By Alan Murray and David Meyer
May 7, 2018

Good morning.

Warren Buffett held his annual investor-fest this weekend, and weighed in on a bunch of things, including CEOs taking stands on hot button social issues. While he certainly airs his own political views from time to time, “I don’t speak for Berkshire in doing that,” he told CNBC. “I don’t believe in imposing my views on 370,000 employees and a million shareholders. I’m not their nanny. You have to be pretty careful…in terms of social issues.”

A decade ago, Buffett’s view on this subject was standard CEO fare. But in the last couple of years, a surge of CEOs have taken strong stands on behalf of their companies on social issues: think Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s campaign against Indiana’s religious freedom law; Bank of America’s opposition to North Carolina’s restrictions on transgender access to public bathrooms; Merck CEO Ken Frazier’s resignation from President Trump’s advisory council after the Charlottesville riots; and Delta CEO Ed Bastian’s decision to cut discounts for NRA members after the Parkland shootings—to name just a few.

None of those would have happened a decade ago. So why are they happening now? I gave my views on how business leadership is changing in CEO Daily’s sibling newsletter, Data Sheet, while guest-posting last week. (You can read it here.) In many cases, their employees and customers are demanding they speak out.

But Buffett is right in noting that this gets tricky quickly. When Frazier made his stand, he was not giving his personal views, but signaling “what kind of company we are.” Benioff and Bastian were doing the same. At some point, taking such stands on issues that aren’t core to the company’s business risks alienating customers and shareholders, and adding to political polarization. The old line separating business issues from political and social issues has clearly moved. But many CEOs I talk to are still struggling to understand where the new line should be drawn.

More from Buffett-palooza here, including his explanation of why he won’t buy Microsoft stock, and his spat with Elon Musk over the candy business. Other news below.

Alan Murray


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