After the Parkland, Fla., shooting in February, executives companies across the country -- from Dick’s Sporting Goods and BlackRock to Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Delta-- made the controversial decision to cut ties with gunmakers and the National Rifle Association.
When President Trump announced the travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries last year, Microsoft chief Satya Nadella and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos openly voiced their opposition to the policy.
This kind of CEO activism, when corporate leaders take political or social stances that are “unrelated to the bottom line,” has taken off in recent years, explained Aaron Chatterji, Associate Professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. He wrote about this trend in an article for the Harvard Business Review.
There are three main factors driving this trend.
The first comes from inside the companies themselves -- the employees.
“A lot of millennials especially are pushing their bosses to speak out,” explained Chatterji.
Second is the increasingly polarized political climate.
“Being in the middle is really hard,” he said. “You see the middle sort of being hollowed out of both political parties. That’s where companies used to be, and [now] they’re forced to occupy one side or the other.”
And finally, social media gives CEOs “a microphone that’s always on” and access to direct conversations with their consumers.
But having a vocal CEO doesn’t come without risks.
“This is uncharted territory,” Chatterji said. “A lot of CEOs and companies are finding themselves getting burned by these activist stands,” because they open up the possibility of consumer backlash or even isolation from investors.
Many companies, though, also benefit from this movement. Chatterji pointed to Apple as an example.
After CEO Tim Cook called Indiana’s proposed religious freedom law “dangerous” in 2015, “we found...there were people who were more likely to buy Apple products.”