CEO Politics and the Workplace

Seriously, the Library of Congress is a treasure-trove of this stuff.

If you missed this segment on Up with Chris Hayes then you missed a good conversation on a disturbing, and puzzling, phenomenon (all emphasis in bold are mine):

Westgate Resorts CEO David Siegel came under fire this week for sending an email to his employees demanding that they vote for Mitt Romney and threatening to downsize the company if they don’t. But Siegel’s email isn’t an outlier. It fits a pattern of imperious CEOs attempting to marshal the support of their employees in pursuit of their own political interests. Up w/ Chris Hayes has exclusively obtained an email sent by the CEO of a Florida-based software firm, ASG Software Solutions, to his over 1,000 employees asking them to vote for Romney for president and suggesting that their jobs may be at stake if Romney doesn’t win. The subject line of the email, sent by ASG President and CEO Arthur Allen on Sept. 30, asks: “Will the US Presidential election directly impact your future jobs at ASG? Please read below.”

Via the Huffington Post, here’s a full copy of the ASG letter:

Subject: Will the US Presidential election directly impact your future jobs at ASG? Please read below. 

To all ASG employees, We have been stuck in an extremely sick global economy, but as we should all know by now, the global economy largely depends on the US economy. This sick global economy has been negatively influencing ASG since December 2008. No one could have ever have dreamed that the US economy would still be sick 4 years later, but it is. We have a chance, as individuals, to help turn the sick US economy into a healthy economy, and positively influence the global economy as well. This chance comes on November 6th, when we elect a new President and administration. The US and the world need to elect individuals who have business experience. Neither the world nor the US can stand to elect politicians any longer. In my view, and in the view of most business leaders, if you give politicians 100 questions, they will give you back 100 wrong answers simply because they have no basis for making those decisions. Would you hire a person with no experience to do brain surgery? Of course not, but that’s what the US voters did in 2009. Why does the world keep hiring politicians to run our global economies when they have no experience? It just makes no sense, and yet the world keeps doing it over and over again. Let’s take the lead on November 6th and show the world how it should and can be done. Many of you have been with ASG for over 5, 10, 15, and even 20 years. As you know, together, we have been able to keep ASG an independent company while still growing our revenues and customers. But I can tell you, if the US re-elects President Obama, our chances of staying independent are slim to none. I am already heavily involved in considering options that make our independence go away, and with that all of our lives would change forever. I believe that a new President and administration would give US citizens and the world the renewed confidence and optimism we all need to get the global economies started again, and give ASG a chance to stay independent. If we fail as a nation to make the right choice on November 6th, and we lose our independence as a company, I don’t want to hear any complaints regarding the fallout that will most likely come. Remember, in the world of business, companies are consolidators or they get consolidated; so far ASG has been a consolidator, completing over 60 acquisitions in our 26 year history. When we buy a company, we eliminate about 60 percent of the salaries of the employees of that company. If we lose our independence and get consolidated, the same thing would happen to ASG’s employees. I am asking you to give us one more chance to stay independent by voting in a new President and administration on November 6th. Even then, we still might not be able to remain independent, but it will at least give us a chance. If we don’t, that chance goes away. I apologize for writing such a blunt email, but for those of you who have known me for years and years, you know that this must be serious, and it is. I am going to follow this email with an email to All Sales, offering all of our help to assist them in making Q4 the best quarter in ASG history. Business is hard to find, but it is out there if Sales just goes and gets it. Mr. Allen

Some of my more light-hearted thoughts:

  • Sigh. Really? The epistemic failure inherent in a CEO lamenting the quality of “politicians to run our global economies” is saddening and perhaps revealing – again and again we’re told to assume that “job-creators,” like a Mitt Romney, are uniquely suited to solving the economy by becoming President of the United States. My feeling is that these people should know that being president doesn’t make you CEO of America, let alone part-CEO of the global economy. Yet again and again I’m disappointed when high-level business executives fail to undestand that the federal government doesn’t “run” the economy, or when they flunk grasping basic concepts like marginal taxation. I suppose in that respect the quintessential elite that Allen et al. uphold as business paragons of the “Git’ r done” variety, really aren’t much different than any other low-information voter when it comes to the reality of governance.
  • Having said all that it probably shouldn’t surprise us that Mr. Allen believes that the economy’s main problem is a lack of self-esteem that can only be alleviated by voting president Obama out of office. Perhaps the economy is akin to a demoralized team at halftime and just needs an Al Pacino style pep talk. Or perhaps it has long-since ascended to the status of a Skynet-like self-awareness and now needs a life coach to help sort out its midlife anomie – “Forget about aggregate demand, you just need think back to your Clinton days robot buddy and keep plugging away.” Give me a break.
  • Hm. I’m not sure I would admit to my employees that whenever the company “consolidates” another company it’s a net-job destroyer. Furthermore, I’m not sure I would advertise this as a positive aspect overall and then ask them to elect someone whose past business dealings sometimes involved buying companies and laying off a majority of employees.

Really, though, this comes down to the presumptive warning that “If you vote to reelect president Obama I cannot guarantee that you’ll have a job. Why? Well, the president is a politician and we all know that politicians* have no basis from which to correctly answer any question.” This form of speech, however illogical in substance, is of course legal and ostensibly protected by the first amendment. We must respect the rights of individuals to say things we don’t like and they must receive no persecution from the federal government, irrespective of their analytical quality or the merit(s) of their message.

Now this may not matter in the case of inanity as such with regards to Mr. Allen, but it’s a little bit more troubling when it comes to the organizationally effective Koch brothers. In the case of David Siegel it’s also a little bit more nauseating. Apparently the role of chief executive is proving too tempting a bully pulpit to avoid its usage as tool to achieve political objectives. Which isn’t to say that there is something wrong with political speech being exercised in the workplace. However, that such individuals are specifically using their hierarchal positions to push political agendas on employees — in effect, viewing their labor force as numerical leverage to influence elections — should give us all pause for thought.

I wish I had something profound to say but this is matter of concern for which I do not see an easy and appropriate answer. Given the many issues for which this subject touches upon — workplace coercion, free speech, the political objectives of ownership versus the constrained options of employees — perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising. Yet the lack of a clear answer, legal or otherwise, shouldn’t preclude the legitimacy of asking the question: what could, or should, be done about it?

*Unless you’re Mitt Romney, apparently.

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2 responses to “CEO Politics and the Workplace

  1. Pingback: On “The Queen of Versailles” | Punditocracy·

  2. Pingback: On “The Queen of Versailles” | The McLean Parlor·

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