“Character is destiny.”
—Heraclitus, philosopher, ancient Greece, 544–483 BC
What must some one or some entity do to cause one to stop doing business with them? When considering corporate social responsibility, do you separate the individual and private actions of a CEO from that of the company? We faced this question last month when we learned about the actions of Go Daddy CEO Bob Parsons.
Some business decisions are not as they appear. Delve deeper. Your clients will delve deeper. One may find something that resonates with greater strength than a quantitative spreadsheet analysis. But, that “something” may be the deciding factor in how business is done.
That little voice is your corporate ethos. And who you are, what you stand for—or take a stand against—can be the determining factor in who chooses to do business with you, and where their long-term loyalty is placed.
People like to do business with people and companies that share their values. Because companies are legal entities, we personalize them through their talking heads, who are often their founders or CEO.
The Corporate Face
Lido “Lee” Iacocca gained a national reputation as CEO of Chrysler Motors after making his mark at Ford. While with Chrysler, Iacocca made the unprecedented move to appeal to Congress for a loan guarantee to help engineer a corporate turnaround when Chrysler was on the edge of going out of business. Although controversial at the time, Iacocca’s efforts saved the corporation and, arguably, a great number of jobs throughout the country. Iacocca was the personal face for Chrysler, and has argued for investment in U.S. innovation, just as CEO Dave Thomas was the corporate face for Wendy’s and symbolized a greater ethos for the company and millions of Wendy’s customers.
Thomas was quoted as saying,
“Only in America would a guy like me, from humble beginnings and without a high school diploma become successful. America gave me a chance to live the life I want and work to make my dreams come true. We should never take our freedoms for granted, and we should seize every opportunity presented to us.”
So, the premise is that we ascribe meaning to the actions and words of our corporate leaders.
Go Daddy CEO in Zimbabwe
So, that brings us to the question of Robert Parsons. Go Daddy is an Internet domain registrar and web hosting company that sells e-business software and services. PRI has done business on a regular basis with Go Daddy. When Parsons videotaped and posted himself killing an elephant in Zimbabwe last month, his actions were not taken on behalf of the company, they were his own. But, Parsons also enjoys name recognition as the company’s founder. His actions have meaning. The killing received global media attention and was found offensive and disturbing by many, including the staff of PRI and PRI president, Chintan Parikh.
We took immediate action. We elected to pull our accounts from Go Daddy and move them to a competing domain name registration company, Namecheap.com, who offered a discounted transfer fee and a percentage donation to Save the Elephants.
Our feelings were complicated. We were disturbed by the killing, and we did not want to continue our association with a company whose founder initiated, in our opinion, an unnecessary and savage act. If Parson—so closely tied to his company’s reputation—could make a statement based on his actions, so could we. And we did.
PRI has built a reputation through the years as an earth-friendly and environmentally aware company. It’s no better illustrated in our passion and enthusiasm than working with Karen O’Connell and Patrick McDonnell of MUTTS fame. But it holds true for our other clients as well, whose work is based on integrity. Collectively and individually, we understand that we are responsible for our actions. Character may not be a guide to quality, but many can argue successfully that it can be a leading indicator. And Heraclitus may have said it best. Character is destiny—our integrity and the intrinsic value we bring to each day are wrapped up in it.