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Possible new model: C.E.O.s “going public” on tough social issues

“Over the past few years, chief executives … have been taking public stances on controversial issues like race relations and gender equality that are unrelated to their core business.

“Its-headline grabbing stuff. But is it politically effective? Anecdotal evidence suggests so.”

That’s the essence of the lede in an op-ed piece by Aaron K. Chatterji, associate professor at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University and Michal W. Tofffel, professor at the Harvard Business School, reporting on their recent study of this new C.E.O. assertiveness. 

Interesting enough, but here’s a shocker collateral finding in their study: Citing Apple’s Tim Cook’s role in opposing a “gender” bill in Indiana, the researchers found that,”Respondents who were prompted by Mr. Cook’s opposition to the Indiana law — particularly those who supported same-sex marriage  — expressed a greater intent to purchase Apple products than did two other groups. While it might not be the motivation of C.E.O. activists, consumers appear to respond favorably to the companies’ products when they agree with the chief executive’s politics…

“Our findings are preliminary. But if they turn out to hold more broadly, they may signal a major shift in corporate public relations. Until recently, most large companies aimed to be neutral on controversial social issues, not wanting to alienate a large segment of potential customers…But in an era of political polarization…corporate neutrality may be outdated…Perhaps it is better in 2016 to be intensively loved by a few than inoffensive to many.”