Yale academic who ‘woke up’ CEO summit says business leaders should speak up on social issues

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The Yale academic behind a series of business executive summits had defended his sessions against claims that he was “awake,” saying, “Maybe it is a good idea to become aware of social justice.”

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for executive programs at Yale School of Management, is known for his connections with the world’s most influential CEOs and for his elite discussion forums.

On April 11, he called a Zoom meeting of senior corporate figures to discuss their feelings about Georgia’s voting bill, despite pressure from social media for companies to respond. Coca Cola and Delta are among the companies condemning the new rules, and Major League Baseball has pulled its all-star game from Atlanta.

The meeting, and others hosted by Sonnenfeld, have been criticized for pushing business leaders down a dangerous path and pushing for an unnecessary political stance.

But Sonnenfeld, who has advised presidents like Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, insisted there was nothing wrong with his debates.

“There are all these people trying to use this taunting term of ‘awake CEOs’, which suggests there is something wrong with waking up, ” he said. Insider.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, of the Yale School of Management, emphasizes that it is good for CEOs to speak up

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, of the Yale School of Management, emphasizes that it is good for CEOs to speak up

Perhaps it is a good idea to become aware of social justice. It’s a term that dates back to the 1960s.

“I thought let’s not say there’s anything wrong with looking at social issues.”

Sonnenfeld, 67, said the CEOs he spoke to were keen to avoid divisive politics because they “ don’t want angry communities. ”

He said unrest was bad for business, adding: ‘They don’t want people who feel their safety is at risk. They don’t want employees who feel unsafe. In fact, they also don’t want employees to point their fingers at each other. They don’t want divided shareholders. ‘

Not all business leaders agree with Sonnenfeld’s defense of “awake” corporate policy.

Brian Armstrong, founder of cryptocurrency platform Coinbase, sparked heated discussions in the fall when he told his staff that he wanted work to be free from political and social debate. As a result, about 60 employees, or 5 percent of its workforce, received a payout.

However, Sonnenfeld said that business leaders were now being looked to for guidance, as “ pillars of society, ” who had a duty to respond to the societal questions of the day.

Merck CEO Ken Frazier Hosted Letter From 72 Black CEOs Protesting Georgia's New Law

Merck CEO Ken Frazier Hosted Letter From 72 Black CEOs Protesting Georgia’s New Law

“I think it’s part of a CEO’s job to look at the bigger ripple effects on society,” he said.

It’s not the only part of a CEO’s job – they’re not politicians.

‘Their boards of directors are not municipal councils.

The most respected pillars of society are not journalists or media. It is not academia. They are not public and elected officials. Unfortunately, they are not the clergy either, but the business leaders. ‘

Sonnenfeld also argued that business leaders could no longer remain silent about social issues.

Silence indicates resignation. And you can’t kick these with decisions. You can’t kick it on the road, ”he said.

That is the problem of some CEOs who have not yet spoken out. By saying nothing, you have spoken. ‘

Arthur Blank, Home Depot co-founder and owner of Atlanta Falcons, was praised for his role

Arthur Blank, Home Depot co-founder and owner of Atlanta Falcons, was praised for his role

Starbucks Chairman Mellody Hobson has also been praised for her “optimistic” outlook

Starbucks Chairman Mellody Hobson has also been praised for her “optimistic” outlook

Sonnenfeld selected some of the 90 leaders who attended his April 11 call for special praise.

He said Arthur Blank, Home Depot co-founder and owner of NFL team Atlanta Falcons, provided a “ thoughtful discussion ” about how event management teams, sports, athletes, and those involved in entertainment “ look at the public voice and watch votes. with your dollar if there is misconduct. ‘

He praised Mellody Hobson, chairman of Starbucks, for speaking with what he described as optimism about “how the world can be, how business can be.”

He also called Ken Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck pharmaceutical company, “the most eloquent person who lives, breathes and knows from any industry today.”

Frazier was instrumental in assembling a group of 72 black CEOs who signed a letter condemning Georgia’s voting laws, which Biden attacked as reminiscent of the Jim Crow era.

“Right now, business leaders are extremely confident and they are acting to take that responsibility,” said Sonnenfeld.

‘For an effectively functioning capitalism you need people who believe in the system. You need a functioning democracy for our system. They are inextricably intertwined.

“I think business leaders recognize that.”

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