As CEOs reckon with how to respond to the nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, and the accompanying issues of racism and police brutality, a group of business leaders from the Detroit area wasted little time in promising to address the challenges head-on.
Chiefs of competing automakers joined purposes with some of the Motor City’s other heavy hitters in business to appear at City Hall last week and made four “commitments” to which the nine executives agreed “in the spirit of concrete, tangible change.”
They’re not alone in responding. Perhaps jolted by the riots that have accompanied some protests as well as by the horrific spectacle of Floyd’s death and related concerns about the practices of police departments, over the last several days many CEOs have expressed dedication to help make change as well as grave concerns about the status quo.
The Business Roundtable said its members share the “anger and pain felt by so many Americans” and stated that “racism and brutality have no place in America,” calling on political leaders “to take urgent, thoughtful action to prevent future tragedies and to help our communities heal.” Then the group, headed by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, announced its establishment of a “special committee” of directors “to advance racial equality and justice solutions.”
Companies took actions, from donating to Black Lives Matter and to more traditional groups representing the African-American community, to encouraging their own employees to talk more about race and discrimination.
But in Detroit, the group of CEOs apparently recognized the need to go further. The leaders made four commitments, read by Detroit Edison CEO Gerry Anderson at an appearance by the business chiefs and city political and civic leaders:
• Reject and “work to eliminate all forms of bias, racism, sexism, violence within our communities and within our companies.”
• Call on government to hold accountable individuals involved in deaths of black Americans in police custody.
• Support calls for an “independent prosecution of those accused in order to demonstrate fairness” and eliminate any conflicts.
• Invest in programs and policies that “help transform the disparities that exist within these communities.”
The executives didn’t offer specifics, but GM CEO Mary Barra said the company plans to stop asking “why” and start looking at “what—what can we do? What will we do?”
“To any GM employees who have the courage to speak up, we will hear you,” Barra said. “We unequivocally condemn intolerance … To any GM employees who feel they cannot bring their full self to work, we will see you.”
Earlier in the week one of the executives, Jay Farner, CEO of Quicken Loans and Rocket Mortgage, said that the protests drove home the point, “We can and must do better as a society.” Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, who continues to recover from a stroke he suffered in 2019, arguably accomplished more for Detroit than anyone else in the modern era when he greatly expanded his company’s employment base in the city and then invested billions in real estate and other outlays to begin a transformation of the downtown.
Besides Anderson, Barra and Farner, the chiefs were:
• Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor and chief of the Detroit Lions
• Mark Stewart, COO of Fiat Chrysler
• Wright Lassiter III, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System
• Chris Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, parent of Little Caesar’s and owner of the Detroit Tigers
• Dan Loepp, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
• Gary Torgow, executive chairman of TCF Financial