You’ve probably heard about this multiple-CEO — including Bezos and Cook! — pledge to “rethink corporate priorities.” There are hot takes, at a flamethrower-type level, all over the digital world about this pledge. I will not belabor my points here, because I’m just a dude in the corner of the “Make managers better” universe trying to find my own professional purple squirrels. If you’re looking for a good takedown of why this pledge is stupid, I’d refer you over to my childhood paper of note, The New York Post, including this ditty:
“It would be one thing if they said we’re endorsing having the Delaware courts change this particular legal doctrine, or we’re endorsing a bill in Congress,” said Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. “It’s not really clear whether they’re intending to replace any part of the system or do the same things are before, but … smile more.”
Let me run down the reasons this whole thing kind of reeks:
There are no real action items
That’s what is being addressed in the pull quote above. If these CEOs, who have immense power even though they maybe shouldn’t even ever be allowed out of their offices, had come together and said “OK, we’re going to change this pay transparency law over here…” or “Here’s how work-life balance will work at our places…”, well, that would be something. They basically came together and said a bunch of nothing that kinda sorta maybe sounds good in press releases. In short, they conducted a HR meeting.
It’s not really the point of companies
Companies have a legal and fiduciary responsibility to, basically, make money for other people. That’s all they actively pursue. Peep this tweet:
Who would trust a CEO to do anything but chase money? We barely trust the CEOs of the places that give us paychecks, man.
The “Company 11” argument
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that 10 companies really commit to this pledge idea. They are actually treating employees like “stakeholders.” Salaries are good. Hours are good. There’s investment in training, etc. Awesome.
Now here comes Company 11.
Company 11 does none of these things. They are business as usual: Cost-cutting, employees are interchangeable peons, training is gutted, etc.
Now Company 11 makes a bunch of money as Companies 1–10 are losing money.
All those crusty old white guys who need to fight for another $27M when they already have more than they could possibly need?
They now want to invest in Company 11.
So now Company 1 looks at Company 11 and says “Fuck this pledge stuff, we need revenue, profit, and growth!” So they dump out. Company 2 looks at Company 1 and says “Yea, back to the core of doing business!” Then Company 3, Company 4, etc.
So long as someone is making crazy money doing “system as usual,” everyone else will end up reverting to “system as usual.”
So why do the pledge, then?
Sounds good. Good PR. All the normal stuff people do.
Negative public sentiment thus poses a very direct threat to shareholder value. So the savviest thing business leaders can do is address the antagonism head-on by telegraphing their commitment to the greater good.
None of this would matter. If business leaders are working toward the greater good, who cares what their motivations are? The problem is that the pledge doesn’t put any measures or oversight in place to actually guarantee that business leaders will follow through.
Amen to both. Basically, this is an insurance policy against the recession. People who run companies are thinking this recession could be a “revolution” against stuff like bloated margins, CEO pay, etc. So they think that if they come out and say “Hey, look at us, we’re being good little boys,” then maybe people will buy their stuff when they have no money in 18 months. Wishful thinking, guys!
Please understand the psychological mentality of those who run companies
This is all you really need to understand: In 2018, Jeff Bezos won some award in Berlin, and talked to the CEO of the company that runs Business Insider. First, hysterically, actual Amazon workers booed him as he won an award. In the interview he gave, though, he referred to his Amazon money as “his winnings.” What do you win? A game. This is a game to these guys. A University of Chicago economist has even said that wealth accumulation is “the closest thing many of these men have to fun.” Amen.
You think a little pledge with no action items is going to get in the way of potentially another yacht? Absolutely not. Not even a snowball’s chance in hell.
And yea, something like 1 in 5 of these dudes are legitimate psychopaths. You ever watch true crime? Know what happens when someone gets in the way of what a psychopath really wants? Usually a bunch of photos that Dateline has to blur out. And in reality, that’s what has happened to our economy in the U.S. since about 1977 or so — we’re all blurred out bloody photos on the floor, and Bezos has some more “winnings” to count.
If you think a pledge will stop that from continuing, well, I got some HR software I can sell you…