I work with CEOs for a living. Truth be told, most CEOs are politically conservative. They are, for the most part, right of center. They grumble about paying taxes. They complain about regulations that make it difficult to grow their businesses and make money. They believe in free markets. They don’t like unions.
I wondered why we have heard so little from the business community regarding the budget solution offered by Gov. Scott Walker. I wondered why the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce would chastise the governor for being “adversarial.” And, I wondered, why the Milwaukee Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce would waffle on Walker’s collective bargaining position.
The conundrum for the CEO is that his or her stakeholders are pretty much 50/50…Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, left and right. Customers are probably about 50/50. Vendors are probably 50/50. Employees might lean to the left. Shareholders are might lean to the right.
But no CEO wants to offend anyone, on either side…particularly those paying the bills.
So they end up saying nothing…the silent minority, if you will. You will note a fair number of CEOs give money in equal amounts to politicians running for office on both sides of the aisle. A strategic apolitical statement.
Some of those who have stepped up with some kind of support for Gov. Walker’s budget plan have found their companies on a blacklist published by someone on the other side urging a boycott of their businesses.
Some on the blacklist are receiving phone calls and e-mails from angry customers and professional agitators. One CEO’s business got on the blacklist because a relative made a contribution to Scott Walker in 2006. The relative has nothing to do with the business.
So the CEOs keep their collective mouths shut. They know it is wrong. They know they have a right to free speech just like anyone else. But they also know that to do otherwise could jeopardize their business. And they know their primary responsibility is the health and safety of the organization.
If you wonder where most of Wisconsin’s business leaders are on Gov. Walker’s budget plan, it might be difficult to pin them down. They have become the silent minority.Dennis Ellmaurer is a principal of Globe National Corp., a Milwaukee firm working exclusively with sellers of small businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. Ellmaurer also is a chairman of The Executive Committee (TEC), facilitating three CEO groups in southeastern Wisconsin. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.