To the CEOs who joined President Trump’s
manufacturing council in the hope of advising the president
about what’s good for America’s private sector I have one thing
Stop playing yourselves. Now is the time.
In the past 72 hours, Trump has proven that he not only doesn’t
care about the values of the American workplace, but also that he
doesn’t respect your opinion about what those values should be.
That is why three CEOs have left the president’s manufacturing
council since Monday — Merck‘s Ken
Frazier, Under Armour‘s Kevin
Plank and Intel‘s Brian
I’m sure you’re all aware of the heinous events that transpired
in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend when white supremacists
and fascists of various strains descended on the city to put
their violence and bigotry on display for the world to see. An
American died there, and all Trump had for her were a few pithy
words about how there was blame to go around on all sides.
And then on Monday morning when Merck CEO Kenneth
Frazier, one of the few black CEO’s on the council, resigned over
Trump’s absurd response to what transpired, Trump did what he is
known to do. He went on a Twitter rampage.
“Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from
President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to
LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES,” he tweeted.
Plank and Kzranich followed shortly after, and again Trump was
He tweeted: “For every CEO that drops out of the
Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place.
Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!”
These “grandstanders” were clearly trying to send a Trump because
leaving was they only way they could get him to pay attention.
For months CEO’s have rationalized joining Trump’s business
councils by saying they were trying help the president make
better decisions about American business. That obviously
Business leaders will tell you that discrimination creates a
hostile work environment, so any business minded politician
should care about that. They should care that people qualified
and ready to work feel safe when they do so. This has become a
value, a norm in American business.
That is why you see some of the people who participated in
protests getting fired from their jobs. In America, we have
decided that no one has a right to make anyone else feel
uncomfortable in their place of business because of their race or
religion, and that business owners have a right to make sure of
This shouldn’t have to be articulated to the President of the
But if you think you can articulate it, you’re
playing yourself. Trump isn’t really taking the advice of the
CEO’s who he’s surrounded himself with in these photo ops.
We’ve already seen some examples of this. Tesla CEO Elon Musk
left the council after he said the US would back out of the
Paris climate accord. Former Uber CEO Travis
Kalanick left after the controversial immigration “ban.”
Both men tried to argue that they joined because thought they
could advise the President.
His decisions made it obvious that that was not the case. Their
advice never mattered. They couldn’t change Trump’s mind about a
policy once it was set. Think about it: His closest advisors
barely can move him, let alone people outside the White House.
Remember how he steamrolled them (and business leaders) with his
decision to leave the Paris Climate Accord.
So CEOs: save the “But I’m helping him” excuses for someone else.
Now maybe you, a millionaire CEO, are afraid of a tweet from
Trump. That is the impression at least one cowardly CEO gave the
New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin:
When I asked one chief executive Monday morning why he had
remained publicly silent, he told me: “Just look at what he did
to Ken. I’m not sticking my head up.” Which, of course, is the
reason he said I could not quote him by name.
One of the scariest things about American capitalism is that CEOs
can sometimes rule like kings (watch a board try to unseat
JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and see what happens) while presidents get
elected every four years. Think about that for a second.
Or maybe you’re on the council because you think you can play
Trump’s game. Frazier, perhaps, thought it would be better to
have a seat at the table as Trump talked drug pricing and health
Maybe you think that,
like Boeing, you can petition the President to move against
your foreign rivals (in Boeing’s case, Bombardier) for the
benefit of your company.
It’s a cynical trick, but at least it makes sense.
It’s not worth it. Trump’s trade policy has been nothing but
disarray so far, just like the rest of his policies. If you play
this game maybe you’ll get a nice tariff or some tough talk
against your competitors, but none of that lasts forever.
You know what does? Photos of you sitting around a table with a
President who doesn’t care what you say. Photos of you looking
like a sycophant wasting your shareholders’, employees’, and