The New CEO Activists: A playbook for polarized political times
Though corporations have been lobbying the government and making campaign donations for a long time now, in recent years a dramatic new trend has emerged in U.S. politics: CEOs are taking very public stands on thorny political issues that have nothing to do with their firms' bottom lines. Business leaders like Tim Cook of Apple, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, and Marc Benioff of Salesforce--among many others--are passionately advocating for a range of causes, including LGBTQ rights, immigration, the environment, and racial equality. Not only are CEOs speaking out, but they're flexing their firms' economic muscles by threatening to move business activities out of states that pass controversial laws. But does CEO activism actually change public opinion and policies? What are its risks and rewards? And what is the playbook for leaders considering speaking out? The authors of this article examine those questions and explain the takeaways of their own research. One finding: Consumers tend to view CEO activism through the lens of their own political affiliations, so it can provoke both negative and positive responses. Nevertheless, in the age of Twitter, silence on an issue can be conspicuous--and consequential.