Starbucks CEO Draws His Own Path


Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson is identifying his own vision for the company—apart from Howard Schultz’s plan. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Johnson said that the previous plan to open about 1,000 Reserve cafes will be piloted with just a few stores. Reserve stores deliver a higher-end experience, selling artisanal products and cocktails.

The change is one example of how Johnson is distinguishing himself from Schultz, who was the company CEO for about 30 years. According to the article, Johnson often started meetings with, “I’m not Howard. I’m Kevin.” A couple of weeks after Schultz left, Johnson said about the business strategy, “Certainly, I tend to bring a much more disciplined approach to picking the priorities.”

Starbucks Reserve image source.
Kevin Johnson image source.


  • Is it important for Johnson to distinguish himself from Schultz? Why or why not?

  • Read more about Johnson as the new CEO. How well is he handling the transition? What, if anything, should he do differently? He’s in a tough spot, wanting to create his own path but needing to be respectful to the previous leadership.

Google and Facebook Drop Forced Arbitration

Following Google employee walkouts and demands, both Google and Facebook have eliminated the requirement for employees to settle sexual harassment complaints internally. Tech companies Uber, Lyft, and Microsoft made the same change in the past couple of years.

Previously, all of these companies had clauses in their policies, which employees agree to when hired, that forced employees to give up their right to sue the company for sexual harassment.

Critics of forced arbitration say the policy puts victims at a disadvantage. Businesses are more likely to win cases in arbitration than in front of a judge. The internal practice also protects the company from public scrutiny and allows perpetrators to more easily get jobs in other companies, continuing the cycle of harassment.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced Google’s decision and other policy changes in an email to employees, which was posted on the company’s blog:

Hi everyone,

At Google we try hard to build a workplace that supports our employees and empowers them to do their best work. As CEO, I take this responsibility very seriously and I’m committed to making the changes we need to improve. Over the past few weeks Google’s leaders and I have heard your feedback and have been moved by the stories you’ve shared.

We recognize that we have not always gotten everything right in the past and we are sincerely sorry for that. It’s clear we need to make some changes.

Going forward, we will provide more transparency on how we handle concerns. We’ll give better support and care to the people who raise them. And we will double down on our commitment to be a representative, equitable, and respectful workplace.

Today, we’re announcing a comprehensive action plan to make progress. It’s detailed here and I encourage everyone to read it. Here are some of the key changes:

  • We will make arbitration optional for individual sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. Google has never required confidentiality in the arbitration process and arbitration still may be the best path for a number of reasons (e.g., personal privacy) but, we recognize that choice should be up to you. 

  • We will provide more granularity around sexual harassment investigations and outcomes at the company as part of our Investigations Report.

  • We’re revamping the way we handle and look into your concerns in three ways: We’re overhauling our reporting channels by bringing them together on one dedicated site and including live support. We will enhance the processes we use to handle concerns—including the ability for Googlers to be accompanied by a support person. And we will offer extra care and resources for Googlers during and after the process. This includes extended counseling and career support,

  • We will update and expand our mandatory sexual harassment training. From now on if you don’t complete your training, you’ll receive a one-rating dock in Perf (editor's note: Perf is our performance review system). 

  • We will recommit to our company-wide OKR around diversity, equity and inclusion again in 2019, focused on improving representation—through hiring, progression and retention—and creating a more inclusive culture for everyone. Our Chief Diversity Officer will continue to provide monthly progress updates to me and my leadership team. 

I hope you’ll take the time to read the full range of actions we’re announcing today.

Thank you all for the feedback you’ve shared with us. This is an area where we need to continually make progress and are committed to doing so. We often hear from Googlers that the best part of working here is other Googlers. Even in difficult times, we are encouraged by the commitment of our colleagues to create a better workplace. That’s come through very strongly over the past few weeks.


Image source.


  • Analyze Pichai’s message: the audience, communication objectives, organization, writing style, etc. What works well, and what could be improved?

  • Overall, how well does the message address employees’ concerns?

  • Pichai mentions that privacy may be a reason employees choose the arbitration process, but the Times article says arbitration mostly protects the company’s privacy? Should Pichai have omitted this line?

  • What, if any, downsides do you see of Google responding to employees’ demands in this way?

Teacher Recommendation Letters Influence Harvard Decision

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Details about Harvard’s admissions process are surfacing during the trial about how the university’s “race-conscious” decision policy may adversely affect Asian-Americans. The entire guidebook for admissions decisions in 2014 was entered into evidence.

This week, Harvard revealed that white students typically receive “somewhat stronger” recommendation letters from teachers and guidance counselors than Asian-American students, which affects each group’s “personal rating.” The personal ratings on based on characteristics such as kindness, courage, and leadership. When writing letters, reviewers are asked to assess “consistent testimony of an applicant’s unusual effervescence, charity, maturity, or strength of character.”

Back in 1990, the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights criticized Harvard’s practice of using a personal rating and admissions officers’ stereotypical comments of Asian-American students. The same issue seems to be presented here, with comments from teachers and guidance counselors.

Image source.


  • How valuable do you think teacher and guidance counselor letters of recommendation are in the admissions process? How much weight should they carry in the overall decision?

  • By definition, the personal rating includes subjective evaluations. Should universities try to avoid subjectivity in the admissions process? Why or why not?

Facebook's Messaging Over Time

The Wall Street Journal reports how Facebook has repositioned itself since its founding in 2004.

In 2005, at Harvard, founder Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook’s purpose is to ”look people up” and for “connecting to people.” In 2008, Facebooke expands and messages focus on helping people “share information. . . and share parts of their identity with each other.” In 2010, Zuckerberg’s vision enlarged: “People can have instantly social and personalized experiences everywhere that they go.” Soon after, Zuckerberg focused on problem solving.

In 2012, Zuckerberg said, “Our mission isn’t to be a public company. Our mission is to make the world more open and connected.” By 2013, Zuckerberg was seeing Facebook’s role in selecting governments, getting healthcare access—improving people’s lives.

More recently, given concerns about privacy and misinformation, Zuckerberg’s messages focus on responsibility.

Image source.


  • The WSJ video has a negative connotation about Facebook’s changing message, particularly in light of today’s news about shareholder proposals to split Zuckerberg’s roles. Do you agree with this assessment?

  • How well has Zuckerberg handled messages about the evolution of Facebook in the past 14 years? What, if anything, can he do differently now?

  • Do you agree with the proposal to split the CEO and chairman jobs? In other words, does Zuckerberg have too power? Does he need help at this point?

  • How is Facebook’s evolving messaging a potential matter of integrity?

Amazon Loses Favor After Announcing $15 Wage

Amazon 2.png

Amazon received good press for announcing employees would earn a minimum of $15/hour. But today’s news tells a different story.

Although the hourly wage will increase, Amazon is cutting bonuses and stock options, and employees fear it will cost them thousands of dollars in total compensation. The stock options, according to employees’ online posts, gave them a sense of company ownership. Some proposed walking out on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Amazon had also granted bonuses for attendance and productivity, called Variable Compensation Plan, or V.C.P.

In response, company leaders said they would look at employees’ total compensation to make sure no one would be worse off after the changes. A spokesperson also released this statement:

"The significant increase in hourly cash wages more than compensates for the phase out of incentive pay and [restrictive stock units]. We can confirm that all hourly Operations and Customer Service employees will see an increase in their total compensation as a result of this announcement. In addition, because it's no longer incentive-based, the compensation will be more immediate and predictable."

Box image source. Cart image source.


  • This is quite possibly a miscommunication or, more to the point, poor communication from Amazon officials to employees. How could the company have done a better job?

  • How well does the statement address the criticism? What else should the company communicate at this point?

  • How is this an issue of integrity for the company?

Amazon Increases Pay to $15/Hour

Starting November 1, Amazon will pay 250,000 and 100,000 seasonal workers at least $15 an hour. A blog post quoted CEO Jeff Bezos:

“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead. We’re excited about this change and encourage our competitors and other large employers to join us.”

The post include a video, “Amazon associates react to $15 minimum wage announcement”:

The company also they would work to increase the federal minimum wage, which, as an Amazon SVP says, could improve from the “current rate $7.25 [which] was set nearly a decade ago,”

One analyst predicted that, after taxes, Amazon’s operating profit will take a hit of 1 of 2%. But the move is being well received. For example, Senator Bernie Sanders, a former critic, complimented the decision:

“What Mr. Bezos has done today is not only enormously important for Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of employees, it could well be a shot heard around the world. I urge corporate leaders around the country to follow Mr. Bezos’s lead.”


  • Assess Amazon’s blog post and video. How well does the company use the news to improve the company’s image?

  • What’s your view of the move: the right thing to do, a bad financial decision, or something else?

Alibaba's New Chairman and Ma’s Letter

Following Jack Ma’s departure next year, Daniel Zhang will become Alibaba’s new chairman. Referring to himself as a “free and noncooperative person,” Zhang is the presumed choice because he’s been CEO since 2015. Someone who knows Zhang explained why he may have chosen the phrase “free and uncooperative”: “[H]e’s always chasing and seeking—to be free and not tied down to anything.”

A Bloomberg report describes Zhang as a “rising star” who did a great job implementing Ma’s strategy and vision and is “taking the company to the next level.”

A press release on the company website includes a letter from Jack Ma, which expresses confidence in Zhang:

“Daniel has been with Alibaba Group for 11 years. Since he took over as CEO, he has demonstrated his superb talent, business acumen and determined leadership. Under his stewardship, Alibaba has seen consistent and sustainable growth for 13 consecutive quarters. His analytical mind is unparalleled, he holds dear our mission and vision, he embraces responsibility with passion, and he has the guts to innovate and test creative business models. Deservedly, China’s business news media has named him the No.1 CEO in 2018. For these reasons, he and his team have won the trust and support of customers, employees and shareholders. Starting the process of passing the Alibaba torch to Daniel and his team is the right decision at the right time, because I know from working with them that they are ready, and I have complete confidence in our next generation of leaders.”

The letter ends on an emotional note: “The one thing I can promise everyone is this: Alibaba was never about Jack Ma, but Jack Ma will forever belong to Alibaba.”


  • Read the entire press release. Who is the audience? How would you describe the organizational structure?

  • The press release with Ma’s long letter included is unusual. We don’t see a quotation from Zhang; typically, an incoming executive will be quoted. Why do you think this was excluded? What could Zhang have said?

President Trump Criticizes Google

In two tweets, President Trump criticized Google and other technology companies of "suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good." Calling the situation "very serious" and "very dangerous," he claims that "fake" liberal news is elevated in search engines, while "fair" Republican/Conservative perspectives are suppressed.

The president's evidence is based on searching for "Trump News," which he claims resulted in 96% of stories from "National Left-Wing Media." The data came from Lou Dobbs' reporting on Fox Business Network about an "unscientific study" by PJ Media, a conservative organization.

It's also unclear which news organizations Fox and President Trump put in the "left-wing" category. A Wall Street Journal article explains that the president considers even mainstream media outlets to be "fake news," so what he calls unfair representation may not align with a "statistically neutral news aggregator." 

Yet the article acknowledged that the search engine algorithm for Google News is "opaque." In addition, Facebook was questioned during Congressional Hearings about suppressing conservative views, and several technology companies did recently close accounts belonging to Alex Jones and InfoWars, a conservative organization, for violating terms of agreement. Social media sites (except Twitter, which has retained Jones's account) provide reasons for closing Jones's account such as his claiming that the shooting at Sandy Hooks Elementary School in 2013 was a hoax.

A spokesperson for Google denies biased search results:

"We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment."


  • Try to find evidence on both sides of this argument: that Google News is unbiased against President Trump and that his claims are unfounded.
  • What's your view about Google Search results? How might your own political perspective factor into your view?
  • How can you ensure that you're getting the most balanced news possible? (Hint: Don't rely on your Facebook feed.)

SodaStream Acquisition Communications

Pepsi will acquire SodaStream, which makes sense given declining sales of sugary drinks and bottled water, and increasing sales of sparkling water.


As we might expect, the press release focuses on Pepsi's "growing water portfolio" and its goal of "reducing the amount of waste generated." Incoming CEO and President Ramon Laguarta emphasized the strategic match between the two companies:

"SodaStream is highly complementary and incremental to our business, adding to our growing water portfolio, while catalyzing our ability to offer personalized in-home beverage solutions around the world. From breakthrough innovations like Drinkfinity to beverage dispensing technologies like Spire for foodservice and Aquafina water stations for workplaces and colleges, PepsiCo is finding new ways to reach consumers beyond the bottle, and today's announcement is fully in line with that strategy."

A Wall Street Journal article included a clear, simple column chart showing the dramatic increase in seltzer water.

Image source.


  • What is not said in the press release? What, if anything else, should be included?
  • Pepsi's former CEO was Indra Nooyi, one of the few women running Fortune 500 companies, just announced her departure after 12 years. How, if at all, do you think the acquisition timing is relevant?
  • What visual design principles are illustrated in the column chart?


CEO Activism

Weber Shandwick's third annual report explores CEO activism, which Brian Moynihan, CEO Bank of America, defines and supports:

“Our jobs as CEOs now include driving what we think is right. It’s not exactly political activism, but it is action on issues beyond business.”

The report found that almost half of Americans "believe CEO activism influences the decisions and actions of government," and almost half of consumers "would be more likely to buy from a company led by a CEO who speaks out on an issue they agree with." Millennials, particularly, prefer CEOs to speak out on issues, and CEOs with more social media accounts have better stock performance for their company.

A Wall Journal Street writer observes that leaders rarely make a business case for issues, even if their company would benefit. Instead, they are speaking to consumers directly to change hearts and minds.

Top issues for CEOs include training, equal pay and sexual harassment, and CEOs are avoiding gun control, nationalism, marijuana legalization, and abortion."

A Forbes article offers this advice for CEOs:

  • Develop an authentic voice and quick actions
  • Connect your customers with your activism efforts
  • Align activism efforts with a company’s mission  
  • Be willing to act against your own self-interest


  • What are the risks and rewards of activism to a CEO and to the company? How does integrity factor in?
  • What examples have you seen of CEOs speaking out? How do you assess the situations? How did you feel about the gestures?
  • Read the Weber PPT deck. What principles of business report writing are followed, and what could be improved?

More Research Support for Gratitude

New research, once again, illustrates the value of writing thank-you letters. A recent study shows that senders underestimate the impact of sending a letter of gratitude, which prevents them from writing one. People also worry that letters will be scrutinized and that receivers will feel awkward, but none of these perceptions align with the reality.

In their study, Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley, at the University of Chicago, compared how "expressers" felt about writing a letter with how people felt receiving them. Receivers felt more surprised about receiving the letters and about the content, more positive, and less awkward than the senders thought they would be. Most expressers spent less than five minutes writing a letter.

Understandably, writers in the study doubted their own competence. Participants answered questions such as, “To what extent were you able to express your gratitude using words that were just right?” and “After your recipient reads your letter, how articulate do you believe they will think your expression of gratitude is?” People who received messages rated senders as more competent than senders rated themselves.

This study builds on Kumar's earlier work showing that reflecting on experiences rather than on material goods makes people feel better and act more generously toward others.


  • Have you sent a letter of gratitude in the past couple of years? What inspired you to send it? How was it received?
  • Have you thought about sending a letter but did not? What stopped you? Do the findings in this study encourage you now? The authors hope so!

Howard Schultz Steps Down from Starbucks and Speculation Abounds


Howard Schultz's career may get more interesting. After an incredible 40-year success story with Starbucks, Schultz announced he's stepping down from the company's board of directors.

The Seattle Times reports that Schultz planned the announcement before the controversy about two black men arrested in a Philadelphia store. He waited until the news died down, and now, the time seems right.

Schultz has never shied away from political topics, and this isn't the first time people are speculating about a presidential bid. But this time, Schultz isn't denying the possibility, as he told The New York Times:

“I want to be truthful with you without creating more speculative headlines. For some time now, I have been deeply concerned about our country — the growing division at home and our standing in the world.

“One of the things I want to do in my next chapter is to figure out if there is a role I can play in giving back. I’m not exactly sure what that means yet.”

Schultz also responded to a question about a potential presidential run:

“I intend to think about a range of options, and that could include public service. But I’m a long way from making any decisions about the future.”

He certainly has a simple, nicely designed website with a video introduction. Regardless of his campaign decision, Schultz seems to have some plans for a future. With the multiple ways to provide contact information ("Let's stay in touch!"), the focus is clearly on connecting with people.

See additional communications about the news:

Image source.


  • Assess Schultz's website and video. Who are his primary and secondary audiences, and what are his objectives?
  • Why do you think Schultz emphasizes staying connected? Other than for political reasons, what could be his motivations?
  • Read the company's press release. What are the main points?

Cold Email Examples

The CEO of Mapistry, a start-up software company for storm water compliance, posted and analyzed her past emails to VCs, venture capitalists who could invest in her company. Allie Janoch disputes the claim that you need an introduction to a VC; she has had some success in sending cold emails.

Her first email, Janochs admits, says little about her company and undermines the message with self-deprecation.

Mapistry 1.png

She didn't get a response. Her second email, when her company had more traction, includes a specific subject, focuses on problem solving, uses bullets for important data points, and is personal.

Mapistry 2.png


  • What do you consider the strength's of Janoch's second email?
  • What improvements could she make?
  • How does each email demonstrate humility? The first, as Janoch says, is self-deprecating. What's the potential problem with this approach? How does the second email demonstrate humility as well as confidence? How well does Janoch balance the two?

Starbucks Clarifies Policy


Following criticism for arresting two black men in a Philadelphia store, Starbucks has set a new policy for bathroom use. Company leaders decided to adopt a more open policy, allowing anyone to use a store bathroom without purchasing products.

But people questioned the effect on Starbucks locations, worrying the policy would invite homeless people and drug users. Customers want space available for themselves. Employees, particularly, complained that the policy didn't have enough guidance for them to know, for example, when to call the police.

The new policy lists the following expectations for people in their stores:

  • Using spaces as intended
  • Being considerate of others
  • Communicating with respect
  • Acting responsibly

The policy also refers to "Addressing Disruptive Behaviors" procedures and clarifies, "If a situation presents an immediate danger or threat to partner or customer safety, Starbucks partners should call 911."

I'm struggling with the term "customer." The policy uses this terminology, and the WSJ article refers to paying and non-paying customers. To me, the latter is an oxymoron, but perhaps it is not given the company's mission to create a "third place."

Image source.


  • What benefits and potential downsides do you see from Starbucks' open policy?
  • How could Starbucks further clarify the policy to address customers' and employees' concerns?
  • One point of clarification, if you haven't mentioned it, is about timing. How long should people be permitted to stay without purchasing an item? What are your thoughts about what is fair?
  • What's your view of the term "customer" in this context?

"Can We Use 'I'?"

In an article, "The Soul-Crushing Student Essay," a writing instructor at The New School in New York City laments first-year students' writing. Every semester, he says, students ask, “Do you mean we can write with the word ‘I’?” He says, "Somewhere along the way, these young people were told by teachers that who they are in their writing ought to be divorced from who they are on their phones, or as the writer Grace Paley may have said, with their families and on their streets."

He encourages students to write about their own experience:

First, we need to value more the complete and complex lives of young people: where they come from, how they express themselves. They have already lived lives worthy of our attention and appreciation.

Second, we need to encourage young people to take seriously those lives they’ve lived, even as they come to understand—often through schooling and just as often not—that there’s a whole lot more we’ll expect of them. Through this, we can help them learn to expect more of themselves, too.

I'm sensitive to the topic because several students recently asked me this question about their final assignment—a self-reflection paper.

Image source.


  • Were you taught to avoid "I" in writing? What was the reason?
  • What is the value of writing from your own experience?
  • How does using "I" make your writing clearer and more concise?

Chipotle CEO Generates Excitement


After a dismal three years of food-safety issues, Chipotle saw a strong first quarter, and CEO Brian Niccol is confident about the company's future. Since the outbreaks, part of Chipotle's turnaround plan was to introduce new menu items, but they did not prove successful.

In an interview, Niccol described new plans, which may include drive-thrus, longer hours, mobile ordering, or menu items that are more thoroughly tested. But Niccol resists offering deals and breakfast, despite what Bill Ackman, Chipotle's largest shareholder, advises:

“I’ve been very clear with him: Not now, Bill and I have had a couple of really good conversations. He may have some ideas that I don’t think are the right ones now.”

Here's the earnings call webcast. In the press release, Niccol further explained the company's plans:

"While the company made notable progress during the quarter, I firmly believe we can accelerate that progress in the future.  We are in the process of forming a path to greater performance in sales, transactions, margins and new restaurants.  This path to performance will be grounded in a strategy of executing the fundamentals while introducing consumer-meaningful innovation across the business.  It will also require a structure and organization built for creativity, action and accountability.  Finally, Chipotle will have a culture that is centered on running great restaurants, putting the customer first, innovating for today and tomorrow, supporting each other, and delivering on commitments.  The future will be meaningful at Chipotle."

(Disclosure: I own a modest amount of Chipotle stock.) Image source.


  • Assess the earnings call or press release. What business jargon do you identify? Is it too much, or is it appropriate for the situation and audience?
  • Niccol is challenging Ackman's ideas, which is risky for a new CEO. How do you interpret his statement? Again, is what he says appropriate for the situation, or should he present his views differently?
  • Would you say that Niccol is demonstrating courage in his statement about Ackman? Why or why not?

Volkswagen Replaces Chairman


Three years after the emissions scandal, Volkswagen is replacing another chairman. Matthias Müller replaced Martin Winterkorn, who was ousted soon after the news broke in 2015. But Müller was another insider and hasn't led the turnaround the board expected.

Like Winterkorn, Müller struggled with public relations. During a 2016 NPR interview, Müller claimed the company misunderstood the American environmental law: “We didn’t lie. We didn’t understand the question [at] first.” After much criticism, VW’s communications department asked for another interview, which was granted. He delivered a better apology but blamed the first interview on “all these colleagues of yours and everybody shouting.” In other words, it was noisy. 

As is customary in corporate change announcements, Chairman of the Supervisory Board Hans Dieter Pötsch spoke positively about the outgoing executive:

“Matthias Müller has done outstanding work for the Volkswagen Group. He assumed the chairmanship of the Board of Management in the fall of 2015 when the Company faced the greatest challenge in its history. Not only did he safely navigate Volkswagen through that time; together with his team, he also fundamentally realigned the Group’s strategy, initiated cultural change and, with great personal commitment, made sure that the Volkswagen Group not just stayed on track but is now more robust than ever before. For that, he is due the thanks of the entire Company.”

The new chairman, Dr. Herbert Diess, offers more hope. Diess joined the board in 2015 and is known for having conflicts with the union and for cost-cutting. He may shake up the status quo at VW and inspire real action. The company has aggressive plans, including building greener cars—for real this time.

Image source (VW cover).
Image source (Diess).


  • Assess the company's statement about this change. Who are the primary and secondary audiences? What are the communication objectives? How well does the statement meet those objectives?
  • Why do these statements typically include positive quotes about outgoing executives, even if they are asked to leave or, as this statement indicates, they leave "by mutual agreement"?
  • What lessons do you think Volkswagen learned since the scandal?
  • Why would the board appoint someone who is considered divisive?

Mariah Carey Talks About Having Bipolar Disorder

In 2001, singer Mariah Carey learned she had bipolar disorder, and now she is admitting it to the world. In an People magazine cover story, Carey talks about her initial denial and her decision to open up about her diagnosis:

“Until recently I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear someone would expose me. It was too heavy a burden to carry and I simply couldn’t do that anymore. I sought and received treatment, I put positive people around me and I got back to doing what I love — writing songs and making music.”

“I’m just in a really good place right now, where I’m comfortable discussing my struggles with bipolar II disorder. I’m hopeful we can get to a place where the stigma is lifted from people going through anything alone. It can be incredibly isolating. It does not have to define you and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me.”

Bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive disorder, affects about 5.7 million adults in the U.S., which is about 2.6% of the population.

Reactions to the news seem mostly positive, with comments such as this on Twitter:


This story reminds me of a TedX talk, "Everyone Is Hiding Something" about a woman's struggle with an eating disorder.

Image source.


  • What are the potential personal and professional consequences to Mariah Carey of going public with her diagnosis?
  • What do you hide about yourself that might be useful for others to know?
  • What is the value of admitting personal struggles in the workplace?
  • How does Mariah Carey's story demonstrate leadership character dimensions, such as courage, compassion, authenticity, and vulnerability?

Nike Memo Describes Diversity Failings


The head of HR at Nike wrote a memo describing how the company has not lived up to plans to promote women and people of color. Nike has been grappling with complaints about its "boys-club culture," and the memo may have worsened the situation.

When complaints surfaced, Chief Executive Mark Parker said, “When we discover issues, we take action. We are laser-focused on making Nike a more inclusive culture and accelerating diverse representation within our leadership teams."

Weeks later, HR Chief Monique Matheson wrote in the memo that the company wants to “to create a culture of true inclusion. As part of our plan, we need to improve representation of women and people of color.” She also wrote, “While we’ve spoken about this many times, and tried different ways to achieve change, we have failed to gain traction—and our hiring and promotion decisions are not changing senior-level representation as quickly as we have wanted."

Of Nike's 74,000 employees, only 29% of vice presidents are women and, in the U.S., only 16% are nonwhite. In the memo, Matheson also reported that men, women, and people of color earn about the same, although she acknowledged, "We’ve also heard from some of you that this result does not reflect your personal experience" and promised to do more research into pay equity.


  • How does the memo reflect both positively and negatively on Nike?
  • Should Matheson have avoided putting such information in a memo, knowing that it could be made public? Or, do you think she intended for it to go public?
  • How do executives balance internal communication and the possibility of messages being leaked to the press?
  • In what ways does this situation demonstrate vulnerability?

NYT Learns from Failure


The New York Times admitted a mistake: the paper failed to write obituaries for some extraordinary women:

Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones; even in the last two years, just over one in five of our subjects were female.

The paper has begun a collection of obits for people "who left indelible marks but were nonetheless overlooked." Write-ups are available for 15 women, including Sylvia Plath, an accomplished poet who committed suicide; Margaret Abbott, the first woman to win an Olympics game; and Ida B. Wells, who fought racism and lynchings in the South in the 1890s.


  • How well does The New York Times address the failure? 
  • Why are they writing these obituaries now? What are the arguments for the collection and against it?