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The 2010s Were the Decade That Forced CEOs to Get Political

A look back at the last 10 years

It might not be obvious that an electric utility in Oregon, an online payments service or a consumer rating app would have much to say about Georgia’s and Alabama’s antiabortion laws enacted this spring. It isn’t just that there’s no apparent connection. Research by the Weber Shandwick communications firm has found that of all the topics on which Americans think CEOs should opine, the hot-button issue of abortion ranked last. Nonetheless, the CEOs of Portland General Electric, Square and Yelp—all publicly traded companies—joined 184 other CEOs in signing a full-page ad in the New York Times, stating that “Restricting access to comprehensive reproductive care, including abortion, threatens the health, independence and economic stability of our employees and customers. Simply put, it goes against our values and is bad for business.”

This is the disorienting new role of corporations in society, a role that elevates the corporation’s stature. In the old world, commenting on controversial issues unrelated to a company’s business was all downside, no upside; you’re guaranteed to make people mad, so don’t do it. In the new world, consumers, shareholders and especially employees expect companies to take a stand on high-profile issues. It’s still true that if you do so, you’ll make people mad. But now, if you don’t do so, you’ll also make people mad. It’s hard to win. The best you can do is try to win more than you lose. 

In the case of the anti-antiabortion screed, bloggers across the political spectrum applauded or condemned the participating companies, but revenues didn’t deviate noticeably up or down. The shares of Portland General Electric, Square and Yelp rose, but so did the market. The CEOs were betting that in the long term, declaring their values would be good for business. And maybe they’re right.

Please select this link to read the complete article from Fortune.

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