Saturday Spark #29
By Susan Hunt Stevens, Founder & CEO
One of my favorite things to do is talk to strangers, particularly if those strangers happen to be sitting next to me at a bar. I’m by nature an extrovert, and striking up a conversation with the random person to my right is often the best way to spend just a few minutes outside my bubble. This is how I found myself chatting with Mikey and Joey, two guys from Brooklyn (from before it got hip) at a dive bar right outside of Penn Station.
After a few animated minutes of talking Boston vs. NY sports rivalries, Irish vs. Italian Brooklyn accents and why I didn’t have a Boston accent, the conversation turned to why I was in New York. When I mentioned Climate Week, Mikey’s immediate reaction was to let me know that if his daughter even considered skipping school to protest, he’d march her right back into the principal’s office. Joey said he didn’t know what to think except he heard that it might affect beer and that would be bad.
Somehow that conversation veered immediately from there into politics — an area that I try hard to avoid these days. Joey and Mikey let me know that even though they are Republicans, they dislike Trump immensely. However, “If the election comes down to Trump vs. Warren, I’m voting for him.” In my entirely anecdotal bar polls of east coast Republicans, that seems to be the party line.
It always prompts me to ask, “so who WOULD you vote for?” Very rarely is anyone running mentioned. However, my interest was piqued when Mikey immediately said, “I don’t agree with all his politics, but if my CEO would run, I would vote for him. In fact, I’d even go campaign for him.” Who is your CEO? I asked. The answer: Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase. Who evidently did consider a run, but determined he was too conservative for the Democrats and Trump was unbeatable in the Republican primaries.
Mikey’s trust in his CEO does reflect an overall trend identified in the Edelman Trust Barometer that “My Employer” is now the most trusted institution in most people’s lives. 75% of people say they trust their employer vs. 48% for Government and 47% for media. 76% say CEOs should step up and lead change (+11 points versus just last year). Nearly 60% say they look to their employer for advice and perspective on contentious social issues. It’s not surprising, therefore, that people can envision their CEO to lead in other parts of their lives.
There are several examples of CEO to Politician transitions — and like him or hate him; you can include Trump in that list. Our very popular Governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, was the CEO of a large healthcare organization. Mark Warner, Senator from Virginia, was a co-founder of Nextel. Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of NYC, was the founder & CEO of an eponymous financial services and technology company. But Howard Shultz’s short-lived campaign also shows that it’s not an easy transition.
So who could potential national contenders from the CEO field be someday? Knowing that name recognition is a challenge, one filter would be to look at the size and reach of the brands they represent: in that case, the top five contenders would be the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Visa, Facebook and AT&T [note: CEOs not born in the US aren’t eligible to run so those companies not listed]. You could also potentially look at the top CEOs according to Glassdoor ratings, which puts the CEOs of VMWare, In-n-Out Burger, H-E-B, T-Mobile, and LinkedIn in the running.
But the list I think might be most interesting to look at is the Reputation Institute’s trust ranking of American companies. In 2019, the most trusted American company was Netflix, followed by the Hershey Company, Whirlpool, McCormick and Company, and Barnes and Noble. Could Reed Hastings be a viable candidate someday? Although the lowest rated company of the 390 on the list, the Trump Organization, suggests this might not be as relevant to Presidential politics as one would hope.
Not surprisingly, no one company or CEO is in the top 10 of all three categories. The closest is Microsoft with top 5 ratings for both CEO and brand value and a relatively high 31 on the trust index. Sadly, Satya Nadella isn’t eligible to run, but that does leave the intriguing possibility of Bill Gates.
I do think that the CEO of a purpose-driven, trusted, large company has great potential as a candidate to unite our bifurcated electorate. I’ve seen that happen in Massachusetts and would love to see it work on the national stage. Neither side would get exactly what they want, but it’s a world where both the Mikey’s and Susan’s of this world could get what they need.
Quote of the Week: “Compromise, if not the spice of life, is its solidity. It is what makes nations great and marriages happy” – Phyllis McGinley
What is Saturday Spark:
As the leader of a purpose-driven company, I’m challenged daily to ensure our company is “walking the walk” and that I’m personally leading with purpose and impact at the forefront. The result is that I read, think, and learn a lot about the intersection of purpose, impact and leadership and have a few successes and a lot more “lessons learned.” I realized that my own insights may be helpful to other purpose-driven professionals if I took the time to reflect each week. If you find this inspiring, practical or helpful, I’d be honored if you shared it with your colleagues, your families and your friends.
Read Previous Week’s Spark: 3 Ways to Support Employee Climate Activism