In summer and fall 2018, the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University conducted a nationwide survey of 3,544 individuals — representative by gender, race, age, household income, and state residence — to understand how the American public views CEOs who take public positions on environmental, social, and political issues.
“We find that the public is highly divided about CEOs who take vocal positions on social, environmental, or political issues,” says Professor David F. Larcker, Stanford Graduate School of Business. “While some applaud CEOs who speak up, others strongly disapprove. The divergence in opinions is striking. CEOs who take public positions on specific issues might build loyalty with their employees or customers, but these same positions can inadvertently alienate important segments of those populations. The cost of CEO activism might be higher than many CEOs, companies, or boards realize.”
“Hot-button issues are hot for a reason,” adds Brian Tayan, researcher at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “Interestingly, people are much more likely to think of products they have stopped using than products they have started using because of a position the CEO took on a public issue. When consumers don’t like what they hear, they react the best way they know how to: by closing their wallets.”