Can corporate America afford to walk away from President Trump? – Neal Hartman

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman

From The Conversation

After campaigning as the candidate best able to work with business, President Donald Trump has shown he is anything but.

stream of resignations from high-level business counsels hit a crescendo recently when Trump was forced to disband two executive councils. The widespread and public defections were in protest over his unwillingness to unequivocally condemn racism and intolerance over the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

As an expert in organizational communication and leadership, I saw the dismissal of the councils as a dramatic and important moment in the relationship between top business leaders and the president. But does it spell the demise of the often difficult partnership between President Trump and corporate America?

A permanent breach?

CEOs like Merck’s Ken Frazier rightly voted their conscience when they began to abandon Trump’s American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum. Frazier, the first to resign, said he felt “a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

The Wall Street Journal, however, was quick to point out that many companies have stopped short of saying they would refuse to work with the White House in the future.

Indeed, despite the heated rhetoric, one thing is clear: Corporate America wants and needs to work with the administration, while the president benefits from a healthy relationship with America’s CEOs.

So if they both need each other, the question becomes how this increasingly tenuous relationship will play out.

Managing a tense relationship

CEOs from companies as diverse as General Electric and Under Armour resigned their positions on the councils and condemned the president. Despite this, their companies will continue to need to press their vast legislative and regulatory agendas with the White House.

Pretty much every U.S. company has a vested interest in economic and global affairs and the policy choices of the U.S. government. In recent days, some CEOs have told reporters that they regret – now that the councils have disbanded – not having a direct role to play and a collective voice in policy matters.

Others, such as Apple’s Tim Cook, show how it’s possible to publicly disagree with the president over some issues, such as equality, immigration and climate change, yet continue to influence the course of areas like tax reform and LGBTQ rights in private.

This may well be the new way of doing business with Washington.

Read the full post at The Conversation.

Neal Hartman is a Senior Lecturer in Managerial Communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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