Business Leaders Sign Letter to Top Officials

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Fifty CEOs and business school leaders signed a letter to President Trump and other top-ranking politicians urging action to allow for more international applications. The letter comes after a report by the Graduate Management Admissions Council showing declining applications.

Report conclusions follow:

[A]llowing top talent to study and work in the country of their choice helps create jobs, not take them. It offers insight into changing trends for historically talent-attracting and talent-supplying countries. Business school applications are a powerful metric—and forecast—of the success of individual economies in prioritizing talent and therefore leading innovation and growth. A survey of these latest metrics shows change in our midst—and for certain economies, warning signs for the future.

In their letter, the business leaders write that the U.S. is “needlessly capping our growth and can do better.” They urge U.S. politicians to allow more movement by taking the following action:

  • Removing “per-country” visa caps, modernizing our visa processing system, and reforming the H-1B visa program to make it possible for the most talented people to have a reasonable chance of gaining entry to the United States.

  • Creating a “heartland” visa that encourages immigration to the regions of the United States that could most use the vitality of these talented individuals.

Discussion:

  • Analyze the letter. Who are the primary and secondary audiences? What are the communication objectives? How do you assess the organization and writing style?

  • What persuasive communication strategies do the writers use? Which are most and least effective?

  • Analyze the report using the same questions.

  • How well does the infographic summarize the report conclusions? What could be improved?

WeWork: "Humbler"

Several articles in the past few weeks have scolded WeWork CEO Adam Neumann and the investors who followed his story.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to describe Neumann’s odd behavior and published another article, “WeWork Investors Turned Off by ‘Sloppy’ IPO Filings.” The recent article explains one problem in the filings (shown below):

“A section headed ‘illustrative annual economics’ that assumed 100% workstation utilization vanished, for example, as did two graphs portraying a typical location going from ‘-$’ to ‘+$,’ with no y-axis showing the actual dollar amounts being depicted.”

A New York Times article, “Was WeWork Ever Going to Work?” criticizes investors for missing obvious problems with the company’s initial business plan, such as the reliance on start-up revenue when most entrepreneurial ventures fail. According to this report, it took people finally looking at the data to realize how much We is losing and how hard it will be for the company to succeed.

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The article includes other examples of investors’ blind exuberance:

“It is not merely money that separates the ruling class from the rest of the country. Often it seems as if it is the gaping difference in the application of common sense. Ultimately, it was the bankers, technocrats, statesmen and acolytes of the data-junkie class who were willing to believe that Elizabeth Holmes, a 19-year-old college dropout who thought a black turtleneck would make her Steve Jobs, was going to revolutionize blood-testing. It didn’t seem to matter that she could not deliver any real evidence to prove it.”

An Inc. article, “The Future of WeWork: Leaner, Humbler, and Duller,” suggests a new path for We. The author suggests less hype, fewer employees, and more discipline for the company to survive.

WeWork image source.

Discussion:

  • Who do you blame for WeWork’s failed IPO?

  • If you believe the New York Times article, investors are gullible. Do you agree with this assessment? If so, why might this be the case?

  • Read the “Note”—the fine print—under the table, shown above. How do you interpret this information?

  • What should We do now to build credibility and save the business?

Juul CEO Steps Down

With new reports about the dangers of vaping, Juul is replacing its CEO, Kevin Burns, with former Altria tobacco executive K.C. Crosthwaite.

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Following several deaths and worrying data about increasing numbers of young people vaping, the company also announced a pause in all advertising. The decision comes after major media companies and networks banned e-cigarette advertising. Juul had already stopped marketing and selling its flavored products.

The company’s news statement is typical for a CEO announcement with confidence expressed about the departing CEO (Kevin Burns), the new leadership, and the direction of the company. Below is the Kevin Burns’ quote:

“Working at JUUL Labs has been an honor and I still believe the company’s mission of eliminating combustible cigarettes is vitally important. I am very proud of my team’s efforts to lead the industry toward much needed category-wide action to tackle underage usage of these products, which are intended for adult smokers only. Since joining JUUL Labs, I have worked non-stop, helping turn a small firm into a worldwide business, so a few weeks ago I decided that now was the right time for me to step down. I am grateful to be able to confidently hand the reins to someone with K.C.’s skill set, which is well-suited to the next phase of the company’s journey.”

Juul image source.

Burns image source.

Discussion:

  • What are the communication objectives of the news statement? How well does it meet those objectives?

  • Assess Burns’ quote. What are the objectives of his statement, and how well does it meet those?

  • Altria had bought a 35% stake in Juul, so the CEO decision makes sense, and Crosthwaite is an industry insider. How do you view the decision?

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.
Party image source.

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.

Image source.

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.

Image source.

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. ]

Harvard College image source.

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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Image source.

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.