Newton-born businessman Arnold Hiatt was a pioneer in establishing socially responsible business practices within corporate America, according to author and historian Barry Wanger’s new book, Arnold Hiatt: Turning Business into a Force for Good.
“Hiatt opened the first on-site corporate childcare in the country,” Wanger said. “He was a leader in the campaign finance movement and worked closely with Nancy Pelosi and Bill Moyers in advocating for change.”
Wanger detailed the book at an event co-hosted by Historic Newton and the Newton Free Library on Thursday.
Hiatt was president of the footwear corporation Stride Rite from 1972 to 1992, according to Wanger. He is also well known for his role in contributing to Democratic political campaigns and his advocacy for electoral reform. According to Wanger, It is impossible to understate Hiatt’s influence on a changing corporate America and contemporary politics.
Wanger mainly sourced the information for the biography through interviews where Hiatt shared anecdotes from his childhood, business ventures, philanthropic work, political efforts, and family life, he said.
“He had so many interesting stories to tell,” Wanger said. “There are inside stories about Eugene McCarthy’s unsuccessful campaign for president, how he acquired Keds from Uniroyal for a song and then turned it into a $75 million a year business, and how he lectured Bill Clinton about the need for campaign finance reform.”
In the book, Wanger largely focused on the political aspect of Hiatt’s life. In the book he details the relationship between Hiatt and McCarthy, particularly focusing on how important Hiatt was in supporting McCarthy’s unsuccessful run for president.
“I found Hiatt’s leadership role in McCarthy’s presidential campaign particularly fascinating,” he said. “I believe McCarthy’s campaign would have never gotten off the ground without Hiatt’s financial skills.”
Wanger also focused on Hiatt’s philanthropic work in the book.
Hiatt’s philanthropic philosophy is simple, according to Wanger: do the right thing.
“There are certainly some companies, although clearly not enough, who today can be considered socially responsible,” Wanger said. “But Hiatt did it when 50 years ago when social responsibility was basically an unknown concept in the corporate world. He was a leading advocate for childcare, worked with business for social responsibility, and so many other things.”
In his book, Wanger emphasizes an overarching theme of Hiatt utilizing business as a vehicle for good. In his book, Wanger tells in intimate detail the inner workings of Hiatt’s business life, particularly with Stride Rite.
“He was a hands-on executive,” he said. “He made the final decision on all shoe models, walked the factory floors to talk to employees, and knew every single aspect of the shoe business. He would even visit Stride Rite retail stores without first identifying himself to see what worked and what didn’t.”
The aim of the presentation on the biography was to convey the multi-faceted character of Hiatt to an audience who may only be familiar with the business side of him, Wagner said.
“He saw business as an opportunity to earn a good living and later realized it could support his passion for social justice,” he said.