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After Charlottesville, CEOs Respond to Hate and Trump

August 17, 2017, 6:20 PM UTC

On Wednesday, President Trump announced that he was “ending” two of his business advisory councils: a manufacturing initiative and a strategy forum.

“Rather than putting pressure on the business people of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!” Trump said on Twitter. But it quickly appeared that the councils decided to quit him on their own, which was later confirmed by a letter sent by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty to the company’s employees. You can read it in its entirety here.

The events in Charlottesville have triggered a public and widespread crisis of faith in the president’s ability and judgment. Time Inc’s content chief, Alan Murray, said it best in today’s’ CEO Daily.

With his ambiguous response to the unambiguous situation in Charlottesville, President Trump has now completed his alienation of the congressional leadership of his own party, his top military leadership, and his top allies in the business community. Were some anti-fascist protestors in Charlottesville carrying clubs and looking for a fight? Yes. Were some good people opposed to removing the statue of Robert E. Lee? Of course. Did press coverage oversimplify the situation? Always. But the racist and anti-Semitic origins of the Charlottesville rally were unmistakable, and the president’s reluctance to call them out was a fundamental failure of leadership.

But into that vacuum has stepped the business community, in both word and deed.

Mark Bertolini, Aetna’s CEO said in a statement to colleagues that he was “ashamed of the President’s behavior and comments.” In an email to employees, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans.”

“The violence, racism and hatred demonstrated by Neo-Nazis, the alt-right, and white supremacists should have no place in this world,” said Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in a statement to employees, reaffirming the company’s decision to prevent hate group members from booking lodging in Charlottesville.

Companies are also working to make it harder for these groups to use technology to spread hate. Spotify removed some “white power” bands from its streaming platform. Google and GoDaddy both dropped domain registration for the hate publisher, after the site published a disgusting article denigrating Heather Heyer, who was killed protesting the white nationalist rally. Squarespace stopped hosting Richard Spencer’s “think tank” and other white nationalist websites. The chat service Discord shut down a server used by another group, Paypal, Visa and Discover Financial Services all stopped processing payments and donations for hate-associated groups. Fortune has a running list here, and I expect the team to be busy updating it often. Hating hate seems to be in vogue.

Someday soon, we should have a conversation about the complexity of corporate conviction in the face of racism and hate.

But for now, I’ll point you to the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, an organization comprised of some of the world’s biggest companies who have made a public commitment to work together on issues of diversity and accountability in all its challenging nuance. It began as an idea to change the world by changing the way leaders addressed race within their firms and communities, first championed by PwC U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan in 2016, and reported exclusively by Fortune.

There are now more than 270 CEO signatories who have committed to an active exchange of best practices and ideas, much of which will ultimately be shared publicly.

This week, the steering committee, which includes Ryan along with Julie Sweet, the North American CEO of Accenture; Joe Davis, the North American Chairman of BCG; Cathy Engelbert the CEO of Deloitte; Ron Parker, the president and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council; Steve Howe, US Chairman of EY; Bill Ford, the CEO of General Atlantic; Lynne Doughtie, CEO and U.S. Chair of KPMG; Ted Mathas, Chairman and CEO of New York Life; and David Taylor, CEO of P&G, sent this note to their leader-members, and asked them to stay strong. Here’s an excerpt.

“It goes without saying that this weekend’s violent protest is incongruent with our coalition’s values and philosophy. While it is clear that as a society, there is still a lot of work to do to advance respectful, open dialogues, the events over the weekend serve as a reminder of why we – as leaders – rallied behind the CEO Action for Diversity & InclusionTM in the first place, and how important it is to create candid, safe, and trusting environments for our employees and communities. How we respond as individual leaders and organizations will undoubtedly vary to reflect our distinct needs, but together we can lead with courage and make a positive and sustainable difference for society.

What has your CEO said about Charlottesville or the broader topics of hate and history? What do you wish they would have said? Let us know.

On Point

Fortune’s 40 under 40 is hereIt’s an inspiring list and an important snapshot of the future of creative and executive leadership. From a diversity standpoint,  progress has been made -- although there's still a lot more work to do. Number one made me laugh, number seven in the GOAT, number 15 took me by surprise, and number 29 is going to save Chicago one rhyme at a time. Special shout out to raceAhead champion Tristan Walker, who made the list at number thirty-three.Fortune

A new project celebrating extraordinary women
Take just a few minutes out of your day to watch this short trailer announcing Firsts, a multi-media project from TIME featuring candid interviews with 45 extraordinary women, more than a year in the making. There are many raceAhead icons in the mix - Serena, Ava, Oprah - and others who deserve just as much praise. It launches on September 7. Really, watch it.

An anti-Muslim stunt draws rebukes in the Australian parliament
The leader of Australia’s far-right One Nation party wore a burka on the floor of the Australian parliament yesterday, in an attempt to encourage fellow lawmakers to pass legislation banning the garment. "To ridicule that community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garments, is an appalling thing to do and I would ask you reflect on what you have done," said Australia’s attorney general in an emotional response.

Berlin to Charlottesville: You can remember without forgetting
NPR’s Maggie Penman noticed that Nazi-era history is everywhere on a recent trip to Berlin. She contrasts two examples: the city’s very prominent main Holocaust memorial, and the site of the former Führerbunker where Hitler committed suicide. Where the memorial is central, outdoors and designed to instill reflection, the latter is just a parking lot. Only a small sign marks the spot. “One reason for not preserving Hitler's bunker was that it was feared that the site might become a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis; a place of violence and shameless celebration of a history that should be shameful,” explains Penman.

A writer re-writes history for Jack Daniel
Fawn Weaver was encouraged when she read of the decision of the Jack Daniel Distillery to restore the full contribution of Nearest Green, a slave, to the annals of whiskey history. After all, it was Green who had originally taught Jack Daniel to make the now famous spirit. But Weaver was dismayed when she traveled Lynchburg, Tenn. to see how the distillery, owned by Brown-Forman, had made things right. They hadn’t. So the L.A.-based writer moved to Lynchburg and went to work, which included finding Green’s descendants, dozens of whom still live in the area. An incredible story.
New York Times

The Woke Leader

The complicated definition of innocence
Law and Order re-runs aside, today, very few criminal cases go to trial. Instead, innocent people are frequently forced into plea bargains, the often bizarre dance between a person stuck in the criminal justice system and the system that wants to extract some measure of efficient justice. But the horse trading between prosecutors and defendants has changed dramatically. “American legislators have criminalized so many behaviors that police are arresting millions of people annually—almost 11 million in 2015,” explains The Atlantic’s Emily Yoffe in this deep dive. Plea deals are often capricious, and thanks to them, now millions of Americans have criminal records.
The Atlantic

What would it mean to you to see a statue dedicated to black liberation?
Powerful statues of black freedom fighters exist in many places in the world - Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, Colombia, Jamaica, Saint Martin, Haiti, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Curaçao to name a few – but not in the U.S. Why? “The monuments in my hometown celebrated the men who fought to keep those who look like me enslaved, not those who fought for freedom,” says Samuel Sinyangwe, who grew up in Florida. “Yes, each Confederate statue should be removed, each Confederate school and street renamed,” he says. “But the fact that the national debate still centers on whether pro-slavery monuments should be taken down, not on how many anti-racist monuments should be built, speaks volumes.”

The two worlds of Ashley Stoney
Ashley Stoney is the kind of black, millennial woman who thrives in corporate America: Educated, over-prepared, focused on achievement, comfortable in majority white environments. That’s what makes this essay so poignant: She arrives at the table with all the skills she needs, but her path to acquiring them sets her apart. While classmates at her all-white elite high school breezed into adulthood and homeownership with help from their parents, she “bought my first home as a co-signer to my grandmother who was next on the list of longtime renters in our gentrifying neighborhood…to be displaced.” As she and her husband struggle to find the best school for their daughter,“I worry about the experiences she'll have early in her life on the other side of town where the parks are picturesque and pristine and none of the other kids have beads and braids like her, and how that might impact her culturally.”


The Jew is the world’s enigma. Poor in his masses, he yet controls the world’s finances. Scattered abroad without country or government, he yet presents a unity of race continuity which no other people have achieved. Living under legal disabilities in almost every land, he has become the power behind many a throne. There are ancient prophesies to the effect that the Jew will return to his own land and from that center rule the world, though not until he has undergone an assault by the united nations of mankind…More than any other race he exhibits a decided aversion to industrial employment, which he balances by an equally decided adaptability to trade.”
—From Henry Ford’s “The International Jew: The World’s Problem