Leaders take a stand!


Didier Marlier

February 09, 2017

From Disruption to Engagement

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Difficult moment for businesses in the US… Whereas, traditionally they would publicly try to stay away from taking a stand on political issues, some politicians seem determined to draw them in. It almost seems that Disruption will not solely apply to technology and strategy but also to social and political.

And, consequently, in one of the biggest US sports events of the year, the Super Bowl, several businesses “took a stand” against the political decisions of a newly elected President.

Air BnB aired an ad that was rather unusual for this type of business:


 Budweiser, chose to remind American people that their favourite beer was founded by a migrant:

 84 Lumber, a supplier of construction material reminded the public that being a Latino migrant is first and foremost a tearing of the heart:

And these are just examples as Starbucks who publicly promised to hire 10’000 refugees is hailed by many and vilified by pro-Trump supporters, Uber, accused of supporting Trump’s immigration ban has seen a massive unsubscription wave hit them, Pepsico has seen boycott calls from the Trumpees as they interpreted the words of its CEO, Indra Nooyi, against the immigration ban, as an attack against their favourite and the list is still long…

What happens to American CEO’s will soon happen elsewhere. Some Brazilian leaders are in deep trouble for not having taken a courageous stand against corruption and chosen to “go along to get along”. A simple visit of the Dalai Lama to an enterprise may result in serious tensions back in China, taking a stand on the Armenian genocide may cost a company a lot in their Turkish market.

So most of the time we, prudently, tried to avoid taking a too obvious stand, preferring to explain that business was apolitical. May we still think that way now? Several factors are inviting themselves on the previously, “apparently neutral” business scene:

  • Environment and sustainability: Can a company still afford to be neutral on that subject where legislation and public opinion increasingly act as watchdogs? China is now taking measures after realizing the lethal climate it created for itself. It will be difficult to remain neutral!
  • Migrations: When hundreds of thousands of people flee their countries, torn by dictatorship, war, misery or ecological disasters, can we still as organizations, pretend we can’t do much about it? When we know the educational power of business (see my previous post) and its capacity to build a local intelligentsia, when only businesses are able to keep people in their place of birth (very few people like to be a refugee or migrant…), can we still afford to look elsewhere?
  • Technology and unemployment: When futurists expect that technological progresses in digitalization, A.I. and others may drive us to societies with 50% unemployed people, will we “wash our hands” and blame technology for it or will we reinvent capitalism and the notion of work? Will we live in protected ghettos for the lucky fews who have a job and leave the jobless behind in a lawless jungle? Technology adoption has ceased to be just about efficiency and improvements. It will increasingly have a political and social impact. Will we be the XXIst century’s Pontius Pilate?
  • Political frenzy: When people confuse democracy with demagogy, want to manage the “Res Publica” like a private enterprise, encourage murder without trial, corrupt and are corrupted, deny historical facts and actual evidence or split their nations by polarizing people around a simplistic handling of complex matters, will we consider that, “this is politics” and we are business, therefore neutral or… will we take a stand?

It is a Swiss citizen speaking… Neutrality kills!

And we business leaders are not assassins: We need to take a stand. And taking a stand does not necessarily mean reply at the same level. Taking a stand may be about building shared values when some try to polarize and divide society, listening instead of preaching, asking questions instead of making blunt and offensive statements, summarizing at the intellectual and emotional level what the others say, support the elements that really matter to them and rise their fears, challenge them on selfishness and lack of generosity, decide, impose time for reflection and provide feedback. Could Value Building Behaviours also work in those troubled times?


  1. Martin Laudenbach

    Values define who we are and when we risk betraying our values it is time to take a stand. It is encouraging to see US companies speaking up and the Superbowl is THE largest sports event in the US!
    Yet, it is not always about being vocal but about making a real difference, which may require different approaches for different people in different situations.

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Martin,
      Coming from such an experienced leader as you,those words carry a lot of meaning. Thank you very much,you made my day!


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