Over the last few weeks, CEOs of major companies have come out — pun intended — and stated their views on one of today’s biggest political issues — gay marriage. Just last week Don Cathy, the CEO of the popular fast food chain, Chick-fil-A, stated that he personally supported the efforts of those who oppose gay marriage. Shortly after, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, stated that he and his wife were supporters of Washington State’s bill to reform the gay marriage act to legalize same-sex marriage under Referendum 74.
While these CEOs have taken opposite stances, their decisions to vocalize personal political views raise similar questions. What happens when CEOs take political sides? Should the views of CEOs be separate from the companies they run? What are the consequences, if any, for these companies? Will these kind of statements lead to purchasing by politics?
Once Cathy made his announcement there was both immediate support and fearsome backlash. When opponents of gay-marriage heard about the Chick-fil-A CEOs personal beliefs, an event was organized to support the company. The event was called, “Chick-fil-A appreciation day” and thousands of people around the country turned up at the fast food restaurants.
After the Chick-Fil-A appreciation day, supporters of marriage equality organized an event called “National Same-Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A”. The aim of the event was to show peaceful resistance both to Cathy’s statements and to the previous appreciation day. Supporters on both sides of this issue have used Chick-fil-A to gain national attention for their causes. But the causes aren’t the only thing getting attention.
When prominent CEOs step out and to take a political stand, they put their companies in very interesting positions. The statements are not just coming from a regular Joe. A CEO has to deal with the consequences that his or her statements have on the company they represent. These consequences, positive or negative, affect every level of the company. At Chick-fil-A, employees have reported being harassed and praised by both sides of the issue about their employment at the company.
Additionally, taking a stand can turn public opinion. In a recent poll on consumer sentiment, Chick-fil-A has taken quite a hit. Only time will tell if the negative sentiment will stay or translate into lower sales, but it’s clear that Cathy’s statements have had an impact.
On the other hand, companies have the potential to profit from their political views as evidenced by the Chick-fil-A appreciation day. People who may not have ever been customers might purchase merchandise and services from companies that officers share their same beliefs. This type of political purchasing is not new. For example, when you choose to shop at a local business because you want to support the development of local business, you are choosing to purchase items from that store because of an assumption of shared values.
What would happen if everyone shopped by their politics? People are already choosing not to eat tuna to fight against overfishing, or not to shop at Nike because of alleged child labor. In this new era, will liberals really give up Chick-fil-A and will conservatives say no to Amazon’s online ordering?
- Chick-fil-A gay marriage battle goes political in L.A. (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
- Huckabee: Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day ‘beyond anything I could have imagined’ – Fox News (foxnews.com)
- The Problem with Chick-fil-A Offsets (bloomberg.com)