Welcome to America, Inc.: The Role of CEOs and Corporate Reputation in the Trump Era

By | January 17, 2017

It’s never been a better time to be a CEO in America. As we prepare to inaugurate Donald Trump as President of the United States, we are embarking on an era where CEO influence and access may be greater than ever before. And the idea that America should be run like a business seems to be resonating with the public.

Now, we could debate whether America can be run as a business with the level of deficit and dysfunction that has become the norm (or replacing a Board of Directors with a 535-member Congress), but that seems like a topic for another blog. As we watch career CEOs (vs. career politicians) assume some of the most significant posts in our nation, it raises the question about the role of CEOs at the helm of businesses and society today.

How does the advent of America, Inc. change expectations for CEOs, and what are the implications for corporate reputation management? How (and why) should every CEO think (and act) like a Communicator in Chief?

  1. When it comes to policy issues, you can run but you cannot hide. – CEOs are presumed to be experts (or at least opine-ers) on more than just your business. Presumably, we are entering a business-friendly environment, where CEOs will be offered a seat at the table for important policy discussions more than ever before. And while many CEOs work to avoid public discussion of politics and policy, preferring to focus on the discussion of the businesses they lead, expectations about the convergence of business leadership and policy leadership will continue to grow. It will be important to carve out a POV around key policy matters that impact your business. Opting out of these kinds of conversations is leaving reputation equity on the table, and perhaps more importantly, missing the opportunity to potentially influence policy in a way that will be good for your company.
  1. No More Excuses: Get Social – We have a President that uses Twitter as his primary means of communication with the country. And while the substance of that approach may not agree with your sensibility, the expectations around speed, brevity and engagement should not be overlooked. As Gen Z beings to enter the workplace, for the first time we have an employee base that views social media as a primary means of communication. CEOs who don’t get involved will be left behind.
  1. Embrace the Power of Purpose. Many (including Richard Branson) believe that companies, not governments, are best equipped to solve the world’s biggest problems. And when you have a leader of the free world who denies climate change exists and a Congress willing to repeal the ACA without any plan for how to cover the millions of uninsured Americans that will result, there will be social problems that need to be solved. The companies that step up in these situations will be relevant to their stakeholders in a way that far exceeds the attributes and benefits of their products or their “employer brand.”

So, whether you are celebrating or protesting the inauguration of President Trump today, remember that there are reputation management implications and opportunities with any change in leadership. Will you make the most of them? Or will you stay on the sidelines?

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