Apr 11, 2014

How much should the political views of a company’s CEO or board of directors matter?

Last week the CEO of Mozilla resigned after it was revealed that he donated $1000 to support Proposition 8, the California anti-gay rights ballot initiative that passed a couple of years ago. Now, there are calls to boycott Dropbox because former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has joined the board of directors. Does it really matter what the political views of these people are, as long as they do a good job for the company?
I did some commentary about this, it's a tough topic. I'd like to say it shouldn't matter but it does since they represent the company or organization.

Did Brendan Eich do the right thing by resigning as Mozilla’s CEO?

"I have mixed feelings about his resignation and I’m not sure it was a good thing for him, Mozilla or the gay community. It might have been better to engage with him, educate him about why same sex marriage matters, and help him understand why it is so important to the gay community. By forcing him to resign that opportunity has been removed or at least made less potentially valuable.

I don’t know Brendan Eich personally, but I would have been very interested in finding out exactly why he made that contribution. What motivated him? What was going through his head? Was it fear? Religious beliefs? Or something else? We will probably never know now, and I find that to be very unfortunate indeed. It’s very hard to build a bridge to someone when you don’t know why they have a particular point of view."
I did not approve of the pressure against Brendon Eich, CEO of Mozilla, even though I thought he supported a hateful and divisive cause. He was one of the founders of the company and what he did was personal, not while wearing his Mozilla hat. I will grant that a CEO is not like an hourly employee, however, he or she is the public face of the company. When the public face of the company becomes associated with bigotry and discrimination, that becomes a problem for that company’s image, so there is at least a somewhat valid reason for his departure.

However, when you are Dropbox, a company that stores the data for millions of individuals and companies and the new member of your board of directors is a torture apologist who is on record supporting warrantless wiretaps, that is a direct threat to me and my expectations of privacy. Board members don’t manage the day to day operation of a company, but they certainly help determine the direction the company is heading and have significant influence on company policies, including whether they just hand over customer data to any government official who wants it or if they fight it tooth and nail. I won’t do business with Dropbox as long as Condi Rice is on their board of Directors. So I guess the answer to your question, at least for me, is that it depends on the individual circumstances.
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