‘This Is a Fundamental Issue:’ Why Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins Challenged Trump on Border Separations
The business community yesterday found itself once again in a public fight with President Donald Trump.
The latest trigger (as if a trade war weren’t sufficient) was the escalating controversy over the administration’s “zero tolerance” position on illegal border crossings, which has led nearly 2,000 children to be separated from their parents at the border. The political brouhaha engulfed Microsoft when a blog post resurfaced from January in which the company said it was “proud” of its work with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to help “utilize deep learning capabilities to accelerate facial recognition and identification.” That prompted a storm of social media outrage, which in turn led to a statement from Microsoft saying it was “dismayed” by the administration’s action on family separation. “As a company, Microsoft has worked for over 20 years to combine technology with the rule of law to ensure that children who are refugees and immigrants can remain with their parents.”
Then the Business Roundtable stepped in, issuing a statement urging “the Administration to end immediately the policy of separating accompanied minors from their parents. This practice is cruel and contrary to American values.”
The statement was the work of Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, who chairs the group’s immigration committee. I spoke to Robbins last night, and asked him why he felt compelled to go public against the president on this one—not an easy move for a company whose customers include the government, or for a group whose members span the political spectrum. “Our immigration system is broken, and we need leaders to address the major issues,” he said. The family separation issue, in particular, “is a moral issue for our country.”
I asked Robbins if he was hearing a lot from his employees on this issue. “I hear a lot from my employees on everything. If it is purely political and it’s just your belief versus someone else’s, everybody knows I’m not going to get in the middle of it… But this is a fundamental issue that doesn’t represent the values of the entire company.”
Robbins discussed the statement with Business Roundtable Chair Jamie Dimon and President Joshua Bolten, and shared it with many other members of the group, before its release. He said there was no dissent. (J.P. Morgan’s Dimon issued an internal memo saying he “strongly” agreed with the Roundtable’s statement.) Moreover, no Roundtable members “have reached out to me and said we shouldn’t have done this.”
A version of this story first appeared in CEO Daily, Fortune’s daily newsletter on succeeding big in business. Subscribe here.