By David Sable

War is waged by governments, fought by soldiers, suffered by civilians, and has always had a mixed effect on business.

Crazy, isn’t it? Some businesses flourish during wartime…mostly the ones who pivot to fill the newly demanding supply chain…while others struggle or manage to muddle along. And, of course, there are those who fail…But that’s a story for another time.

I’m obsessed with business leadership in times of crisis and war…not for the pivot to profit, but with how CEOs and others step up to the bigger picture, playing a role in the greater effort. I believe that these are the times when the rhetoric gets stale quickly and walking the walk finally triumphs over talking the talk…enough with purposeful chatter.

There is historical precedent for business leaders being asked to solve problems that in peacetime were left to the bureaucrats…because when it didn’t matter, what’s another year or ten? When life is in the balance, every second counts.

WWII is a great case to study. The great car factories started producing tanks and airplanes, and the CEO of General Motors was asked by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to head up all military production in the US. 

Roosevelt might have been inspired by English Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who asked his outspoken friend Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) to head up all aircraft production. Aitken ran a media company, but he never allowed the status quo to stop him. He was a powerhouse go-getter.

Fast forward…today, government is way more stale, bureaucratic, and held down by the sheer weight of its own dialogue and often self-importance. While on the other side, businesses have, in many instances, become more agile and nimble. Pivoting is no longer a crisis muscle but a price of entry if you want to be in the big leagues competing against the largest businesses. CEOs are often as big of media stars as even the most visible politicians, the only difference being that CEOs actually need to deliver more than the latest TWEET.

The Edelman Trust Barometer has been studying this phenomenon for 20 years, and businesses and their CEOs continue to climb the trust and expectation ladder. 

Listen to the latest:

  • In general, business is more trusted than NGO’s, government, or the media who are “shockingly” at the low end. It was 61% to 52% for trusting business over government. 
  • Few, less than half, trust government leaders or journalists. 
  • There is a 53 point delta between people’s view of the competency of government versus business…guess who comes out on top.
  • 80% want CEOs more visible when issues are being discussed and 70% want them to help shape the general policy and issue conversation. Less than 10% think that business/CEOs are overstepping.

The bottom line is, there’s little trust in our elected officials ending a war or supporting our allies…there’s much more faith in business leaders.

KNEE JERK ALERT…yes! Not all business leaders are seen in the same light…and I’d posit that their enterprises are often seen in the same light as they are (thinking Meta and Twitter here). 

There have been many businesses and company leadership that has grabbed the podium of action to support Ukraine beyond vague lip service…while others only equivocate with vacuous statements of “purposeful” origin. 

Apple, Nike, and Ikea led the way…WPP and Accenture also come to mind, all publicly pausing, canceling or disassociating themselves with their business in Russia. 

Other global giants have yet to be heard from—McDonalds, Starbucks, and KFC stand out, each with thousands of stores in Russia…and so far crickets…

To that end, The Good Lobby and Progressive Shopper have launched a Ukraine Corporate Index to make transparent and public the response of key businesses to this out-of-control humanitarian crisis and tragedy.

70 countries are being tracked, currently with plans to add more. Only companies who do business in Russia are on the list, no matter where they are headquartered. 

Bottom line…they hope that shareholders, employees, and customers will shame the silent ones to take action, speak out, and change their policies…If not to get shareholders and customers to rethink investments and purchases.

The “good” list is impressive: Adidas; Boeing; Ford (once my client, and we worked extensively together in Russia); Oracle; even Warner Bros chose not to release The Batman in Russia…okay, I’m cynical too, but what else do they have? At least they did something.

Take a look at the Ukraine Corporate Index…use it to make your own decisions about what coffee you’ll drink, the burger you’ll eat, or car you’ll buy. 

Will it make a difference? Some say yes… and while it’s easy to be cynical, as I often am, the difference I know it will make is with the people of Ukraine who need our support…financial, military, and moral…this one hits the moral bell with a loud peal. 

Then, of course, there’s Elon Musk. And while he might not be able to pronounce his kid’s name, and in general has given new meaning to my own cynicism, he has articulated his position clearly and with action supporting President Zelensky and the suffering people of Ukraine. 

In summary, I wonder if the Trust Barometer will take a hit as many Global Corporations sit on the sideline while countries like Germany, Switzerland, and Finland have broken with years and generations of custom, paranoia, fear, and inertia as they stake out their own claim to action and leadership.

Where does that leave us? 

If war is hell…Inaction is purgatory. 

Speak out. Demand that your companies take a stand…even if they have no business in Russia. Support the companies that have gone out on that ledge, and no matter your politics, help the people who are in harm’s terrible way. UNICEF and Red Cross are two serious NGOs that come to mind. 

KNEE JERK ALERT…people are dying…soldiers on both sides and civilians. Do your best.

What’s your view?

Published on Brandfit.