In a recent article titled “On the Stump,” the Economist positions CEOs from tech companies as the new CEO Statesman. “He is an evangelist, out to persuade the world of the righteousness of his chosen causes.” The genesis of the article came from news about Apple CEO Tim Cook who is garnering headlines about privacy and government regulations with regard to unlocking a terrorist’s iPhone. While media-savvy executives and CEOs who seek the spotlight have been around in the tech industry for many years— think Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison—I started thinking about the impact their actions can have from a PR perspective.
“The CEO-statesman is not content with just accepting a job in the government; nor does he simply lobby behind the scenes. He is an evangelist, out to persuade the world of the righteousness of his chosen causes.”
Taking a stand on a legal or socially responsible issue, such as child labor laws, partner benefits or equal pay, is seen as a noble effort. Similarly, Mr. Cook’s issue with the government isn’t about the technology behind the iPhone. Rather, it’s about personal privacy vs. governmental need for security. He’s taking a stand on behalf of his company which, to me, is a noble gesture. Are his efforts helping or hindering sales of the iPhone? It’s hard to say. However, what he is doing definitely has an impact on Apple’s brand.
I see Mr. Cook’s efforts in a positive light. He’s doing what he believes is right, regardless of the consequences, and I applaud him for that. But, what if he was leading a charge against a hot political issue like abortion? Would I stop buying products from Apple because I disagree with his political stance?
Look back at what Starbucks head honcho Howard Schultz did last year. At his request, baristas were asked to write “Race Together” on paper and plastic cups in an effort to get people talking openly about race relations. While the media backlash was quite negative, I thought it was an interesting move by Mr. Schultz to get people to start having an open dialogue about an important social issue.
From my perspective, the CEO Statesman can have a huge impact on a company’s brand and I applaud those CEOs who take that role seriously regardless of the impact it may have on their company. For instance, outdoor retailer REI gives employees paid days off to get outside or volunteer in the community and this makes me want to purchase their products. Part of building a brand is about what the company stands for and if I know that a CEO is willing to stick his or her neck out, as well as their company’s stock price, I am inclined to support them and their company.
What do you think about having a CEO Statesman for your company?