In the age of the internet, everyone’s voice has incredible reach. Some business leaders have leveraged this to further their corporate, as well as their personal, brand. But business leaders’ voices have been amplified whether or not they seek out the attention. And in some cases, they’re being criticized for saying nothing at all.
Consider the case of Disney CEO Bob Chapek. When Florida introduced, and eventually passed, its Parental Rights in Education Bill, Chapek didn’t make a public comment. He soon discovered one consequence of his lack of public opposition to the legislation when a segment of Disney’s workers became vocal online with their disappointment and staged walkouts.
The internal pressure from employees seemingly compelled the company to act. Disney issued a public statement, saying the bill should never have been signed into law, and that its “goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.” It also reportedly suspended making campaign donations in Florida. The backlash from Florida’s state politicians to this position was swift.
The state legislature voted in a special session to dissolve six special tax districts, including the Randy Creek Improvement District that grants Walt Disney World control of the 43 square miles in which it resides. If the dissolution stands, the affected counties would be on the hook for the massive tax hole Disney currently fills — reportedly as much as $163 million annually.
There has also been speculation that Disney’s recent stock drop can be attributed to the company’s public stance on the legislation. It lost a reported $291 million in value the day it announced its opposition, and its stock has continued to decline significantly since. However, while some are eager to claim the decline is the market recoiling from this one event, others say business shifts and general market turbulence contribute more significantly to the company’s market cap, which dropped from $250 billion when it made the announcement to $175 billion as I write this.
Clearly, Disney is a very large and very public company, which, by nature, puts its CEO in the spotlight. As a middle-market business leader, the moves you make likely aren’t as widely scrutinized, nor is the impact likely as broad. But that doesn’t mean no one is listening.
Before speaking, or choosing not to speak, count the cost. Recognize that whatever position you take, there are people who won’t feel the same. Consider the potential fallout vs. the potential gains and recognize that, because of your position within your business, your words represent more than just you. ●
Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc.