The following content is by Aaron K. Cherrerji, writing for The New York Times.
This article was originally published on March 2
“In the wake of the school shootings in Parkland, Fla., companies like Delta, Hertz and Symantec distanced themselves from the National Rifle Association by eliminating benefits to their members.
Dick’s Sporting Goods, which owns 35 Field and Stream stores (which feature hunting gear and supplies), took it a step further: The company announced that it had unilaterally raised the age limit for firearms sales and stopped selling the AR-15, the weapon used in Parkland and other recent mass shootings. The chief executive, Edward Stack, said that the company was “going to take a stand and step up and tell people our view and, hopefully, bring people along into the conversation.” Less than 24 hours later, Walmart joined Dick’s in raising the age limit on firearm sales (Walmart stopped selling AR-15s years ago).
They exemplify a recent phenomenon, “C.E.O. activism,” in which corporations and their chief executives pick a side in the culture war.
Some companies have benefited, through gains in popularity or even sales, by taking such stands. Patagonia reportedly saw a revenue surge after announcing its lawsuit against the Trump administration’s efforts to slash the size of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. My research with Michael Toffel of Harvard Business School finds that consumers were more likely to buy Apple products after hearing Tim Cook’s statement opposing Indiana’s religious freedom bill.
But other firms have faced angry consumers and had to retrench, as Target did when hundreds of thousands of people signed a petition in protest of its trans-inclusive bathroom policy. The chief executive of Papa John’s, who blamed the National Football League’s handling of the national anthem controversy for his company’s declining sales, stepped down after he was criticized for his comments.
But the real story will be the long game. C.E.O. activism represents a historic shift in the way corporations intersect with national politics. Rather than chief executives shaping political discourse, however, our toxic political environment is dictating corporate strategy. Instead of being cast as practical technocrats who could unite us, chief executives will be swept up in our cultural war, just like university presidents, celebrities, professional athletes and religious leaders before them.
Much of this is a reflection of who we have become. Corporate America thrives by selling us what we want, and they do that by appealing to our identities. In 2018, for many Americans, our political identity seems to define us more than ever. It already influences whom we socialize with on Facebook, whom we marry, what news we read and where we live. It was only a matter of time before this big sort started to shape our consumer behavior, too.”
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