For those of us who can remember when we had no cell phones, flat-screen TVs or fax machines, it seemed like a simpler time. Social media, partisan politics and rewriting history all play a part in our collective dissatisfaction with where America and the world seem to be headed. Could the stock market play a role in our collective concerns about our future? How are we—or more accurately, corporations—driven by stock market share pricing?

We have always had the stock market. The role of the market price for a company is purported to be a look into the future of a company. We look at the share price of any stock as an indicator or barometer of how a corporation will do—or even how the nation is doing on a whole.

One hundred years ago, the market reached high levels and resulted in the 1920s being dubbed the “Roaring Twenties.” That decade came to a collapse with the crash in 1929 and led the 1930s to be known as “the Great Depression.” The 2020s have a very different feel, even when stock market shares reach record heights again. The history and recent events of Boeing’s troubles seem to put an exclamation mark on what may be a problem with more modern times.

Boeing aircraft manufacturing was founded in 1916 and quickly became a leader in aviation. In 1968, the company launched the 747, which revolutionized the commercial airline industry. It merged and/or gobbled up companies along the way as it built a reputation of innovation and quality. The slogan “If it’s not a Boeing, I am not going” became a phrase used to illustrate its pinnacle of a well-deserved reputation. Boeing was not just the envy of other aircraft manufacturers, but all companies around the world.

A Different Situation

Today, after mergers, trend shifts and strategic takeovers, there are only two major commercial aircraft manufacturers left: Boeing and Airbus. Both companies are innovative and—like all companies—must focus on innovation, quality and the bottom line. It is which bottom line they have selected to drill down on that concerns me. It seems that stock market share price is what the leadership is solely focused on. Boeing is not alone in putting profit before innovation and quality to ensure the share price of its stock is only climbing.

A share or stock price is what it would cost to buy one share in a company. The share price is not fixed, but rather fluctuates based on market conditions. It increases if the company is perceived to be doing well, and falls if it appears it is not meeting expectations. Is this really an accurate or even fair evaluation since appearances can be deceptive? Consider that many entrepreneurs start a company with an innovative idea and vision, and over time, the growth of the company results in growth. They may even retire and sell to another larger company. The road to get there is likely bumpy, but the leadership stays the path, researches, develops and pays little attention to what shareholders think or what outward appearances might be. After all, the shareholder has no idea what is really going on in the boardroom or with the top leaders of the company.

It’s in Stock

Today is similar but not the same; in the past, it did not seem to be that leaders had one eye on the company and the other eye on the share price of their stock. It was a passion to reach an ultimate goal, blended with innovation and vision. To be clear, founders rarely have the ultimate sale of the company for profit as the endgame. Similar to great actors that make a ridiculous amount of money, they did not become actors to make millions, but rather loved acting and had talent and a passion for it. Of course, talent plays a huge role in reaching that pinnacle, as it does with any endeavor.

Now, it seems CEOs and many leaders are focused on the wrong things. For-profit corporations seem singularly focused on the stock market share price at the expense of other factors. Many of these are the future of the company. This is because most company principals often have their compensation dependent on stock market share pricing. This is a huge incentive to focus on driving share prices up.

Boeing was built on innovation, quality and safety. While profit was always a concern, it was not above the first three, but rather was the result of adhering to those ideals. This is why the recent television interview with the head of the FAA was so disturbing. This person did a physical inspection in Seattle and noted that safety and quality was never mentioned and was not even a secondary thought. The focus was strictly about production rates. He was shocked, considering he was there due to a door that was blown out midflight on a Boeing plane. He thought that for sure, they would at least pretend to hold safety and quality control meetings, even if just for show. We could all learn from this. Focus on what is truly important for long-term success.