Amazon Response to Employee Walkout

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Like many around the world during the Global Climate Strike, hundreds of Amazon employees walked out of their offices yesterday. Employees have been urging Amazon leaders to take more steps to reduce fossil fuel dependency and wrote an open letter back in April. The pressure seems to be working.

On Thursday, CEO Jeff Bezos announced The Climate Pledge, with the following commitments:

  • Commits to net zero carbon by 2040 and 100% renewable energy by 2030

  • Orders 100,000 fully electric delivery vehicles, the largest order ever for electric delivery vehicles

  • Invests $100 million in reforestation projects around the world to begin removing carbon from the atmosphere now

  • Launches new sustainability website to report progress on commitments

The Pledge encourages other businesses to sign on, with Amazon leading the way. Bezos said, “We’re done being in the middle of the herd on this issue — we’ve decided to use our size and scale to make a difference.” Amazon employees reacted positively.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the employees’ open letter. What persuasive strategies do they use? Look for examples of logical argument, emotional appeal, and credibility. What organizational strategies do the writers use?

  • The Amazon announcement doesn’t mention employees’ influence in the decision, although news articles and employees make the connection. Should Bezos include this recognition? Why or why not?

  • Describe a CEO’s dilemma in situations like these. When is it appropriate for leaders to meet their employees’ demands, and when should they resist? Did Bezos take the best course of action?

CEOs Advocate for Gun Safety

CEOs are encouraging senators to pass stricter gun regulations, such as background checks and a “Red Flag” law that allows guns to be taken from someone who poses a threat. The leaders of 145 companies sent a letter asking for the following:

“That’s why we urge the Senate to stand with the American public and take action on gun safety by passing a bill to require background checks on all gun sales and a strong Red Flag law that would allow courts to issue life-saving extreme risk protection orders.”

The Trump Administration has implemented a ban on bump stock devices, which allows a shooter to fire in more rapid succession, and President Trump has supported more thorough background checks for gun buyers.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of CEOs taking on this activist role? What is driving them, and what are the potential risks?

  • What observations do you have about the companies that are represented—and perhaps about those that are not?

  • Analyze the letter by considering the audience, communication objectives, organization, writing style, and so on. What works well, and what could be improved?

The Purpose of the Corporation

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The Business Roundtable published a statement, The Purpose of the Corporation, signed by 181 of its 193 members. The Roundtable, a corporate lobbying group, includes CEOs of the largest U.S. companies.

In essence, the CEOs write that they have responsibilities beyond shareholders—to customers, employees, suppliers, and communities (including the environment). The statement is a step to improving the perception of businesses as solely driven by creating shareholder value through short-term profits.

Skeptics abound. A writer for the Washington Post called the statement a “truism”:

“What’s significant about the statement is what it does not say. The corporate signatories do not suggest in any way weakening the fiduciary duties of the boards and managers of ordinary for-profit shareholder corporations to manage such companies’ affairs for shareholders’ benefit.”

The CEO of Allstate and head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times encouraging businesses to pay people more if they’re serious about serving more stakeholders.

A writer for Forbes argued that these companies are multinationals and have global responsibilities as well. He also accused the executives of being self-serving, warding off criticism about executive compensation.

Others noted company CEOs who didn’t sign, for example, Alcoa, Blackstone, GE, NextEra, Parker Hannifin, and Wells Fargo (whose representative said the CEO is interim and wasn’t asked to sign). Some companies, for example, Kaiser and State Farm, say they didn’t sign because they don’t have shareholders.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of the statement: significant, placating, diverting, or something else?

  • Assess the statement itself. Consider the audience, purpose, writing style, organization, and so on. What works well, and what could be improved? What’s extraneous and what’s missing?

Overstock CEO Resigns

Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne resigned after admitting to a relationship with Russian agent Maria Butina. Butina is serving prison time because of her attempts to gain political access during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Byrne announced his decision in a letter to shareholders. He begins with the news:

“In July I came forward to a small set of journalists regarding my involvement in certain government matters. Doing so was not my first choice, but I was reminded of the damage done to our nation for three years and felt my duty as a citizen precluded me from staying silent any longer. So, I came forward in as carefully and well-managed fashion as I could. The news that I shared is bubbling (however haphazardly) into the public. Though patriotic Americans are writing me in support, my presence may affect and complicate all manner of business relationships, from insurability to strategic discussions regarding our retail business. Thus, while I believe that I did what was necessary for the good of the country, for the good of the firm, I am in the sad position of having to sever ties with Overstock, both as CEO and board member, effective Thursday August 22.”

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Byrne’s letter then describes his thinking about Overstock, including blockchain technology, retail, and strategy.

This announcement came 10 days after Byrne wrote a news release titled, “Overstock.com CEO Comments on Deep State, Withholds Further Comment.” In that post, he refers to “Men in Black” and his “Omaha Rabbi,” reinforcing perceptions that Byrne is a controversial figure.

MarketWatch shows the stock performance during this period.

Byrne image source.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Byrne’s decision to resign? Consider his history with Overstock, company performance, and the company trajectory.

  • CNN referred to Byrne’s first news release as “strange.” Do you agree?

Backlash After President Trump Fundraiser

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Equinox and SoulCycle customers are not happy about a fundraiser for President Trump sponsored by the companies’ owner, the chairman of a real estate firm. Threats of boycotts and cancelled memberships provoked quick responses from both companies.

SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan also said, “SoulCycle has nothing to do with the event and does not support it. … We know who we are and we know what we believe in, and nothing will ever change that.”

Capitalizing on the brands’ distress, other fitness companies are offering discounts and free trials to try to win business.

Soul Cycle image source.

Discussion:

  • More company executives feel inspired towards political activism. What are the advantages and risks?

  • Did the real estate company owner, Stephen Ross, act inappropriately by hosting a fundraiser? Why or why not?

  • Analyze the companies’ statements. What persuasion strategies do they use to rebuild each brand?

  • Compare the statements. Does one work better than the other? What criteria do you use to compare them?

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Another Blackface Disaster

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Belgium’s Africa museum hosted an event for which people arrived in pith helmets, blackface, and other offensive and stereotypical clothing. Understandably, the Congolese community is upset. As one representative said, "Ethnic, exotic or African is not a costume that you can put on and take off.” You can read about Belgium’s occupation of the Congo to understand the history.

The party was organized by a separate company, Thé Dansant, and one organizer defended the party: “Even if one person painted his face black, it was not meant to be offensive. Many people of African origin were enthusiastic about the concept and were present.”

So far, the Royal Museum of Africa is trying to distance itself from the event and hasn’t issued a statement or apology.

Museum image source.
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Discussion:

  • What’s your view of Thé Dansant’s response?

  • What is the museum’s accountability? What should the leaders do or say?

College Applications Controversy

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A Wall Street Journal article reports that colleges are making few changes to how they review applications despite the recent admissions scandal. University officials say they are overburdened by reading applications, which have increased dramatically in the past few years, shown here.

University leadership also argue that they should not distrust all applicants because of the few who misrepresent themselves. Other than school transcripts and test scores, as a spokesperson at Dartmouth said, “The rest of a student’s file is reviewed on an honor-code assumption that a student’s work is a student’s work. It is not our policy to suspect every student of falsifying records.”

On the other hand, some universities have implemented additional checks, for example, of athletes. Some hire outside firms to verify information, and admissions staff do check for inconsistencies, but the article concludes that “almost none have a formal audit process in which they select a random sample of applications to independently verify.”

Admissions image source.

Line chart source.

Discussion:

  • Should universities do more to verify the accuracy of students’ applications? Why or why not?

  • Analyze the line chart at right. How does the chart skew the data? How could this affect the arguments presented in the WSJ article? What recommendations would you make to the designer?

Capital One's Response to the Breach

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A hacker got access to 140,000 Capital One customers’ credit information and social security information, and about 106 million people were affected by other leaked information. Officials arrested Paige A. Thompson, who goes by “erratic” and was a former Seattle technology company software engineer.

In a bar chart, a BBC article puts this breach in context of others. Capital One’s press release describes the company’s quick response:

“Capital One immediately fixed the configuration vulnerability that this individual exploited and promptly began working with federal law enforcement.”

The release also includes a statement from Chairman and CEO Richard Fairbank:

"While I am grateful that the perpetrator has been caught, I am deeply sorry for what has happened. I sincerely apologize for the understandable worry this incident must be causing those affected and I am committed to making it right."

In addition, as expected, the release includes information for customers, offers free credit monitoring, and provides an FAQ.

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Discussion:

  • Analyze the press release. Consider the audiences, objectives, organization, tone, and so on.

  • How well does Fairbanks demonstrate humility in the press release? What other leadership character dimensions are illustrated? How well does he inspire confidence in Capital One?

  • Analyze the BBC chart shown here. What works well about the chart, and what else would be helpful to understand these breaches in context?

Rossello's Resignation

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After initial resistance, the governor of Puerto Rico announced his resignation. More than a week of protests about inappropriate chats and financial mismanagement forced Ricardo Rosselló to step down, effective August 2.

Rossello’s video was posted on Facebook. In his statement, Rossello first described successes of his administration, for example, “We raised the salary of teachers in the middle of a bankruptcy.” Then he said, “I was willing to face any challenge, fully understanding that I would prevail against any accusation or process.”

But Rossello admitted he could not continue, having “heard the demand of the people,” and recognizing that his failure to resign “would endanger the successes we have achieved.” He also tried to quell protests: “I hope this decision serves as a call to citizen reconciliation.”

Rossello image source.

Protests image source.

Discussion:

  • Did Governor Rossello make the right decision by resigning? Why or why not?

  • Analyze his speech (if you understand Spanish or find a translation). Consider his audience, communication objectives, word tone, organization, and tone.

  • What similar business situations come to mind? Think about a CEO who was under pressure to resign and what happened. What conclusions can you draw between the business and political situations?





How to Deal with Being "Ghosted"

Too often, employers stop responding to candidates. Even after an in-person interview, candidates never hear back. The CEO of a job search platform advises people to follow up in a few ways:

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  • Send one email a week. Be thoughtful about your messages to express interest; maybe share new research about the company .

  • Try different channels. For example, send a LinkedIn message instead of email, but only once.

  • Reach out to others. Contact another recruiter or the hiring manager directly.

All of these actions come with risk, but the writer argues, and I agree, that the risk is worth it. None of these follow-ups are too annoying, and you may turn the tide in your favor.

Ghost cartoon image source.

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Discussion:

  • Why do you think employers ghost applicants? Consider what incentive they have to follow up.

  • What’s your view of these follow-up approaches? Which are you more or less comfortable doing?

Government Scandal in Puerto Rico

Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló says he will not resign despite protests about private messages that included personal attacks and crude language. With 11 of his top aides, Rosselló participated in chats via the messaging app Telegram. Almost 900 pages of text are now public, and we see insults about other officials with references to people’s sexual orientation, gender, and weight.

The news comes after government corruption chargers earlier this week. The governor admitted, “I committed inappropriate acts,” but also said, “I have not committed illegal acts.”

In a news conference, Rosselló used the words “improper” and “shameful,” but didn’t agree with the reporter that the chats were unethical.

Discussion:

  • Should the governor resign? Why or why not?

  • What’s your view of the private chats? Should government officials be able to message each other freely? Why or why not?

  • How well did the governor respond to the reporter’s questions? Did he convince you?

Suicide Among France Télécom Employees

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Management couldn’t fire employees at France Télécom, so, according to critics, they harassed them hoping they would quit. But at least 35 committed suicide under the pressure, and some reports claim the number is closer to 60.

France Télécom was privatized and rebranded as Orange in July 2013. The company wasn’t keeping up with technological changes and, according to executives, were saddled with state employees, who are protected from termination. In 2007, Didier Lombard, the former chief executive of France Télécom, said they would get to their ideal number of layoffs “one way or another, by the window or by the door.”

A New York Times article describes the environment: “A grim universe of underemployment, marginalization, miscasting and systematic harassment was established at the huge company, according to testimony at the trial.” Managers tried changing job responsibilities for some workers, but employees were left without tasks or with tasks they couldn’t do.

With France’s high unemployment rate, employees felt they had few options. Union members, shown here, express their support during the trial in Paris. We’ll see whether the judges find company executives guilty.

Discussion:

  • How did management justify its practices? On the other hand, how could they have acted differently?

  • What experience do you have with international labor laws? Describe differences and how they might affect business decisions.

  • Should France reconsider its lifetime employment protections?

  • What leadership character dimensions are illustrated by this situation?

Rutgers Chancellor "Berates" Police Officers

The Chronicle reported that Rutgers Chancellor Nancy E. Cantor “apologized for berating campus police officers.” On her way to the airport, Cantor’s driver hit a parked police car. She was detained and said, “If I miss my airplane, you folks are in trouble!” When an officer asked, “I’m sorry, who are you?” she yelled, “I’m the chancellor!”

The episode, which happened in March, was recorded on the officer’s body camera. Part of the debate is about whether Cantor needed to be detained because she entered the vehicle after the driver hit the other car.

Regardless, the video became public, Cantor apologized, and the Rutgers-Newark police chief responded:

“I appreciate Chancellor Cantor taking the time to review the video. I along with the RUPD are appreciative of her kind words and support. The sentiment is extremely appreciated, and we look forward to continuing a positive working relationship with the Rutgers-Newark chancellor’s office.”

Discussion:

  • Watch the video exchange. What’s your view of the chancellor’s behavior with the police officers?

  • Should the officers have done anything differently in this situation? Why or why not?

  • Assess the police chief’s response. How well does he demonstrate forgiveness?




Boeing at the Paris Air Show

After two fatal plane crashes involving its 737 Max jet, Boeing is trying rebuild its image, and the company made some headway at the Paris Air Show, an international aircraft sales event.

Company leaders are coming closer to admitting mistakes more directly. CEO Dennis Muilenberg said, “We clearly had a mistake in the implementation of the alert.” Muilenberg also admitted that company communications were “inconsistent” and “unacceptable.” Kevin McAllister, the company’s head of commercial aircraft, said, “We are very sorry for the loss of lives as a result of the tragic accidents...our thoughts and our prayers are with their families," and "Our priority is doing everything to get this plane safely returned to service. It is a pivotal moment for all of us.”

At right is a video of McAllister discussing future plans.

Illustrating confidence in the plane, IAG, which owns British Airway, ordered 200 new 737 Max jets, worth about $24 billion at list price. Airbus wants a chance to bid, and we’ll see whether the request is granted.

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Discussion:

  • Based on this and other news reports, how well is Boeing recovering from its crisis? Read more about reactions to the IAG order to help inform your conclusion.

  • Analyze Kevin McAllister’s communication in the video. Compare his style and approach to Dennis Muilenberg’s. What similarities and differences do you observe?

Harvard Rescinds an Offer

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Harvard withdrew an admissions offer after discovering racist comments by the applicant online. The applicant, Kyle Kashuv, posted his version of events, including Harvard’s withdrawal and his responses before and after the final decision.

Kashuv became an activist for gun rights after he survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. He joined Turning Point USA, which The Chronicle describes as “a right-wing organization with chapters on many college campuses.”

Despite his explanation and apology, Harvard decided to rescind the offer. ]

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Discussion:

  • Read Kashuv’s account of what happened as well as news articles. What’s your view? Did Harvard make the right decision? Why or why not?

  • What, if anything, could Kashuv have done to prevent the withdrawal? Could he have been more persuasive in some way?

VW's New Ad

Volkswagen is still trying to rebuild its image after the emissions scandal in 2015. A new advertising campaign tackles the issue directly, beginning with audio news reports from that time. But the focus, described on YouTube, is on the future: “Every negative has a positive. Learn more about our all-electric vehicles and our plans to help make a better tomorrow at vw.com #drivefortomorrow #vw.”

With an emphasis on innovation, the ad is set to Simon and Garfunkel’s classic song, “The Sound of Silence.” Viewers can imagine company engineers during the past few years creating a new line of electric cars— while VW executives said little about the controversy.

The senior VP of marketing for VW of America acknowledged that the ad is risky but explains the rationale:

“[w]ithout mentioning the past...we would never have the credibility or authenticity to move forward with the brand. Through the last three-and-a-half years or so we kind of operated as usual in the consumers [sic] eye. We kept a very consistent message in the marketplace but didn’t really have a powerful point-of-view as a brand.”

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of VW’s new ad campaign? Did the company make the right decision by invoking the scandal?

  • Other companies facing scandals, such as Uber and Wells Fargo, placed large apology ads, but VW didn’t take this approach. Why do you think that may be the case? Compare VW’s strategy to other recent recovery campaigns.

Carnival Responds to New Charges

Again, Carnival Cruises is accused of polluting and cover-ups. In 2016, the company paid a $40 million settlement because of actions by its Princess Cruise Lines, including dumping oil-contaminated waste. Now, the company has admitted to violating the 2016 agreement and will pay an additional $20 million.

The Justice Department’s statement identifies violations of probation terms, such as falsifying training records, preparing ships before inspections, and discharging plastic into the water. The plastic discharge was from another Carnival Cruise ship, the Carnival Elation.

In response to the charges, company chairman Arnold W. Donald said, “I do take responsibility for the problems we have. I am extremely disappointed that we’ve had them. I know you have reservations about our commitment and who we are. I want you to know we are fully committed.”

The company also posted a response on its website: corrective actions, information about water treatment, and FAQs. The short press statement, at the top, includes the company’s commitment:

“Carnival Corporation remains committed to environmental excellence and protecting the environment in which we live, work, and travel. Our aspiration is to leave the places we touch even better than when we first arrived.”

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Discussion:

  • Assess Carnival’s response. What persuasive strategies does the company use on its website? What works well, and what could be improved?

  • The chairman said, “I know you have reservations about our commitment and who we are.” Do you have reservations? Why or why not? How can the company change perception? Consider dimensions of leadership character.

OpenTable Announces Privacy Changes

An email from OpenTable summarizes changes to the privacy policy and directs readers to the entire policy on the website. The company is using a lighthearted approach to convey what information is shared and how users will have better control over what they are willing to share.

We can view this as a positive message, although it uses some persuasive strategies. Overall, the company is trying to simplify a complex issue—and the email simplifies the far more complex policy.

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Discussion:

  • Analyze the message. Who is the primary audience, and what are the communication objectives? How would you describe the tone and writing style? What organizational strategies are used?

  • What persuasive strategies does the message use?

  • Overall, how effective is the message in meeting its communication objectives? What, if anything, could OpenTable do differently?

Typo on Australian Banknote

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Australia printed 400 million $50 bills with a typo, and about 46 million of them are in use.

On the front of the bill, we see a picture of Edith Cowan, who was a social reformer and Australia’s first female parliamentarian. Near her shoulder, we also see a transcript of her first speech to the the Western Australian Parliament. In tiny print, but clear when it’s enlarged, is a misspelling of “responsibility,” missing the third “i.” The bills were in circulation for about six months before discovered by a radio station.

The Reserve Bank of Australia has since confirmed the mistake, saying it will correct the error in the next print run. A spokesperson explained the error:

“The process of designing and printing a banknote is complex and iterative. We have strict quality assurance processes, but like any manufacturing process, errors can occur. We have reviewed our processes to remove the likelihood of such an error occurring in the future.”

Discussion:

  • How does an error like this happen? How could it have been prevented?

  • How do you assess the bank’s response? Who is the audience, and what are the communication objectives? What, if anything, should the bank say or do differently now?

Facebook Announces Plans for Privacy

After several scandals and escalating criticism, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced new products and several new features to move from public posting to private conversations. The new Facebook design focuses on groups instead of the newsfeed and adds interactivity, such as posting jobs. Some of these features, of course, compete with existing social platforms, such as LinkedIn.

In a post, Facebook described the focus of its two-day conference: “how we’re building a more privacy-focused social platform — giving people spaces where they can express themselves freely and feel connected to the people and communities that matter most.” 

Communication, friends, and community are themes in the message. Zuckerberg’s keynote is titled, “The Future Is Private.”

Discussion:

  • Assess Zuckerberg’s keynote. Who are his primary and secondary audiences? What are his communication objectives? To what extent does he meet them? How would you describe his delivery skills? Does he convince you that Facebook is addressing criticism? Do you think Facebook is moving in the right direction?

  • Zuckerberg opens his keynote by saying, “Privacy gives us the freedom to be ourselves.” How does this relate to concepts of authenticity? Do you agree with his conclusion?

  • Also assess the post announcing changes for Facebook and other apps. Which features or new products most and least excite you?