as a surprise to many people outside the world of politics and public policy, who were under the impression that every business executive and CEO in the country was already a fire-breathing free-market evangelist. In reality, most business leaders are apt to leave politics to the politicians and focus on the day-to-day management needs of their companies rather than the fight for a free economy.
Some CEOs, however, seem to have more hours in the day than others. Such is the case of Karen Wright, the head of Ariel Corporation, a leading maker of natural gas compressors. Leading this successful American manufacturing company since 2001, she has carved out a role as an advocate for her industry and her convictions. When she joined our staff and supporters for CEI Summit 2020 earlier this year, Wright sat down for an in-depth conversation with CEI President Kent Lassman. The result in the new paper published today, the fifth in our Profiles in Capitalism series, “The Role of the Business Leader in Public Affairs and Philanthropy.”
During that wide-ranging interview, Wright talked about her history with the company her father founded, the importance of affordable energy, how to manage a highly cyclical business, and how she’s contributed to the renewal of her beloved hometown of Mount Vernon, Ohio. Like many wealth and job creators before her, she expressed some frustration with how successful businesses are miscast in the public imagination:
What really bugs me is that the success of this business is considered, by many people on the left, as wrong and evil. We have 2,000 employees directly—but if you look at our customers and our supply base combined, that’s probably 100,000 people that are employed as a result of this business that started with one person thinking of a good idea and making it real. I mean, that’s a lot of people taught to fish. It’s a huge impact.
Fortunately, Wright has little time to sit around and complain. Between her public philanthropy, industry leadership with the American Petroleum Institute, and nonprofit leadership on the board of the State Policy Network, she’s busy working to ensure a better, freer, more prosperous tomorrow.
Read the full conversation with between Ariel Corporation CEO Karen Wight and CEI President Kent Lassman (with my introduction) here.