Most Americans Want Activist CEOs

By April Hall
December 21, 2018

Younger people, however, are more interested in chief executives taking social stands than their Baby-Boomer counterparts.

The activist CEO has been making waves over the last few years over a host of social, political, economic and environmental issues.

Some high-profile examples included the fast food chain Chick-fil-A’s CEO taking an anti-marriage equality stance, and more recently the CEO of Merck pharmaceutical company deciding to step down from President Donald Trump’s manufacturing council. The executives ended up both derided and supported, depending on where people stood on the issues.

The reaction from the public can be a mixed bag, but most Americans think the chief executive should be taking a stand, according to a recent survey from Stanford School of Business.

Researchers at Stanford Business surveyed more than 3,500 people to gauge feelings about CEO activism. In a snapshot, political party affiliation and age seem to make a difference in the opinion on how corporate leaders should use their platforms to take a stand.

Some key findings include:

  • Many Americans believe CEOs of large companies should use their positions to influence social, political, and environmental issues (65%).
  • Democrats (72%) care more about activism than Republicans (57%).
  • Boomers don’t want to hear CEOs’ opinions (54%). Millennials and Gen Xers, however, are much more likely to support CEO activism (71% and 63%, respectively).
  • Environmental concerns and big social issues like health care, income inequality, and poverty have the most support.
  • Diversity issues including race, gender, and sexuality; politics; religion; and obvious “hot-button” issues like gun control or abortion have the least amount of support.