Apple, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson CEOs get vocal about Trump's immigration policy

Tim Cook, Apple CEO
Apple CEO Tim Cook is among executives speaking out against the Trump administration's immigration policies. (Apple)

After what is being called a slow start, U.S. CEOs have begun speaking out against President Donald Trump’s approach to illegal immigration along the country’s southern borderprosecution, deportation and separating children from their parents. And while CEOs are letting their opinions be known, one study says President Trump’s stance is costing employers money.

Last week, over a dozen chief executives at some of the nation’s largest companies made their opposition known.

The Washington Post was among publications to list some of the CEOs who were heard from about the situation. They included Apple CEO Tim Cook, who said, “It's heartbreaking to see the images and hear the sounds of the kids.” Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg urged donations to the Texas Civil Rights Project, saying, “We need to stop this policy right now.”

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Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky called for “an immediate end to the policy.” Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein called it “tragic.” And Chuck Robbins, the chief executive of Cisco Systems, said what was going on was “cruel and contrary to American values.”

A developing trend

By letting their opinions be known, CEOs are taking the right steps and following a developing trend, research shows.

A paper by Aaron Chatterji of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Michael Toffel of Harvard Business School concluded that CEOs are becoming increasingly vocal over societal matters that are largely unrelated to their company’s core business. When they do make their opinions known, they influence the public’s thinking about the issue and can also see an uptick in their products’ sales.

“Business leaders have the opportunity to speak out as individuals in attempts to influence social issues,” the researchers say. “And corporate leaders—whose activism often attracts media attention—can use this power to their advantage when advocating in the public domain.”

Galvanizing supporters

CEOs “are increasingly being asked to weigh in on controversial political and social issues,” the researchers said. “In a politically polarized environment, speaking out can galvanize supporters, spark opposition, or both. By using their bully pulpit, CEOs can shape the national conversation by the words they choose and the audiences they address.”

Chief executives who take a stance can also build business. “When CEOs take public stands on controversial issues, they can galvanize support for their company among those who share the same viewpoint,” the study said. “This is an important lesson for CEOs who are considering weighing in on a public issue.”

There is, however, a risk of turning off those who don’t agree with the CEO’s comments or position. Nonetheless, a study by Edelman found that 64% of consumers say CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it. And CEOs may also be having a calming effect that can save employers money.

Controversial news costs

Difficult or controversial news that impacts the U.S., much like recent coverage of immigration policy, could cost employers $832.5 million for every 19.2 minutes workers spend talking and reading about it at work, according to an analysis by Challenger, Grey & Christmas.

Challenger arrived at its conclusions by using a news consumption study by Nielsen that found 169 million Americans read the news either through print, online, or by mobile device. Applying the employment-population ratio to this group, 96.6 million American workers read the news. With the average hourly wage at $26.92 in May, employers could lose that $832.5 million for every 19.2 minutes workers spend on negative news, the consulting firm said.

The situation is also causing stress and that, in addition to potential sleep loss, “absolutely impacts the performance of a workforce,” said Andrew Challenger, VP of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in a statement.