Corporate America must step up response to nauseating Trump

Net Results: More brave CEOs must resign from White House advisory panels

US president Donald Trump: Many business leaders remain on his advisory panels and councils. These include Dell’s Michael Dell, Apple’s Tim Cook, IBM’s Ginny Rometty, Corning’s Wendell Weeks and GE’s Jeff Immelt. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty

Since its arrival a decade ago, I’d wager Twitter has proven overall to be more of a thorn than a rose for most companies.

As a public-facing platform, Twitter certainly offers opportunities, for direct engagement with customers, for plugging corporate achievements and for data analysis, amongst other things. Yet I suspect most companies would be happier if they didn’t need to devote attention and resources to this unpredictable, many-headed hydra that cannot be ignored and must be constantly patrolled and managed, usually for possible damage control.

But irritable customers who leap to make critical posts about a service issue or product must seem a dream management issue for those companies in 2017 that have instead had to endure a new kind of Twitter horror – angry Trump tweets.

And there are a lot of those. In February, Yahoo Finance analysed Trump's tweets over the years and found 62 companies that he'd attacked at various times. You might recall the extraordinary spate of attacks in the interim between when Trump was elected in November 2016 and when he took office in late January 2017.


Car manufacturers such as Ford as well as aircraft-makers such as Boeing got a hammering in that expectant political transition period, when people might have expected a president-elect to sound, well, presidential rather than to be singling out companies for twitter insults.

Amazon also got a slap back in December, ostensibly because founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos now owns the Washington Post newspaper, which has not exactly been a friend of Trump post-election.

Perhaps, post-election, executives shouldn’t have been surprised Trump would carry on Trumping, even if it appeared demeaning to the office and potentially damaging to American companies.

However, the waters calmed post-inauguration, albeit briefly. When the New York Times analysed Trump's tweets for his first 100 days in office, it found 12 about companies. The paper noted he'd shifted primarily towards praising companies – including Ford and Boeing – either for creating jobs or for meeting with him. Still, there was that anti-Nordstrom tweet, after the company dropped his daughter Ivanka's clothing line.

Now, though we might all feel like it’s been 60 years, we are six months into this presidency and Trump is back on the corporate attack, but this time, in a deeply disturbing, disgusting context.

Following the stomach-turning white supremacist march in Virginia on Saturday, Trump was back attacking companies – for some brave corporate responses to his nauseating comments in the protest’s aftermath.

To their credit, several executives sitting on various White House advisory panels had resigned by Tuesday, including Merck chief executive Kenneth Frazier and Intel chief executive Brian Krzanich.

In a series of petulant tweets, Trump quickly bashed Frazier and Merck.

"Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!"

A few hours later, Trump was again acting the whiny bully: “For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!”

From the political Grandstander in Chief, that was a bit rich.

And Trump was back hounding Amazon on Wednesday morning.

The morning after his gobsmacking press conference in which he defended Nazi and white supremacist protesters. The morning on which such actions received plenty of negative coverage in the Washington Post.

All of which had led to a defining moment right now for corporate America and its many leaders who remained on Trump's various advisory panels and councils. These included a number of influential and admired technology executives - Dell chief executive Michael Dell, Apple chief executive Tim Cook, IBM chief executive Ginny Rometty - who head up some of the companies that have rightly made a name for themselves over the years as diversity champions.

Many of them were criticised for going on those panels to begin with. Execs from oil and chemical companies, in a pro-oil and coal, anti-environment administration, could be expected. But the tech sector?

Dramatically, at least one advisory group had reconsidered its position by Wednesday afternoon. The entire Strategic and Policy Forum -- Trump’s highest profile business leader advisory panel, which included Rometty -- dissolved itself yesterday. Trump tweeted he’d dissolved it himself, along with his Manufacturing Forum, on which Dell sits and from which earlier resignations had come.

But half an hour earlier, news site Axios quoted a source on the forum, who said the group had dissolved itself.

Will other business leaders choose to remain on such groups? Or support in future a president who has now openly indicated sympathy and support for white supremacists? Will their hope of influencing the broader White House business agenda outweigh aligning with a Nazi-friendly administration?

The only surprise about this chaotic mess is that business figures, many of whom should have know better personally and professionally, committed themselves to these panels and this president in the first place.