"Our view was always, 'Let's just run a business.'" Today, former Walmart CEO Bill Simon would be in the minority. As more companies pick sides in the cultural debate, he -- like a lot of executives -- is having a hard time understanding which business these CEOs are in: advancing left-wing advocacy or their company's brand?
Things have changed a lot over Bill Simon's career. In the retail business, he remembers, it used to be simple. "We'll sell to anybody. We'll try to stay out of the public eye on issues that can be confrontational." Fast-forward to today, when everything -- including the marketplace -- is polarized. It's astonishing, he told me on "Washington Watch," to see the progression of corporations. Businesses, he says shaking his head, "are taking positions on things that I honestly wouldn't think [any business would take a position on, because] invariably [it alienates] a large customer base in one direction or the other." And yet, he points out, "boards of directors are sort of supporting it."
Most shoppers can't even walk down the aisle of the grocery store anymore without being hit over the head with a radical social agenda. Transgender Oreos with a pronoun guide? Rainbow kombucha? LGBT pride Listerine? And dozens more. But it isn't just the sexual agenda taking CEOs hostage anymore. Chains like MAC Cosmetics, H&M, Lush, Postmates, The Body Shop, Ben & Jerry's, Birchbox, Kenneth Cole, &Pizza took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to shame pro-lifers for passing abortion regulations that even "pro-choice" Americans support. Then there's SunTrust, who decided to wade into the immigration debate by cutting ties private firms running U.S. detention facilities. Why? Because they'd rather have open borders than thriving banks.
To Bill, it's only a matter of time before the next shoe drops. "I think there's going to have to be some kind of reckoning because businesses, particularly one that trades in public markets on the stock exchange, has to be available to everybody and can't exclude one political ideology just because [of] the ideology of the people who are currently running that business." There are three groups, he explained, that every company has to keep in mind when they're making decisions: the customers, shareholders, and employees.
Too often, he thinks, liberal activists are rallying support in a way that "makes their voice disproportionate." "I think in a lot of cases, companies have the right [intentions], but end up with the wrong action because they're listening to the wrong [people]." So how do we get them to listen to the right people? Bill's advice is simple: shop your values.
"The very, very best way you can communicate your concern is with your wallet. Ultimately, that's what companies do. They're in business to make money, reward their shareholders, and pay their employees. And when the company does something that you don't agree with -- or their product represents something that you don't agree with -- the simple answer is to not buy it or not participate. And that's honestly the loudest voice that a customer can deliver to a company is, 'I choose not to buy your product.'"
"A three percent change in sales of a company or a five percent change in the sales company will make a huge statement. It doesn't take a lot of people to stop buying product or to stop going to a retailer or a restaurant or whatever it is for them to notice because a couple of percentage points is win or lose for a company."
Most of us wouldn't give a dime to Planned Parenthood -- so why are we supporting companies who do? Every purchase sends a message -- so make it count. Reward the stores that support or stay neutral on the issues that matter most. For help, check out our friends at 2nd Vote and The Timothy Plan.