Everybody knows the old maxim, “All politics is local.”

Some people-executives of big global companies among
them-don’t seem to realize that means all business is local, too. Surveying
their globe-spanning domains from lofty office roosts, they tend to believe
they do business in “the world” as opposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of
localities, each with its own peculiar concerns.

It adds up to a vast web of tripwires that an
unsuspecting corporation headquartered on the other side of the world can
stumble into. Step on one, and the concussion can rattle the windows all the
way back to the home office.

Recently, three big corporations based elsewhere have
learned the hard way that disregarding local concerns in our area can damage
their businesses.

British oil giant BP PLC ignored Illinois
in planning an expansion of its Whiting, Ind., refinery that would lead to more
pollution in Lake Michigan. BP apparently
didn’t understand how Chicagoans treasure the lake. An uproar led by Illinois politicians
forced London-based BP to back down last week, but not before the episode
ripped a hole in its carefully crafted public image as the oil company that
cares about the environment.

Also last week, Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America
Corp. paid the price for stiff-arming local community groups worried about how
its buyout of Chicago‘s
LaSalle Bank will affect neighborhood lending. Woodstock Institute, a respected
housing advocacy group in Chicago,
released a study predicting the acquisition will claim 10,500 local jobs. The
resulting headlines were just what B of A doesn’t need as it tries to make
customers of more Chicagoans.

Then there’s Macy’s Inc. The New York-based retail chain
wouldn’t give an inch to locals who hoped the Marshall Field’s name might
survive in some fashion after Macy’s acquired Field’s parent company. Lo and
behold, Macy’s recently disclosed that its business unit that includes the
former Field’s stores is struggling.

There’s a lesson here for all companies-including those
based in Chicago-with
far-flung operations: Treat every town you do business in like your hometown.