Mozilla’s Eich, and the Role of Personal Beliefs in Corporate Transparency

Complete transparency can be challenging for companies of all sizes and sectors, but is a goal that should be strived for. As the resignation of Mozilla’s CEO Brendan Eich shows, the subject has never been more topical than it is today.

Right or wrong, corporate transparency increasingly holds every CEO—as well as the company—up to the light. Eich’s situation proves how the Internet and social media can turn a typical consumer population into a tour de force. The cultural zeitgeist is increasingly including personal views of management into buying decisions, and if today’s consumers don’t like what they see, even the most upstanding chief could be in danger of getting sacked or discredited.

Eich resigned last week just 10 days after he was named CEO amid gripes from Mozilla’s software-development team that he made a donation in 2008 to a California political campaign against gay marriage. Mozilla is a not-for-profit guardian of a popular web browser and is based in Silicon Valley.

The issue in this particular situation is not about whether Eich’s personal beliefs—or any CEO’s personal beliefs—would affect his or her ability to lead the company, focus on its mission and achieve its long-range goals. Media discussions can be found supporting both sides. Rather, it’s that times have changed, and today, the Internet and social media have empowered large population groups to affect change.

Now “we are living in a world where brands are competing on a higher level … on the basis of alignment to our values,” said Daniel Cobb, president of DBA Worldwide, noting, “Does this story about the executive at Mozilla make you reconsider the browser you will use?”

A Rochester Hills, Mich.-based marketing agency, DBA serves clients such as Chick-fil-A, a quick-serve restaurant whose CEO, Dan Cathy, has endured years of criticism over his personal opposition to gay marriage, and it has shadowed the Chick-fil-A brand. Like Cathy, Eich also has not been apologetic, but stepped down from his position in a matter of days as a result of the effect the social pressure was having on Mozilla’s business.

Some of the lessons of this episode already are clear. With today’s empowered consumer purview, CEOs must be ready for a vetting of their personal lives and views by an increasingly informed and inflamed public with a thoroughness that used to be limited to a board of directors. They must be willing to account for and stand by decisions they made, even many years earlier. In addition, chiefs must have a crisis management plan in place at all times to handle responses to such situations.

Eich’s travails will certainly affect actions that other CEOs take.

Additional reading:

Why Are So Many Companies Missing the Boat on Corporate Transparency? :

How Transparent Is Too Transparent In Business?:

Re-Examining the CEO Reputation Factor:

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