In 2015 Ross Douthat coined the term "woke capitalism" when writing a piece for the New York Times. He defined it as how companies signal their support for progressive causes in order to maintain their influence in society. He really tapped into something. Since then, this mindset has only grown, as the largest corporations are now weighing in of almost every major (and not-so-major) public policy issue. The problem: they increasingly land on the "leftist" side of the issue.
So what is the impact? Is this a coordinated effort? What is the antidote to this "corporate wokeness" infiltrating our largest American companies? On this episode, Andy Olivastro joins us to weigh in with a unique perspective. He led communications and reputation strategy for some of the largest corporations and best known brands, and witnessed first-hand this gradual shift toward "corporate wokeness."
Tim Doescher: From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Tim Doescher and this is Heritage Explains.
Doescher: A new law to protect elections in Georgia was recently passed. It will do several things to ensure elections are safe and secure. The left predictably went nuts.
James Quincey: This legislation is unacceptable. It is a step backwards and it does not promote principles we have stood for in Georgia around fraud access to voting around voter convenience, about ensuring election integrity. And this is frankly just a step backwards.
Ed Bastian: This is about protecting the voices of our people. When I speak to our people, particularly within the black community, and we're here in Atlanta, we've got a very, very large black employee base, almost universally they are hurt by the law and the legislation that was enacted. And we need to make certain their voices are heard.
Darren Walker: This entire effort is based on a lie, a lie that the election that we just experienced was in somehow not legitimate. In fact, it was an election that we should be celebrating because more Americans voted. And when more Americans vote, our democracy is more strong.
Doescher: So who are these voices speaking in protest of the law passed by the duly elected Georgia legislature and signed into law by the Governor? Nope, not politicians, not TV personalities on cable news, it's Coca-Cola CEO, James Quincey, Delta Air Lines CEO, Ed Bastian, and Ford Foundation President, Darren Walker. In addition to their protest, you've probably also seen the extensive coverage of Major League Baseball's punishing move of the All-Star Game out of Atlanta to another state. But this episode is not about a Georgia law designed to promote election integrity, that's for a whole 'nother episode entirely. This is about those helping lead the charge against more and more conservative ideas. Corporate America. To better set the stage, here's Charles Payne on Fox Business.
Charles Payne: The largest businesses in this country, well, they decided to preempt the torch and pitchfork crowd, because they know that there will be an evolution of capitalism or a devolution backwards to something like corporatism. Corporatism, by the way, is a system that would have business, government, and unions all sharing in the decision making duties.
Doescher: This trend toward corporatism or corporate wokeness is becoming more and more popular throughout corporate America. Corporations are willingly becoming activated political arms for left-wing causes. Why? What happened to these historic brands remaining neutral, letting the quality of their products speak for itself on the open market, and letting politicians worry about politics? What about shareholders and the employees of these corporations? Do they have a say in such divisive policy stances? Who's behind this increased wokeness in the boardroom?
Andy Olivastro: If you're a shareholder of a corporation, you literally own the company and it's your property in the form of capital. That capital is now being diverted to causes and purposes that you never intended to support, but it's all because of this Great Reset that there are people that believe so much about how things should be done, that they're using your money to advance their own initiatives.
Doescher: Andy Olivastro is the director of coalition relations here at The Heritage Foundation. Before this role, he led communications and reputation strategy for some of the largest corporations and best known brands. He witnessed firsthand this gradual shift towards corporate wokeness. On this episode, he gives us the antidote to corporate wokeness and ways we, as conservatives, must pushback. More after this.
Doescher: Andy, thank you so much for being with us on Explains this week.
Olivastro: It's a pleasure to be here, thank you for having me, Tim.
Doescher: Well, there are a lot of terms floating out there. I've seen the lot of them and I've actually made up one as trying to explain these myself. So I've got corporate wokeness, I've got woke capitalism, my term, which is woke corporatism. I know Ross Douthat from the New York Times was one of the first who coined the phrase woke capitalism in 2015. That's some of the research I did. He said woke capitalism is how companies signal their support for progressive causes in order to maintain their influence in society. But I wanted to get your definition before we get started with this interview.
Olivastro: Unfortunately, Ross's definition is pretty good and that's part of the problem, but I like your phrase, Tim, woke corporatism. What it is is a top-down anti-democratic movement. And it's on the part of some of the biggest and most important names in American business to change the way that business functions, to change the definition of capitalism itself, and to permanently change the relationship between the citizen and the state.
Doescher: It's so funny. You should just go right there to anti-democratic, because the recent law passed in Georgia, which fixed a lot of the election issues within the state of Georgia, was greeted with a ton of criticism from the left. I mean, all the usual suspects, including President Biden criticized it, but then right after it, we saw companies like Delta Air Lines, we saw Coca-Cola, even American Airlines, all these major corporations piled on to criticize this duly passed law by the state legislature signed into law by the Governor. I mean, is this coordinated between everybody?
Olivastro: I wouldn't say it's coordinated, but it certainly is a shared effort in that sense. Our colleague at Heritage Action, Jessica Anderson had a great tweet over the weekend. And she said that the left is blatantly manipulating Georgia's business community and assaulting Georgia's election law based on falsehoods. No executive should cave to pressure to disavow this law. And I think that is a perfect summary of what the situation is in Georgia. Look no further than President Biden who got four Pinocchios from the Washington post itself in his description of the Georgia voting law.
Doescher: Yeah, yeah. No kidding. In your recent piece, which I'm going to link to, it's called Success, Not Corporate Wokeness, Elevates the Human Condition. You worked in corporate America for the better part of a decade. And you paint a picture of when you were giving a speech, I think it you were an accepting award for your corporation's contribution to the arts or something like that. And you talk about the virtues of the private sector, creating opportunities to realize dreams, but then you notice halfway through that you started losing the crowd. Maybe that speech would have worked in the 80s, but not now. So tell me just a little bit, from your perspective, being in corporate America, what's changed.
Olivastro: I think what's changed, Tim, I appreciate the question, I think what's changed is that there are growing numbers of people that want to impose their political and cultural preferences on the world, and they want to use your money to pay for it. And I think the reason why I felt like I was losing the audience in front of me when I simply said that successful businesses improve the human condition and that I added that I was accepting the award on behalf of our share owner's board of directors and more than 200,000 employees around the world, that meant that there were too many other voices that were going to have a point of view on how that money was going to be spent. And when you're in a room in the middle of Central Park at the boat house in black tie surrounded by other business leaders and members of the arts community, these are a lot of people that have a point of view on how the world should run and they're more than happy to use your money to pay for it.
Doescher: Michael Jordan, if you watch The Last Dance, which is great, they asked him about why he didn't get more political. And he said something along the lines of, "Well, conservatives buy sneakers too." So what does that look like from a corporate perspective? Are they just planning on people, whether they disagree or agree with them, "Well, they're going to buy sneakers from us anyway, so we don't really care," taking this really hard line stance. What is the thought process there for a CEO or a board of directors?
Olivastro: Well, unfortunately, CEOs are not as strong, and as stubborn, and as insightful in all the same ways that Michael Jordan was 30 years ago. And unfortunately not even like Charles Barkley was over the weekend. The American people shouldn't let any organization divide us. And I think that's a key attribute of leadership. Leaders unite, they don't divide. And the question of corporate leaders need to be called on the carpet and they need to be told to do better. And Heritage President Kay James, I think had the best quote on this during the early days of the BLM conversation. It was direct and it was very pointed. And she said, "Corporations want to be socially relevant, but they've also got to be smart. Fund the good guys, don't fund the bad guys. And when corporations give millions of dollars to the BLM organization, which was started by Marxists, which hates corporate America, they're funding the beast."
Olivastro: And this was something that motivated Mike Gonzalez and I to point out in a piece that we wrote, we can't be certain of this, but it's hard to believe that that radical agenda is what most people signed up for when they made a Black Lives Matter social post or that every employee, customer, and share owner at Nike endorses a disruption of the family. It's beyond the pale, but we're smarter than that and we know better than that.
Doescher: I wonder, I really do wonder how many of these employees at these companies are really, really excited about the fact that a corporation is giving to a Black Lives Matter or some sort of Soros funded organization, which they are giving to.
Olivastro: I agree with you. I think this is where you start to again, see the real difference in understanding what leadership is and what business's role in society is. It was about a year ago, maybe a little bit more that the US Chamber of Commerce partnered with the Harvard Business Review and they published a paper on the Business Case for Civics Education. And it came out before the pandemic hit, and so it didn't get a lot of attention because everything was obviously focused on the pandemic. But in the paper, they made the case that civic learning isn't limited to the classroom. It occurs at school, at home, and at work. And because workplaces are one place where all races, religions, and ages congregate, business is uniquely positioned to help ensure that the next generation of Americans have the knowledge, skills, and disposition to take a productive role in civic life.
Olivastro: But the Chamber and its member companies didn't read or even heed its own findings. And so I make the point in my piece that we talked about earlier, CEOs in prior generations, they led with the bearing of generals and quarterbacks, but their modern counterparts, they can't even stand up straight because they're constantly kneeling before an endless array of stakeholders. And in this, they weaken themselves certainly, but they weaken the share owners and the employees. We all pay the price for this.
Doescher: The left is calling for a Great Reset. So, along with corporate wokeness or woke capitalism, talk a little bit about what a Great Reset would look like if the left had their way.
Olivastro: I think the reason why it tinges on this conspiracy theory mindset is because of the outfits that Klaus Schwab wears at World Economic Forum events. I mean, it's sort of like this Mike Myers villain and-
Doescher: Dr. Evil?
Olivastro: Yeah, Dr. Evil meets corporate boardroom kind of a thing.
Olivastro: But this is indicative of where control of the financial interests that you have as an individual and where the corporation either intersect or don't intersect. Share owners are being robbed. If you're a share owner of a corporation, you literally own the company. And it's your property in the form of capital, which has made the production of useful products and services possible and it's now available in the marketplace for consumers. That capital is now being diverted to causes and purposes that you never intended to support, but it's all because of this Great Reset that there are people that believe so much about how things should be done, that they're using your money to advance their own initiatives.
Olivastro: And if you're an employee of a large corporation, in a sense you're being hoodwinked here, because everyday you allocate your property in its purest sense, your time, and your talent, and your intellect, and you're only to watch it be abused. Your agreement to give of yourself could reap greater rewards in the form of higher salary and benefits, but it's all being called at the top and allocated towards, what I'd like to call the sort of Neo-Malthusian Luddites who think that population control and climate change are these initiatives that have to be undertaken at the behest of everybody and they're just using their brands to do it, or they're flying over in their corporate jets to Davos and having conversations that have no relevancy to elevating the middle-class around the world or creating more opportunity for people in America, which American multinational corporations should be focused on.
Doescher: So what is the recourse that we can take on the right to push back against this?
Olivastro: I believe, like I said earlier, that this is the battle of ideas. And I often think about what Frederick Douglass said about the three boxes, the ballot box, the jury box and the cartridge box. I try to apply it a little bit differently. I think we get three votes. I think we vote when we vote politically, I think we vote where we spend our money, and I believe we vote with our investments. And I think through that lens, we should be out there buying three rows of seats behind every home plate at every Major League Baseball park. And we should be wearing t-shirts that say we support election integrity.
Olivastro: I think that organizations like 2ndVote that do detailed research reports that highlight how many retail companies spend their money and which non-profits they support. I think people should be following them on social media and they should be looking and seeing how they can get smart on what they support. There's a really good piece in the Daily Signal today by David Almasi, 1 Investor With 1 Share Can Call Out Corporate Leftism. And it's a simple process that they use over at the Free Enterprise Project at the National Center for Public Policy Research. David lays out how anyone can be vocal when exercising their shares.
Doescher: Wait. Well, hold on a second. So you're saying that people can, and I've actually heard this before, but people will buy one share of Coca-Cola and then they'll stand up at a shareholders meeting and talk about the free market? Is that what's happening?
Olivastro: You can, as a shareholder and a share owner of the corporation, you can submit a question, and you can raise your question, and you can ask that question of the CEO. And most companies, when you try to do it through a shareholder resolution, will negotiate it away before the meeting itself. But during the meeting, you can elevate any issue that you want. And I would encourage people to read David's piece and I would encourage them to be familiar with some of the work of Justin Danhof, a colleague of his at the Free Enterprise Project. He's a shareholder activist on the right who does that. And I think it comes down to if you stay quiet or you stay home, then you're going to be ignored and you're going to allow yourself to be divided.
Doescher: I can't imagine there being a more uncomfortable position for a bunch of elitists sitting at one of these meetings for someone like you or I raising our hand to talk about conservative ideas and holding them accountable to ignoring them. Because if you think about this, we are a majority of America. There's no question about that. And so, for everybody out there to buy one share at a corporation and stand up, I mean I can only imagine the news headlines that would give and the awareness that that would build for such a cost.
Olivastro: And for most Americans, if they don't individually own shares in a corporation, they certainly have their mutual funds and their retirement funds. They need to be asking their fund managers how are they voting and where are they taking their guidance from? And maybe you trust it, but maybe you verify it as well, because that is where influence will be driven.
Doescher: Yeah, it's funny because as you're talking about this, the one thing that keeps going in my head is, "How come the left always gets their issue championed by big corporations? How come it's always the left's issues that get championed? How come there aren't corporations standing up and saying, 'Hey, abortion is terrible. It's a bad thing?' You just don't hear that. You don't see that. Maybe that's just because we're not being loud enough.
Olivastro: I think there was an assumption for a long period of time that the boardrooms of corporate America were largely aligned with what might be traditionally conservative or Republican issues. And whether that was once true or not, it is no longer the case.
Doescher: Yeah, Andy, it's a great, great effort here. And I'm so glad that you're heading it up. You're taking your years and years of corporate experience and you are giving the conservative movement some action steps to go for. So I hope people log on, read this stuff. And most importantly, I hope people realize that they do have a voice, that they do have a vote here, whether it's, whether it's becoming a shareholder activist, as you talked about, or simply just voting with your resources. I thin it's all important. And man, thank you so much for the work. We look forward to having you back.
Olivastro: Well, thank you for having me. Thank you for platforming the conversation. I do think it's an important one and I agree with everything you just said and the way you said it. Everybody does have a voice, but in the manner of how the business world works, if you're a share owner or an employee, this is your property, this is your time, this is your talent, this is your expertise, this is your capital that's being used in a way that may undermine your values, it may undermine your beliefs, and it's certainly going to undermine the American way of life if we don't step in and stop it.
Doescher: Andy, thank you so much for being with us this week. And that's it, the show's over folks, but there's a lot of information that helped build out this episode. And all of it is linked up in the show notes. So please log on. Also, don't forget to leave us a comment, rate us five stars, and most importantly, share us with people who could benefit from this show.
Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of the Heritage Foundation. It is produced by Cordero and Tim Doescher, with editing by John Pop.