Full credit is presented at the end to JustCapital to which this article is indebted, with citation of their master resource and my own attempt at representing the amazing work they do. I’m so immensely proud that firms like JustCapital exist. As long as they do, a more just world is possible. I am committed to the path their leadership is plowing. Thank you, JustCapital.
Here, I have intentionally omitted remarks I regard as indirect, that do not address the events at the Capitol specifically, and statements that constitute general calls for unity. Omission does not imply that those remarks are inadequate in some way, but merely that they do not provide the raw material for the analysis in which I’m interested for purposes of this piece.
The consensus of the American business community is clear—which is not to say every business owner or chief officer agrees; obviously, they do not. But the response to the Capitol Insurrection on January 6, 2021, reveals the nature of the commitments shared by companies willing to be vocal about their commitments at all, in the face of an attempted coup in their domicile.
BRIEFLY: The Cuba Example
One is reminded of the Cuban Revolution and resulting nationalization of American business interests in that section of our hemisphere by Castro’s 26 of July Movement. It was also January, just after the confusion of December 31 1958 at the Battle of Santa Clara. That city fell to a cadre of different groups in a singular moment in history. The combined forces of Che Guevara, Cienfuegos, and Revolutionary Directorate (RD) rebels stormed the city. Batista fled. And General Eulogio Cantillo entered Havana’s Presidential Palace, proclaimed Carlos Piedra as the new President, and began appointing new members of the government.
On January 2nd, Castro took over the city and the rest is perhaps unfortunately forgotten. Regardless of how one feels about that insurrection or the politics of socialism, and certainly, no one is denying the brutality of Batista as a dictator, the parallels in form if not substance are notable. Countless investors lost their stakes in the country, firms went bankrupt, and business (frankly) became a shitshow. In the end, JFK got his last boxes of cigars and embargoed the country.
It would not be overly cynical then, to suggest that, OF COURSE the business community is appalled at the events in DC on January 6th. However, the most robust remarks and official statements of the CEOs of this nation have scant room for talk of “stability”. They’re discussions, primarily, of values. And that too is notable. I am interested in this, because each of these statements is an act of “messaging” or, to put it precisely, the distillation of the company story to a set of aspirational expressions addressed to a particular context. Let’s take a sample:
Consensus As a Postulate
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the violence at our Capitol today. This is an assault on our nation, our democracy, and the will of the American people.” – Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock
“As citizens of our great nation, all of us have a responsibility to speak out against and condemn in the strongest terms the violence and display of demagoguery we witnessed in our nation’s capital yesterday. This is not who we are as a nation and our democracy must be protected.” – Evan G. Greenberg, CEO of Chubb
It’s worth noting the opposite of a demagogue is someone who is conciliatory and creates consensus. Also granted the “will” of the American people does not imply that every American shares that will; it is therefore a reference to consensus. In effect, the value being expressed by these business leaders is a shared willingness to yield to a direction we don’t all agree with in order to avoid the greater discomfort and disaster of internecine conflict. In other words, it’s a tacit acknowledgment that rejecting consensus as a model and allowing, instead, demagoguery inevitably leads to the possibility of violence.
Democracy as an Ideal
“The lawlessness and violence occurring on Capitol Hill today is the antithesis of democracy and we strongly condemn it.” – Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet
“This attempted subversion of our democracy is an attack against us all, and we must stand together, united, in the defense of our values and our country.” – Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Technologies
The notion that democracy underlies and constitutes our societal order, and the robustness of the language here used in response to a perceived assault upon it (“antithesis” and “attack against us all”) suggests strongly that these business leaders cannot conceive of a sustainable culture, not just of trade but a sustainable culture period, that is not a democratic one. They do not explicitly state this. Either man would likely acknowledge that there are functioning monarchies and dictatorships, but they evince a strong preference for democracy in that they position, against democracy the following: lawlessness, violence, each unsustainable bases for a society, and ‘our values’. It’s reasonable to observe that they are arguing, at a minimum, that we cannot sustain our values or our society apart from it being a democratic one.
Fairness as an Objective Construct
“We applaud all those who stood strong to thwart an appalling insurrection bent on blocking the peaceful transfer of power following a free and fair election.” – John Stanley, CEO of AT&T
“Our elected leaders must stand together to support democracy, accept this free and fair election and bring to justice the perpetrators of today’s violent assault on our country. As Americans we must stand in support of our democratic values and the leaders who uphold them.” – Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture
“As an American, as a colleague to tens of thousands of Johnson & Johnson employees in the country, and as a U.S. military veteran who served overseas to protect our democracy, I’m devastated by this assault on what our country has stood for since its founding: free, fair and peaceful elections.” – Alex Gorsky, Chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson
“Earlier today, the U.S. Congress certified the election results, a powerful symbol of the value of free, fair and peaceful elections that are so central to the fabric of America. Yesterday’s violence at the Capitol building in Washington — the very symbolic place that’s meant to preserve it — runs counter to the ideals that America was founded on.” – Michael Miebach, CEO of Mastercard
Multiple examples reference “free and fair” elections, and admittedly, this is a catchphrase. However, it’s worth observation that the popularity of that phrase among these CEOs is likely a result of a) holding fairness as a primary value in their general dealings with other people in that it typifies their express expectations FROM other people, b) regarding fairness as an objective construct since in no case do they attempt to define or explain fairness—their remarks assume we all already know what it is, and c) perceiving freedom as dependent upon fairness—that dependency at least suggested by zero deviation in placing freedom first in the equation, which would be statistically unlikely if no cause/effect relationship were being implied. Freedom is predicated on fairness. So say these business leaders.
Peace as the Sum of Our Values
“Peaceful” being attached in half the cases is also interesting and, arguably, reinforces the ideas (headlined above) of democracy as an ideal and consensus as a postulate. Without those things, in an environment of multiple competing ideas and perceived solutions, peaceful conduct is impossible. In a monoculture, consensus is irrelevant because agreement is effectively automatic. In an undemocratic society, one’s ideas do not affect societal outcomes; there is only adherence or dissidence, not competition. Peace, as we know the possibility and ideal of peace, is attached to the CEOs’ other values. Coke put it simply:
“What happened in Washington, D.C. is an offense to the ideals of American democracy.” – The Coca-Cola Company
The Lens of Business and Citizenship
With this lens, then—consensus as the basis and objective of decisions, democratic decision making as the process, and fairness of that process as surety of its reliability—the overwhelming consistency of other CEOs remarks not only makes sense, it’s a testament to a shared ethos fundamentally held up as an underlying ideal of American business and culture. I’ve stated before that I’m committed to good citizenship for the same reasons I’m committed to business. The template of values is identical, and these messages show that alignment.
It’s fair to point out that we fall short of our highest ideals, routinely. Skepticism is entirely reasonable. But that’s the nature of an ideal. We all either have no ideals (sociopaths), a low bar of ideals (in which case it’s hypocrisy to throw stones), or a high bar against which we inevitably fall short, being but dust. What one may also detect, then, in these various responses, is a generosity of spirit. It’s a generosity toward the human condition even as it is a reproof against malevolence and heedless behavior.
A sufficient body of other CEO statements and remarks without intervening comment, will substantiate the aforementioned lens at work. In no particular order:
“IBM condemns today’s unprecedented lawlessness and we call for it to end immediately.” – Arvind Krishna, Chairman and CEO of IBM
“We are shocked to witness the events at the U.S. Capitol, and deeply disappointed by the misleading claims that incited these actions.” – Micron Technology
“The dangerous, violent actions perpetrated by an unlawful group of domestic terrorists at the U.S. Capitol undermines the very essence of what we stand for as a nation. It is time to do away with division and animosity and forge ahead together to create a better future for all.” – Tom Fanning, CEO of Southern Company
“I am deeply saddened by the events that took place in Washington, D.C. yesterday. … The U.S. democratic process and the rule of law must not be allowed to be disrupted.” – Bob Bradway, CEO of Amgen
“The violent attacks and protests that occurred at the U.S. Capitol and several states yesterday marked a dark and sad day for our country and served to threaten the foundation of the nation’s democracy.” – Mike Mahoney, CEO of Boston Scientific Group
“Today is a sad day. The scenes at the United States Capitol building this afternoon were, frankly, sickening and an embarrassment to the country.” – CBRE
“The United States has long served as a beacon of democracy, and today we are reminded of both its importance and fragility.” – Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco
“The US is stronger than the abhorrent actions of those who engaged in this conduct.” – Punit Renjen, CEO of Deloitte Global
“Today’s scenes at the U.S. Capitol are an attack on democracy and not who we are as a country. Before all else, we are Americans. The challenges we face require us to come together, urgently. To those leaders upholding their oath and our nation’s ideals — we stand with you.” – Jim Fitterling, CEO of Dow
“Recently, we have squandered that goodwill at an alarming pace, and today’s attack on the U.S. Capitol does further damage. It’s time for all Americans to come together and move forward with a peaceful transition of power.” – David M. Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs
“Today’s chaos in our nation’s capitol violates the very idea on which America was built.” – Enrique Lores, CEO of HP
“A peaceful transfer of power is an essential part of democracy, and there is no justification for the use of violence to undermine free elections. We all deserve better.” – Francis deSouza, CEO of Illumina
“At Intel we condemn all acts of violence and attempts to unlawfully disrupt a democratic process that has long been a model for the world.” – Bob Swan, CEO of Intel
“On a day which should have seen a step in the peaceful transfer of power in the United States, we were instead confronted by disturbing images of violence and hate, stoked by divisiveness and disinformation.” – Philippe Krakowsky, CEO of Interpublic Group
“This is not who we are as a people or a country. We are better than this.” – Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase
“The violence that occurred at the Capitol yesterday must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. There is no room for nuance. Democracy depends on the peaceful transition of power – period.” – Marc Lautenbach, CEO of Pitney Bowes
“The violence and lawlessness that took place in Washington today was disgraceful and un-American, and has no place in our democracy.” – Charles F. Lowrey, CEO of Prudential
“We condemn the disturbing and horrifying storming of the U.S. Capitol. With President-elect Joe Biden rightfully certified as the 46th POTUS, we call on all Americans to persevere and move forward with a peaceful transition of power.” – Jim Loree, CEO of Stanley Black&Decker
“We are appalled by the lawlessness and violence that unfolded at the U.S. Capitol and strongly condemn the actions of those individuals who participated in the illegal activities that destroyed property and cost lives.” – Carol Tomé, CEO of UPS
It’s Not Big Tech, It’s All of Us
The prevalent critique of the American business community’s rejection of insurrection, by those who have cheered it on and call for it to continue, is that it’s specifically “Big Tech”, and big tech is in the pocket (presumably) of “the other side”. Aside from that begging the question of how there can be ‘another side’ when these business leaders are calling for us to opt-in to what unites rather than divides us, or at least those aforementioned values apart from which we cannot BE united, the substance of the argument is incorrect.
Certainly, tech is well represented. That is the kind of country we are—a world leader in technology. However these remarks come from a broad spectrum of industries that more or less align with the American business landscape in general—if not in number of firms, certainly in regard to relative economic contribution. There ARE notable industries missing, but it’s beyond the scope of what I intend here to “out” them.
Certainly, it should not be lost on us that this ‘broad range of industries’ pointedly represents a shift away from a manufacturing and materials based economy to a largely technical, financial, and business services one—a rapid shift that is partly behind the emotions, conspiracy theories, and despair that are necessary conditions for insurrection, even if it takes (in historical context) a demagogue to incite it. Fully acknowledged.
But it’s not simply the disgruntled versus the elite—a prepackaged analysis that will no doubt show up in countless ensuing academic essays predicated on Marxian conflict theory. By ‘broad’ consensus of business leaders we really do mean broad. This is underscored by the aligned remarks of the following 72 CEOs represented in a mere three quotations:
The Manufacturers of America
The National Association of Manufacturers is represented by this brief yet arguably complete statement of their President and CEO Jay Timmons: “This is not the vision of America that manufacturers believe in and work so hard to defend.”
The Small Businesses of America
The Chamber of Commerce is arguably the clearing house of the American small business. Of course, they don’t only represent ‘small’ business, but they certainly DO represent it—this statement on behalf of the US Chamber of Commerce by Thomas J. Donohue, its CEO, is an elaboration of the same sentiment:
“The attacks against our nation’s Capitol Building and our democracy must end now. The Congress of the United States must gather again this evening to conclude their Constitutional responsibility to accept the report of the Electoral College. We extend our respect and appreciation to all of the law enforcement officials who are protecting our government, our elected officials and our fellow citizens.”
The Business Roundtable
70 CEOs — the full list here: https://madpipe.link/ef7 — comprise the Business Round Table, chaired by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, which jointly put out this statement:
“The chaos unfolding in the nation’s capital is the result of unlawful efforts to overturn the legitimate results of a democratic election. The country deserves better. Business Roundtable calls on the President and all relevant officials to put an end to the chaos and to facilitate the peaceful transition of power.”
The Business Consensus
Outliers will emerge, if they haven’t already. That’s the nature of business in a democracy. Anyone can operate a business, because we have a democracy. However, a community is typified by the attitudes of its dominant contributors which, in a healthy ecosystem, are dominant because of the robustness of their contribution. And here, we have demonstrated the express ideas, ideals, and values that attend the most robust contributions in this, our American system of commerce, enterprise, and civic participation.
The 99th and 100th CEO
The 99th CEO is me. Certainly, my tiny company does not pretend to occupy the ranks of the others listed here, at this time. But it does no good to laud the heroism of other firms and be unwilling to step in line behind them. The values are shared, even if the scale isn’t.
For the same reason, the 100th CEO is you. Or can be. If you lead a company, the operative question (for all of us) is not whether we agree with the politics of one or the other party, or even whether we prefer a news station that’s part of a suite of entertainment products, or one that pioneered 24/7 reporting, either of which is arguably specious if interesting. Instead, it’s whether we think the interests of all of us are best served by allowing those we saw wearing buffalo horns and nazi emblems on January 6th to appoint themselves our leaders and create a defacto government by guerilla warfare OR they are served by insisting on the boundaries of dissent and collaboration championed by these CEOs.
Intentionally, I do not distinguish between values and that which serves our interest, because I do not believe they are distinct in this context. We will have the form of government we want and deserve. We have the option to structure it according to our preferences. And those choices will determine our options for business, which will determine the options for our lives. It is precisely because these CEOs see that utter alignment in cause and effect that they offer us these remarks calling for thoughtful and conscientious exercise of restraint and collaborative wisdom. Ayn Rand said that against those who cannot create value but can only tear down, the stand must be made by the builders. So do we build, or do we let it all be torn down?
That’s it. Cheers.
We’d be remiss in the extreme without thanking JustCapital, the firm that provides market insights to investors like me, with a focus on putting good ideas in front of a range of entrepreneurs, capitalists, and speculators interested in a just society as a sustainable bet (my description). Those are my values as a businessperson and hallmark values of MadPipe as a company, as expressed here and here. I am a huge fan of JustCapital’s work, and they’ve assembled a great deal of the public record source material we cite in this article. With respect to that incredible feat, please see their much more extensive and better organized listing of responses by the American and international business community in this excellent resource.
Surveys Conducted by JustCapital:
- What Americans Expect From Corporate America in the Wake of the Capitol Riot
- 80% of Americans Expect Corporate Leaders to Speak Out on Social Issues Over the Next Four Years
- Americans Say Companies Have a Role to Play in Upholding and Protecting Democracy
- Americans Continue to Say Corporate Leaders Have a Role to Play in Protecting Our Democratic Process