Do corporate leaders forfeit freedom of speech?

The controversial buzz around Chic-fil-A’s president Dan Cathy publicly expressing that the company supports traditional marriage (as opposed to same-sex marriage) has not had the chance to die out before yet another corporate big-wig has spoken out on a controversial issue. Papa John’s founder and CEO, John Schnatter, has spoken out about his non-support of the recent health care policy (widely known as Obamacare) signed into effect by President Obama. According to Politico, while on a conference call Schnatter stated:

“We’re not supportive of Obamacare, like most businesses in our industry. But our business model and unit economics are about as ideal as you can get for a food company to absorb Obamacare.”

Schnatter estimated that the price of Papa John’s pizza would increase by about 11 to 14 cent.  The result has been a negative response among people who either A) feel like “Papa” John has plenty of money that he should be able to absorb the cost without raising prices, or B) feel like by being non-supportive of the bill, “Papa” cares more about his shareholders than the health of his employees.

Regardless of where you stand on the issues that Cathy and Schnatter spoke out about, my question is should men or women who hold prominent roles in companies that offer public goods and services to the masses make comments regarding political, religious or any other type of heavily-debated or controversial issues?

What do I think?

I think that it’s unfortunate that once people reach a certain level of power, fame, or what have you, that they lose the ability to freely express themselves on all issues. However, it’s just so happens to be a trade-off for the perks that come with that success and power, especially when that power comes largely from the masses supporting your company or brand with their hard-earned money.

The bottom line is that those in positions of high influence should not speak on controversial (aka political, religious, etc) issues and not expect their PR department to have to put out the fire of all fires for their company. I especially think that it is just negligent from the standpoint of a businessman to make such comments on behalf of the company. There’s a quote that says people won’t always remember exactly what you said, but they’ll remember how made them feel. People must remember this about themselves and executives HAVE to remember this when it comes to their brands. When you (and consequently, your company) leave a bad taste in the public’s mouth, it can be hard to get it out, no matter how much of that PR mouthwash you try to shove down their throats.


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