retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Interesting piece in the New York Times this morning speculating - based on interviews with a number of senior executives - that companies and corporate leaders soon may find themselves able to step back from increasingly cultural and political positions they've taken over the past four years.

The Times writes that after the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017, "companies protested his temporary ban on all visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Months later, a slew of chief executives objected to the president’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. Soon after that, a pair of business groups advising the White House disbanded, after Mr. Trump’s equivocating response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va."

Trump administration "policies on things as far-flung as immigration and climate change — and the ensuing outrage of employees and customers — made it nearly impossible for big corporations to avoid entering the political fray," the Times writes.  "Even if they had tried to stay on the sidelines, Mr. Trump wouldn’t let them, as he routinely called for boycotts of companies that he felt had crossed him."

The sense among many companies, the Times writes, is that the political climate may cool a bit during a Biden administration:  "Instead of having to respond to every incendiary policy or public position from Mr. Trump, companies may soon be able to advance their interests without becoming embroiled in the hurly-burly of partisan politics."

I've been writing for some time now that there are few companies where the senior executives wake up in the morning and look forward to engaging in political and cultural wars.  In a sharply divided country where polarization has become the rule rather than the exception, companies taking positions always run the risk of alienating a percentage - sometimes a sizable percentage - of their customer bases.

I suspect that, as the Times suggests, some companies have become more comfortable taking positions in certain areas - like, say, climate change and social justice - that they see as having specific relevance to their business and/or their customers and employees.  But I also think they may find themselves better able to pick and choose and focus on what's good for business.

It'll be an Eye-Opener.