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Should CEOs speak out about controversial social and political issues?

May 18, 2021, 10:36 AM UTC

Good morning.

Should CEOs speak out about controversial social and political issues? Some interesting data on that from our annual survey of Fortune 500 CEOs, out fresh this morning. We asked the CEOs which of the following statements comes closest to their own view, even if neither is exactly right:

CEOs have a responsibility to speak out on important social and political issues and should continue to do so.
CEOs have recently gotten too involved in commenting on social and political issues and need to pull back.

Their answer?  Split right down the middle: 50% said keep it up; 50% said pull back. The mixed response demonstrates the awkward dilemma that the U.S. debate over voting practices has created for corporate chieftains. More than 80% agree that “everything possible should be done to make it easy for every citizen to vote.” But countering that belief is a strong desire to stay out of the partisan crossfire (and perhaps not be called “woke” by the editors of the Wall Street Journal.) 

Worth noting, that only 12% of the CEOs responding said they considered themselves Democrats. Thirty percent consider themselves Republicans, and 47% are Independent. When asked how they viewed Joe Biden’s performance as President, 61% responded favorably; 39% unfavorably.

A few other findings:

—53% of the CEOs say their revenues for this year are looking “significantly stronger” than they expected before the pandemic, and 51% said the same for profits.
—73% of CEOs said they will need less office space in the future than they had in 2019.
—36% said their company has published a climate plan to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050 or sooner; another 44% said they are “considering” such a plan.
—53% said the “optimal” mix of remote and in-office work for knowledge employees going forward is “two or three days a week in the office; two or three days a week remote.” Only 3% favor four or more days a week remote.
—Only 10% are planning to require vaccinations for those returning to the office. 59% won’t require vaccinations; 31% haven’t decided.

More news below. And today’s must-read is Jeremy Kahn’s fascinating story about EasyJet, the upstart airline that was soaring before the pandemic, and is now trying to pull out of a tailspin.

Alan Murray


Amazon and MGM

Amazon is reportedly considering a takeover of the legendary MGM movie studio, which has quite the catalog. The deal would apparently be worth $7 to $10 billion. The Information

Fossils out

No new fossil-fuel projects, anywhere. That's what's needed if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the International Energy Agency, which says the path to global net zero by 2050 is "narrow but still achievable". P.S.: A new study shows the melting of Greenland's glaciers is likely to raise sea levels by at least one meter, even if global warming is halted. France24

Exports in

For the first time, the U.S. will export coronavirus vaccines that are also approved for domestic use. Under significant international pressure, the Biden administration said it will export 20 million doses of Moderna, Pfizer and J&J vaccines, on top of the 60 million doses of AstraZeneca (not approved for use in the U.S.) that it has already pledged to distribute around the world. The donations will take place by the end of June. Fortune

Sanofi/GSK progress

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline's potential COVID-19 vaccine (catch up on it and other latecomers here) is moving to the final trial phase, after earlier trials demonstrated a robust immune response. The companies hope for approval in Q4, which would allow the vaccine to be used as a booster. Reuters


Alfred Lin

Fortune's Michal Lev-Ram has written an interesting profile of Alfred Lin, a veteran Sequoia Capital partner who may not be a big talker, but who definitely had a big 2020—Airbnb and DoorDash (his "babies") had two of the year's hottest IPOs. Lin also lost his close friend Tony Hsieh, with whom he had once built Zappos. Fortune

Apple in China

Internal Apple documents show how much the company has been willing to bend in order to please Beijing, allowing Chinese state control over customer data and aiding government censorship in the App Store. Nicholas Bequelin, Asia director for Amnesty International: "If you look at the behavior of the Chinese government, you don’t see any resistance from Apple—no history of standing up for the principles that Apple claims to be so attached to." New York Times

Indian oxygen

India's horrific second wave of COVID infections was partly characterized by an apparent shortage of oxygen, which led to many thousands of deaths. But, as Fortune's Biman Mukherji writes, India actually always had enough oxygen—it was just being used for industrial rather than medical purposes. Fortune

Post-Brexit trade

The U.K. is trying to negotiate its first post-Brexit trade deal that isn't a rollover of an existing EU trade agreement, but there are problems. The deal would be with Australia, and Trade Secretary Liz Truss is keen to wrap it up, so as to demonstrate the U.K.'s newly independent trade prowess. But others in the government are pushing back, warning of political fallout if Australian farmers are given tariff-free access to the U.K. Financial Times

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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