Since 2020, we have seen an ongoing wave of social unrest in the U.S., triggered by the murder of George Floyd. Since then, many Americans became more active in fighting against social injustice through social media advocacy, protesting and continuing to educate one another. Not only did this injustice shift public action, but it also led to social issues and business merging in a new way.
As businesses navigate this shifting culture, responsible leadership from CEOs is more critical than ever, especially for large corporations. Young people are no longer looking to just consume a business's products, but also want to be able to align themselves with the company's ethics. Those companies' values start with the CEO’s beliefs and how responsibly they run their business. The public is seeking companies and leaders that practice diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), as well as stakeholder capitalism.
Bertrand Guillotin, associate professor of management and director of the international business program, finds that using teaching cases can help students embrace all different perspectives and leadership styles.
“It is important that business schools help students become responsible leaders. With the complexity of business today, students may end up in all different sectors and levels within companies,” says Guillotin. “Therefore, they will be expected to use the leadership skills they obtained from university.”
To that end, Guillotin wrote two cases—The Hershey Company: Broken Pledge to Stop Using Child Labour and Chick-Fil-A: International Expansion Challenges—to prepare students with ethical business tactics for the time they step into a leadership role themselves.
The research in these cases focuses on the perspectives of the Hershey and Chick-Fil-A CEOs and the dilemmas companies were facing internally and externally. Through teaching these cases, Guillotin was able to listen to the student's opinions and help guide them through how to properly reconcile the issues the companies have from a leader’s perspective.
Both Chick-Fil-A and Hershey are large companies that have a lot at stake, therefore they need responsible leadership. Leaders should focus on bringing people together by aligning their company values with customers’ values.
Responsible leadership in the case of Hershey
Michele Buck became the first woman president and CEO of Hershey in 2017. Despite this breakthrough, Buck faced the challenge of providing greater supply-chain transparency and compliance with human rights. At the annual shareholder meeting in May 2021, Buck had to address the issue of child labor use by Hershey’s suppliers because it pertained to the company’s reputation, its core business model and its corporate responsibility.
In the teaching case about Hershey, which was published by Harvard Business Review, Guillotin found that this deep-rooted issue with child labor is a major red flag for a company that emphasizes a quest “to bring goodness to the world.” In his research, he noticed that as markets were expanding and a new CEO was being welcomed to the company, the fundamental issue of child labor was not being adequately addressed and was still prevalent.
“It was surprising to discover how a large company like Hershey has these big underlying issues, making it more complicated to be a newer CEO at these times,” says Guillotin. “When Buck became the CEO of Hershey, she had to balance social pressures while still making the most out of market opportunities.”
Guillotin explains that Buck has to show that as a CEO, she will ensure that Hershey is making a real change. The children in West Africa who harvest cacao beans are dependent on choices made by corporate figures like herself.
“When teaching this case to students, responsible leadership is about looking at your overall role as a leader,” says Guillotin. “The students must ask themselves as future leaders what their legacy will be.”
Importance of values, beliefs and shareholder capitalism
Many people find it difficult to separate personal values and beliefs from purchasing habits. Oftentimes, individuals believe that if they buy products from certain companies, then they are endorsing their ideas and beliefs.
In Guillotin’s case on Chick-Fil-A, which was published by Ivey Publishing and co-branded with the Fox School, he encourages students to be aware of how a CEO’s image as a responsible leader affects the expansion of her company.
“Chick-Fil-A is seen as a community-oriented company, but they have outspoken Christian values that don’t resonate with all of their customers. For instance, the company has sent millions of dollars to anti-gay Christian organizations,” says Guillotin. “Due to their values, it was difficult for Chick-Fil-A to expand their business overseas in Europe. When they tried to enter the market, the first thing that came up on the internet was the CEO’s monetary support of anti-gay Christian organizations, along with their strong values.”
Overseas, potential customers saw that the brand's strong Christian values did not align with their beliefs. As business models change over time, social behaviors also shift. People no longer just want to consume a brand's product, but they want the product to represent their own beliefs. Responsible leaders, then, must be willing to carry their values across the entire company without being inconsistent.
“Stakeholder capitalism focuses on the businesses not only doing well financially but putting an emphasis on doing good in the community where they contribute,” says Guillotin. “People are looking for well-rounded companies. They want to be able to fully support the company.”
Facilitating difficult conversations in the classroom
Guillotin praises Temple University and the Fox School for preparing students with above-average diversity experiences. Within the university, you can find diversity in disciplines, faculty members and countries where students are from.
“Students do not always see themselves as future CEOs because they are focused on trying to get their first jobs out of undergraduate school,” says Guillotin. “However, I teach these cases because I tell my students that this can be them one day as they move up in roles. It is crucial that they are aware of what responsible leadership looks like so that they do not inadvertently end up looking irresponsible.”
While talking about divisive social issues that may trigger some students, business schools must continue to discuss the policies that have effects on the industry and what students can do when they enter the workforce to ensure a safe working environment.
“As a professor, we make sure that every perspective is welcomed into the classroom and that we listen to the experiences of students, allowing them to help lead the conversation. We must also emphasize that we respect everyone’s values while sticking to the facts in cases,” says Guillotin. “The readiness of my students to enter the workforce is higher than they actually think it is because they are leaving Temple understanding diversity and the complexities of business today.”
5 pieces of advice from Professor Guillotin for responsible leadership
1. Be strategic. Look at the trends in society and don’t be afraid to react to the changing trends.
2. Understand your operations. Have in-depth knowledge of your customer’s experience.
3. Think five steps ahead. Take into account the values and beliefs of your customers and employees, especially when considering community and brand association changes.
4. DEI is serious business. After much recent social unrest, DEI has become crucial in business as it is our nation’s path forward.
5. Business is not just one discipline. Integrate all the different viewpoints, understand the whole picture and be in sync with the community.