This is demonstrated in the lead paragraph of a recent Wall Street Journal article.
Chief executives are taking vocal stands on issues like gun control, climate change, and immigration, but global affairs bring a different complexity and calculation, especially for companies doing business in China*.
In the aftermath of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s now-deleted tweet, the National Basketball Association has found the consequences of even implicitly criticizing Chinese policy can be swift and sizable.
Not to pick on the NBA in particular (although its behavior has been especially public, cowardly, and so reprehensible), Apple and Alphabet, among lots of others, also have sacrificed principle for company “security” in the PRC, while favoring yuan, also, over principle.
No, taking principled positions don’t get complexified by the environment in which they’re taken. The fundamental tenets of ethics, of morality, are universal and constant; the only adjustments are in the manner of their implementation. There’s nothing at all complex about that. Company personnel are either principled, ethical, moral, or they are not. These are not matters of situation or convenience.
Executives have to thread a needle when a company’s commercial and financial interests clash with the CEO’s personal values and the cultural values of an enterprise and its home country, said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a leadership expert at the Yale School of Management. “One of the rarely discussed downsides of globalization is you get caught in those crosscurrents,” he said.
Those “cross-currents” are irrelevant. Either the CEO or the enterprise have principles worth standing by and sacrificing for, or the CEO or the enterprise have no principles. It’s that simple.
Another misunderstanding is this one by Paul Argenti, Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business Professor of Corporate Communication:
The job of a CEO is not to save the world or make the world safe for democracy[.]
No, but it is a core part of his job to be, at all times and in all circumstances, ethical, moral, and not hypocritical. An example of business’ glaring hypocrisy: the Business Roundtable. That group is carefully and with deliberation silent on the NBA’s, et al., meek acquiescence to the PRC’s tyrants.
One last misunderstanding, this one by Rick Wartzman, Drucker Institute’s Director of the KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society [paraphrased by WSJ]:
The fracas sparked by ephemeral statements can distract from more substantive questions of social responsibility[.]
“What concerns me is whether statements, while important, become a substitute for the more meaningful work around what it means to be a responsible company and take care of all your stakeholders[.]”
Again, no. The only way such things can distract is if the statement maker chooses to be distracted. Staying focused on the business of the company in such a circumstance may be hard to do, but being hard means it’s eminently possible.
*The WSJ, like most of the NLMSM, refers to the People’s Republic of China as though it were the one and only. They ignore the nation just across a narrow straight from the mainland, the Republic of China that sits on the island of Taiwan.