We are reprinting this article from The New York Times in its entirety because of its importance. Because of its length it will appear in four parts. This is Part One.
The article seems significant to us because it allows our readers to see the heads of America’s major corporations as fallible human beings whose ethical choices we may sometimes support. The article is a veritable Who’s Who of today’s leading CEOs.
By DAVID GELLES, August 20, 2017 for The New York Times
The nation has split into political tribes. The culture wars are back, waged over transgender rights and immigration. White nationalists are on the march.
Amid this turbulence, a surprising group of Americans is testing its moral voice more forcefully than ever: C.E.O.s.
After Nazi-saluting white supremacists rioted in Charlottesville, Va., and President Trump dithered in his response, a chorus of business leaders rose up this past week to condemn hate groups and espouse tolerance and inclusion. And as lawmakers in Texas tried to restrict the rights of transgender people to use public bathrooms, corporate executives joined activists to kill the bill.
These and other actions are part of a broad recasting of the voice of business in the nation’s political and social dialogue, a transformation that has gained momentum in recent years as the country has engaged in fraught debates over everything from climate change to health care.
Mary T. Barra of General Motors
In recent days, after the Charlottesville bloodshed, the chief executive of General Motors, Mary T. Barra, called on people to “come together as a country and reinforce values and ideals that unite us — tolerance, inclusion and diversity.”
Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan
Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan said, “The equal treatment of all people is one of our nation’s bedrock principles.”
Doug McMillon of Walmart
Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, criticized Mr. Trump by name for his handling of the violence in Charlottesville, and called for healing.
And in a rebuke to the president, who suggested that both the racist groups and the counterprotesters marching in Charlottesville were to blame for the violence there, a wave of chief executives who had agreed to advise Mr. Trump quit his business advisory councils, leading to the dissolution of two groups.
The forthright engagement of these and other executives with one of the most charged political issues in years — the swelling confidence of a torch-bearing, swastika-saluting, whites-first movement — is “a seminal moment in the history of business in America,” said Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation and a board member at PepsiCo.
Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation
“In this maelstrom, the most clarifying voice has been the voice of business,” he said. “These C.E.O.s have taken the risk to speak truth to power.”
This transformation didn’t happen overnight. Chief executives face a constellation of pressures, and speaking up can create considerable uncertainty. Customers can be offended, colleagues can feel isolated and relations with lawmakers can suffer. Words and actions can backfire, resulting in public relations disasters. All this as a chief executive is expected to constantly grow sales.
Even this past week, it was easy to discern careful calculations made by executives who chose to speak out against Mr. Trump. Many faced calls to resign from the presidential advisory councils, and the prospect of boycotts if they did not.
But they also faced notable and new kinds of pressure from within — from employees who expect or encourage their company to stake out positions on numerous controversial social or economic causes, and from board members concerned with reputational issues. In the past week, business leaders have responded with all-staff memos and town-hall meetings.
In short, while companies are naturally designed to be moneymaking enterprises, they are adapting to meet new social and political expectations in sometimes startling ways.
Howard Schultz of Starbucks
“Not every business decision is an economic one,” said Howard Schultz, the chairman of Starbucks, who was one of the country’s first company leaders to proactively address social issues. “The reason people are speaking up is that we are fighting for what we love and believe in, and that is the idealism and the aspiration of America, the promise of America, the America that we all know and hold so true.”
To be continued