Another CEO has thrust himself into the race relations debate, though with the ubiquity of smartphone cameras, it’s getting harder for leaders to avoid speaking out on the issue as more disturbing incidents are captured on film.
An analysis of some of their recent statements can provide insight into how others can handle a touchy subject, without being guilty of political grandstanding or alienating a portion of their customer base.
Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure recently issued a statement condemning the actions of a female customer caught on camera racially abusing another customer in a Sprint store. The incident, which went viral on social media, had nothing to do with the conduct of Sprint staff. A “disgusted” Claure nevertheless felt compelled to comment.
“This behavior violates a fundamental Sprint value of treating everyone with respect,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing an increase in hate speech like this across the country. No one deserves to hear this kind of language.”
“This behavior violates a fundamental Sprint value of treating everyone with respect.”
Claure then took the opportunity to showcase the company’s commitment to diversity.
“We’ve worked hard at Sprint to create and maintain a welcoming, respectful and diverse culture,” Claure wrote. “My 30,000 employees join me in standing up for our core values and not tolerating such inappropriate behavior. We will not compromise our principles by allowing divisive or hateful language to go unchecked in our stores or offices.”
Claure also tempered his remarks by pledging to reach out and listen, even going as far as to invite the abuser in for a chat. “This has got to stop. It’s time to talk. It’s time to learn. It’s time to heal,” he wrote. “That’s why I’m inviting this woman and her husband to meet privately with me so I can better understand what drives comments and behavior like this. I’d like to share my views with her as well.”
His approach contrasts that of GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney, who reacted to Donald Trump’s election by implying that anyone who agreed with the president’s more incendiary remarks about minority groups should resign from the food delivery service company. “Had [Trump] worked here, many of his comments would have resulted in his immediate termination,” Maloney wrote in comments that sparked a near 10% fall in the company’s shares.
Claure’s forceful, yet more nuanced statement, is reminiscent of comments made by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. In a September speech to employees, he claimed that “tolerance is for cowards” following a spate of shootings that cost many African American citizens and police officers their lives.
“Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and not to make waves, holding tightly to your views and judgments without being challenged,” Stephenson said.
He urged staff, no matter what their views, to “move into uncertain territory” and reach out to people with opposing viewpoints to establish mutual understanding and respect. And, as far as Stephenson was concerned, it was the CEO’s duty to take the lead. “If this is a dialogue that’s going to begin at AT&T, I feel like it probably ought to start with me,” he said.