Florida lawmakers’ recent move to end Disney’s special privileges has other corporations on alert, according to a report released over the weekend.
After Disney leadership opposed parental rights legislation in Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis declared that “Disney is a guest in Florida” and signed legislation to end the Reedy Creek Improvement District — a 39-square-mile special governing and tax district that hosted Disney World while allowing Disney to avoid certain state taxes and regulations.
According to The Wall Street Journal, CEOs are now asking the question how they can steer clear of the same outcome for their own firms.
“The No. 1 concern CEOs have is, ‘When should I speak out on public issues?’” former Medtronic CEO and current Harvard Business School senior fellow Bill George told the outlet. “As one CEO said to me, ‘I want to speak out on social issues, but I don’t want to get involved in politics.’ Which I said under my breath, ‘That’s not possible.’”
The Wall Street Journal noted that some executives may feel a sense of relief, as they can focus on maximizing shareholder returns while staying away from raging political debates. Indeed, corporate governance lawyer David Berger told the outlet that lawmakers are growing in their willingness to take on business when it is advantageous for them.
“It used to be that Republicans especially — but both parties — liked big business,” he explained. “And now what you’re seeing is both parties like to use big business as political footballs one way or the other.”
Julie Schertell, the CEO of Georgia-based manufacturing company Neenah, said that “probably anybody sitting in a leadership role” is following the Disney situation “to some degree.”
“Because I want folks to assume positive intent, like ‘Here’s what we’re trying to do, and if it feels like a misstep, let’s talk about that. And of course, correct on it,’” she said with respect to considering employees’ concerns.
Ron Williams — the former chairman of Aetna who now sits on the boards of Boeing, Johnson & Johnson, and American Express — explains that navigating politics is a “challenging job” for executives.
“Companies often deal in substance, and politicians often deal with foils,” he said. “And so, you know, companies can inadvertently become a foil for different political issues. It’s not enough to know what you want to do. You have to be artful in how you do it.”
After crafting the firm’s initial response to the parental rights legislation, Disney communications chief Geoff Morrell left his job following the Florida debacle. “After three months in this new role, it has become clear to me that for a number of reasons it is not the right fit,” Morrell said in a letter.
(Disclosure: The Daily Wire has announced plans for kids entertainment content.)