By Alan Murray and Geoffrey Smith
August 15, 2017

Good morning.

President Trump’s unsteady response to this weekend’s events in Charlottesville has caused three CEOs to quit his manufacturing advisory council: Merck CEO Ken Frazier, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. Plank’s departure was particularly notable, given his comment earlier this year that the president is a “real asset” for the country. Frazier said he resigned “as a matter of personal conscience.” Krzanich blogged that he wanted “to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues, including the serious need to address the decline of American manufacturing.” You can add that trio to previous conscientious objectors, who include Disney’s Bob Iger, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Uber’s Travis Kalanick.

Frazier’s resignation led the president to tweet in response: “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from the President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES.”

It’s hard to think of a precedent for such a prominent group of CEOs refusing to engage with a president of the United States. In the past, business leaders have welcomed the opportunity to have influence in Washington, and readily responded to White House calls. They smarted at President Obama’s reluctance to engage with them, and initially welcomed Trump’s openness to their counsel.

But as I’ve written in this column before, they now operate in a world where attracting and retaining talent has become the critical business differentiator, where employees increasingly want to work for companies they feel are doing good in the world, and where people are increasingly looking to business leaders for moral, not just business, leadership. That has created tension for many of those engaging with this president (particularly those with highly-educated work forces based on the coasts.)

Fortune contacted other CEOs on the president’s manufacturing council yesterday, to ask how they were responding to the challenge. Campbell Soup said CEO Denise Morrison denounced the “reprehensible scenes of bigotry and hatred on display in Charlottesville” but said she will remain on the council because “it continues to be important for Campbell to have a voice and provide input on matters that will affect our industry.” Jeff Fettig of Whirlpool said his company “believes strongly in an open and inclusive culture that respects people of all races and backgrounds” but will “continue on the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative to represent our industry, our 15,000 U.S. workers, and to provide input and advice on ways to create jobs and strengthen U.S. manufacturing competitiveness.” You can read more CEO responses here.

More news below.


Alan Murray



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