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Axios has a story making the case that, in fact, responding to pressure from employees and customers, CEOs are moving "beyond a monomaniacal focus on profits," and taking "specific action while politicians dither."

The story cites several examples beyond Walmart's decision to stop selling vaping products and Amazon's announcement that it is accelerating its efforts to comply with the Paris Climate Accords, to which the US government no longer is a signatory.

Among them: "Delta Airlines returns billions in profits to employees — this year, a bonus equal to 14% of their annual pay — and has grown since making this change. Every company can do this."

Or: "Stripe, the online payments platform, announced last month that it plans to spend at least $1 million a year to pay for direct removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."

Or: "Bank of America last year stopped lending money to makers of military-style assault weapons."

The Axios story notes that "the new public assertiveness by corporations follows an earlier wave, after President Trump took office, of CEOs taking stands on immigration, climate, gender equality and other issues that their predecessors avoided." And, "The pressure on CEOs from employees, customers and communities seems to only be intensifying."

Apple CEO Tim Cook puts it this way: "Apple is about changing the world. It became clear to me some number of years ago that you don’t do that by staying quiet on things that matter."

Along the same lines, Bloomberg has a piece about Walmart CEO Doug McMillon - who just took over as president of the Business Roundtable, which recently opined that companies should not make shareholder value their number one priority - in which it describes him as "emblematic of a younger generation of business leaders who are more woke than their pusillanimous predecessors in the executive suite."

McMillon, the story says, "along with other next-generation business leaders … see an increased need to speak out on political and social issues that don’t slice into their bottom lines. Gridlock in Congress has prevented progress on issues that matter to millions of Americans, presenting an opportunity for CEOs to become advocates."

Under McMillon's leadership, Walmart has raised its own starting minimum wage (though not as much as some other companies) while encouraging a legislated increase in the federal minimum wage …. discontinued the sale of handgun and assault-style weapon ammunition … banned open-carry in its stores … been aggressive on environmental issues … and even spoken up about racial violence.

There is, of course, a risk: "His public appearances could start to draw protesters who disagree with his stances on guns, wages and other issues. Opponents of gun-control legislation have threatened to challenge Walmart’s new open-carry restrictions by provoking confrontations in stores. But as McMillon said when announcing the gun-policy changes, he’s ready for it: 'The status quo is unacceptable'."
KC's View:
There is little question that many or even most of these executives would've been perfectly happy to run their companies in a world where they did not have to takes these kinds of positions. But forget for a moment frustration with the positions - or lack thereof - taken by politicians. One of the things that technology has given us is a consumer class that is far better informed than ever … and even more opinionated. It is interested in values as well as value, and in a world of enormous clutter and distraction, the right positions give companies a way to differentiate themselves.