business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

There was an interesting story in the New York Times over the weekend about companies and corporate leaders that found themselves in trouble in the days after election because of positions - positive and negative - taken toward the winner.

The Times writes that "Matt Maloney, the chief executive of the online food delivery company GrubHub, found himself in a clash of business and politics this week after he sent an email to employees on Wednesday that appeared to say that anyone who disagreed with the company’s policy of inclusion and diversity should resign."

At the same time, "the footwear company New Balance also encountered a post-election backlash after its vice president for communications, Matt LeBretton, said after Mr. Trump’s victory that 'we feel things are going to move in the right direction'."

In the case of GrubHub, the initial email said: "As we all try to understand what this vote means to us, I want to affirm to anyone on our team that is scared or feels personally exposed, that I and everyone else here at GrubHub will fight for your dignity and your right to make a better life for yourself and your family here in the United States ... If you do not agree with this statement, then please reply to this email with your resignation because you have no place here."

That email was interpreted by some - and it got a lot of currency when being reported in the media - as suggesting that anyone who voted for Donald Trump was not welcome. When I read the email, for the record, that's not what I saw ... I felt it was a way of communicating a philosophy of inclusion at a time when some people feel that the national winds have shifted in a different direction.

This is not to say that the United States has become a non-inclusive nation. But it is factually accurate to say that there is a sense of unease among many people in the Hispanic, Muslim, LGBTQ communities, as well as among many women, who are worried about the cultural and political implications of the election. It is also factually accurate to say that some people - not all, and not a majority - have seen the election results through a "make America white again" prism. Both sides have made their feelings known, and bringing the nation together will not just take words.

Feelings are raw, though, and GrubHub's Maloney felt obliged to refine his message: “I want to clarify that I did not ask for anyone to resign if they voted for Trump,” he wrote. “I would never make such a demand. To the contrary, the message of the email is that we do not tolerate discriminatory activity or hateful commentary in the workplace, and that we will stand up for our employees.”

Over at New Balance, after the seemingly pro-Trump message went public, there was an immediate backlash, and the Times reports that "online, images of New Balance footwear being burned or thrown in the garbage were posted, and there were calls for a boycott."

Like at GrubHub, clarifications seemed to be called for, and the company emailed the following message to media outlets: "“As the only major company that still makes athletic shoes in the United States, New Balance has a unique perspective on trade and trade policy in that we want to make more shoes in the United States, not less ... New Balance publicly supported the trade positions of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump prior to Election Day that focused on American manufacturing job creation and we continue to support them today."

I happen to be a big New Balance user, and for the record, none of this stuff really matters to me. I'm not burning my running shoes, and when I need new ones, I'll buy New Balance. I like the quality, they fit, and I approve of the company's commitment to US manufacturing.

The thing is, I try hard not to take knee-jerk positions. I am a believer in nuance, and I think everybody has to choose an appropriate path. I think that Trump is entitled, as a matter of his election, to shape the government that he feels will best serve the country and match his own vision ... I think that President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been correct in their approach to defeat and the orderly transfer of power ... and I think that the nonviolent protestors have every right to take to the streets to express their opinions. (I have no tolerance for violent demonstrations nor for the scum who scrawl swastikas on walls ... but I don't think this constitutes a knee-jerk position.)

But, the GrubHub and New Balance experiences certainly are Eye-Openers, if only because they illustrate the raw emotions and exposed nerves of the American population. Companies and corporate leaders need to be careful. Words matter. Deeds matter. Take care.

Last week, when we reported on the passing of iconic singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, one MNB reader pointed to me to a song of his with which I was not familiar. It is called "Democracy," and the lyrics include the following passage:

Sail on, sail on
O mighty ship of State
To the shores of need
Past the reefs of greed
Through the squalls of hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on...

Rough seas ahead, I think.
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