CEOs & Business Leaders Speak Out on Voter Rights – Corporate Citizenship, USA-style On Display

April 14 2021

By Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute 

Corporate America and “Corporate Citizenship” – Today, that can mean lending the CEO and company voice to address critical societal issues in the United States of America.  Some applaud the move, while others attack the company and its leader for their position on the issues in question.   

In this context, powerful messages were delivered today from the influential leaders of the US corporate community – clearly voicing concern about the American electoral process and the rights of all qualified voters in the midst of mounting challenges to the right-to-vote. 

What the CEOs, joined by other influentials in the American society, had to say to us today:

As Americans we know that in our democracy we should not expect to agree on everything.

However – regardless of our political affiliations, we believe the very foundation of our electoral process rests upon the ability of each of us to cast our ballots for the candidates of our choice.

We should all feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and oppose any discriminatory legislation or measure that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.

Who is saying this? A list of bold name signatories in an advertisement that appears today in The New York Times and The Washington Post – these messages (these above and more) splashed across two full pages (a “double truck” in newspaper language) with a dramatic roster of prominent names from Corporate America. And prominent accounting and law firms with bold name corporate clients. And not-for-profits. And individuals. Celebrities.  People and organizations that every day in some way touch our lives. 

This advertisement certainly continues to set the foundation in place for pushback by powerful people and organizations as various state legislatures take up electoral voting measures. And pushes back against the “Big Lie” that the November 2020 elections at federal, state and local levels were widely fraudulent.

The names on the two pages jump out to capture our attention: Apple. American Express. Amazon. Dell Technologies. Microsoft. Deloitte and EY and PwC. Estee Lauder. Wells Fargo. BlackRock. American Airlines and JetBlue and United Airlines. Steelcase. Ford Motor and General Motors. Goldman Sachs. MasterCard. Vanguard. Merck. Starbucks. IBM. Johnson & Johnson. PayPal. T. Rowe Price. And many more.

CEOs including Michael R. Bloomberg (naturally!). Warren Buffett. Bob Diamond, Barclay’s. Jane Fraser, Citi. Brian Doubles, Synchrony. Brian Cornwell, Target. Roger Crandall, Mass Mutual.

Luminaries joined in as individual in support of the effort: David Geffen. George Clooney. Naomi Campbell. Larry David. Shonda Rhimes. Larry Fink. Demi Lovato. Lin-Manuel Miranda. Many more; think about the influence of their influencers in our American society in 2021.

And we see the names of these law firms: Akin Gump. Arnold Porter. Milbank. Morgan Lewis & Bockius. Fried Frank. Cleary Gottlieb. Holland and Knight. Ropes & Gray. (If you are not sure of who these firms and many more law firm signatories are, be assured that in the board room and C-suite and corporate legal offices these are very familiar names).

And the “social sector” institutions/organizations signing on include leaders of the Wharton School, Morehouse College, Spelman College, University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, NYU Stern, United Negro College Fund, Hebrew SeniorLife, and Council for Inclusive Capitalism.

The New York Times covered the story of the advertising message in an article in the Business Section – Companies Join Forces to Oppose Voting Curbs (bylined by Andrew Ross Sorkin and David Gelles). Subhead: A statement that defies the GOPs call to stay out of politics.

The effort was organized by prominent Black business leaders including Ken Chennault, until recently the highly-regarded CEO of American Express, and Ken Frazier, the also-widely-admired CEO of Merck.

Recall that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell corporations said that corporations should “stay out of politics”. The recent State of Georgia legislation addressing voting rights was a trigger for prominent corporate leaders (such as heads of Coca Cola, Delta Airlines, both headquartered in Atlanta) to criticize measures that could deter or inhibit minority voter populations from exercising their rights.  Leader McConnell reacted to this. 

The Times quoted Kenneth Chennault: “It should be clear that there is overwhelming support in Corporate America for the principle of voting rights…these are not political issues…these are the issues that we were taught in civics…”

Also made clear: The CEOs, social influential and thought leaders including celebrities involved in the ad message effort were non partisan and not attacking individual states’ legislative efforts.

Remember The Business Roundtable’s recent re-alignment of the groups mission statement to focus on “purpose”? According to the Times report, the subject of the ad effort was raised on an internal call and CEOs were encouraged to sign on to the statement; many CEOs did.

Where does this go from here? Corporate executives are speaking out separately on the legislative measures being discussed in individual states that appear to or outright are clear about restricting rights of minority populations. That happened in Georgia recently. Coca Cola and Delta Airlines were hit with criticism; those companies were not signatories on the ad today. Home Depot (also HQd in Atlanta) waffled; the company is not represented on the signatory line nor was there public criticism of the legislature’s effort.

Perspective: While corporate citizenship has been an area of focus and public reporting for many years at a number of large cap public companies, the glare of publicity centered on the question of “what are you doing to help advance society on critical issues as a corporate citizen” is more recent.

The spotlight is intensifying on voting rights (as we see today) and also on climate change, diversity & inclusion, human capital management (especially in the Covid crisis), investment in local communities, in supporting public education, in hiring training & promotion of women and minorities, doing business with nations with despot leaders (think of Burma/Myanmar), equality of opportunity for all populations…and many other issues.

And so today’s advertising splash with CEOs especially putting their stake and their company’s stake in the ground on these types of issues is something we can expect to see continue and even expand in the coming weeks.

The division lines in the USA are certainly clear, especially in politics and public sector governance, and we are seeing that corporate leaders are responding to their stakeholders’ expectations…of being “a good corporate citizen”.

And it’s interesting to see the perspectives shared that even the meaning and understanding of the responsibilities of the “corporate citizen”) is defined along some of the lines that divide the nation.

Interesting footnote:  Clearly illustrating the political and philosophical divide, the members of the Republican Party who are organized as the opposition to the GOP today — The Lincoln Project — called on followers to sign on to an email that singles out JetBlue (one of the ad signatories) for contributing to political campaigns of what the Lincoln Project calls “seditionists”.  These are elected officials who “support voter suppression”. Says the project: If enough of us make it clear that we won’t stand inequality, voter supression and sedition, we will make a difference.

The battle lines are clearly drawn in voting rights issues. 

The advertisement today:

April 14 2021 – The New York Times and The Washington Post messages:

 

 

 

 

The Most Trustworthy Business and Professional Leaders – the Rosters Are Out Today From Trust Across America / Trust Around the World

January 30, 2018
by Hank Boerner – Chair& Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

Trust!  For many of us, when a critical incident or crisis occurs, one of the first words that come to mind is “trust,” as in “they really broke the trust with us” or “the organization can’t be trusted” (as in the statements made) or “the leaders can’t be trusted.”

Apply this to now-familiar settings:  Wells Fargo bankers and the security of your personal bank accounts.  BP and deepwater ocean drilling or Alaska drilling.  Equifax and your personal financial information.  Valeant pharma and drug pricing – and alleged gouging.

In a world of those little swirling computer screen circles, and IT dominating our business & persona lives…threats can now be everywhere — internet hacking and phishing abounds – and we think:  who can we trust with your information?  That becomes a conscious and subconscious thought process on both a business and personal basis for many of us.

In business and professional life, trust is a valuable and precious commodity.  Warren Buffett has observed, “…it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it…if you think about that, you will do things differently…”

“Trustworthy” is a very valuable characteristic, we would say!

And so does an organization that has been identifying the “Top Thought Leaders in Trust” think that way:  the Trust Across America / Trust Around the World (TAA/TAW, owned by Next Decade, Inc.)

The founder and guiding spirit is CEO Barbara Brooks Kimmel, who 10 years ago created the program and its proprietary FACTS® Framework (used to measure the trustworthiness of more than 1,500 U.S. public companies). FACTS incorporates five indicators of trust and integrity – Financial stability, Accounting conservativeness, Corporate governance, Transparency and Sustainability.

Barbara is also the editor of the Trust INC. book series and runs the global Trust Alliance.

Every year since 2008, TAA/TAW assembles judges and conducts a survey and analysis to select a small universe of the Top Thought Leaders in Trust.  After five continuous years on the annual list, a small number of awardees receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.  This year’s lifetime roster additions include:

  • John Baldoni – President, the Baldoni Consulting organization.
  • Donna Boehme – Principal of Compliance Strategists LLC.
  • Doug Conant – former CEO of Campbell Soup and founder, Conant Leadership.
  • Robert Easton – Chairman and Senior Manager of Accenture Australia and New Zealand.
  • Mark S. Fernandes – CEO of Capitalism 2.0, Inc.
  • Barbara Brooks Kimmel – CEO of Trust Across America.
  • Holly Latty-Mann – Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Cofounder, and President of The Leadership Trust.
  • David Reiling – CEO of Sunrise Banks and social entrepreneur.

TAA / TAW is the leading global program devoted to researching and building tools to elevate organizational trust. A Google search will return over 1300 entries.

In 2015, the organization added the “Lifetime Honorees” designation to 12 professionals.  I was honored to be one of the original twelve, after five years of being the awardee for the annual award.  In 2016 and in 2017, seven more professionals were added to the roster (each year), and now in 2018, there are eight professionals added.

Ninety-one individuals were named to the 2017 individual award, including for the second year in a row, G&A Institute Co-founder and Executive Vice President Louis D. Coppola.

You can see the full list in the latest TRUST! Magazine here:  http://trustacrossamerica.com/magazine.shtml

 

Of course, Lou and I are humbled and proud to receive such honors.

TAA / TAW points to the organization’s core values and principles, which are excellent “north stars” for professionals’ and their organizations’ guidance:

Integrity – Quality – Community – Objectivity – Credibility – Success. 

You can learn more about these and the organization at: http://www.trustacrossamerica.com/about-words.shtml

Do you have a nominee for the Top Thought Leaders 2019 award?  The nominations are now open – there’s information at: http://www.trustacrossamerica.com/cgi-bin/nominations.cgi

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Adding my thoughts….

Trust – this apparently comes down to us for common understanding and use from ancient languages.  There are derivations from the Old Norse – the language of the wandering Vikings (“traust” and “trow”).  From the Old Dutch (“troosten”).  And the German or Teutonic tongue (“trosten”).  And more from the Gothic English-the Anglo Saxon roots of spoken English today (“trausti”).

These ancient and current tongues convey to us:  

Truth.  Comfort. Trustworthy.
An agreement or covenant – to be true to one’s words and deeds.
To be believed.

And therefore – to be trusted and trustworthy.  Worth striving for, we would say in these often chaotic days of the 21st Century!

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There’s information on the 2017 awards in the news from TAA:  https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/announcing-2018-top-thought-leaders-in-trust-300589490.html