As far as Fortune 500 CEOs go, Delta Air Lines President Ed Bastian is among the most outspoken in his progressive views. He has taken a major anti-gun stance, said a lack of access to the polls in Georgia is “unacceptable,” and believes CEOs should play offense, not defense when it comes to standing up for basic human rights. In a conversation appearance with luck CEO Alan Murray and Editor-at-Large Michel Lev Ram on driving after that Podcast, revealing the stress of separating business from politics. If you try to be “as strong with Republicans as you are with Democrats – and we want everyone to travel on Delta, all of them Do Fly on Delta – we’ll be fine,” he said.
Bastien added, “I am not a politician, nor am I looking to make political statements.” “I look forward to running the best airline I can and being a voice for our people, you know, when it matters.”
Despite the rising tide of high-profile CEOs getting bogged down in legislation (see: Disney’s endless battle with Gov. Ron DeSantis), Bastian doesn’t always think it’s his duty to get involved.
“You have to be very careful before you get into the dialogue,” he said. Bastian added that corporate leaders have a higher level of confidence than ever before. They are somewhat more objective in some matters on which politicians may have partisan opinions. But he had advice: “Don’t just throw your hat in the ring.”
“We want all customers to love us”
Based in Atlanta, Delta has engaged in a few high-profile fights with the Republican state legislature, such as backing down on its discount plan for people traveling to an NRA conference after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida in 2018. He did. Bastian to do so without the approval of the Board of Directors.
in luck’At the CEO Initiative Conference in 2018, Bastien was clear about this decision: “It’s company culture. It allows us to be who we are.” He further noted, “The commentary tone of the NRA and seeing the Delta name in the midst of the discussion going on, we just couldn’t be there.”
Murray asked Bastian why he made the call to talk, and if he regretted it.
“These weren’t comfortable decisions, and they weren’t made at the moment,” Bastian recalls. The decisions run counter to what CEOs have traditionally expected. Our goal is to keep ourselves out of the headlines, and we don’t want to be seen as political. Frankly, we want all customers to love us.” At times, Bastien’s remarks referenced the famous, possibly apocryphal remark from Michael Jordan about why he didn’t take major political positions: “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” But Bastian told Murray he had no regrets. .
Balancing being loved with being loved
Embracing values — even controversial ones — is important to Bastien, particularly in terms of the rights of customers and employees, who expect their CEO to speak out on issues that affect them.
One such case: In early 2021, when the Georgia state legislature passed a controversial voting law that requires ID for absentee voting, limits the number of ballot boxes, and bars volunteers from serving food or water to voters while they wait in line. At the time, President Joe Biden called it the “Jim Crow of the 21st Century.” Bastian himself also took a stand.
“The rationale for this whole bill rests on a lie: There was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 election,” Bastian wrote in a memo to Delta employees. “This is simply not true. Unfortunately, this excuse is being used in states across the country that are trying to pass similar legislation to restrict voting rights.”
That brought a lot of negative feedback, though Wall Street Journal An editorial page, for example, described Bastien as “woke and weak”.
It wasn’t a good time, Bastien told Murray. “It was a terrible experience. [but] Of course we learned from him.” And he would do it again: “We stood by our people, and that was the most important thing [thing]. “
Even internally, his position did not garner universal support, Bastian said, but many non-white Delta employees felt targeted by the law, and given that Delta is the largest employer of black Americans in Georgia, he said, “there was an awful lot of people calling to tell them it was done.” Hear their voices, and we were trying to make something out of that.”
The key, when raving about whether to speak out, is to focus on consistency. When a CEO or company official speaks, are people surprised by the position they have taken? Because that’s when the real problems arise: when people are surprised, and that draws attention,” he said. “If you’re always talking about what you’re for, compared to what you’re against, and when something is clearly contrary to what you’ve told people, over and over again, that’s for it, then At least people can understand the perspective.”
On the other hand, if CEOs are publicly bashing a situation, or having a hard time drawing the connection between why they’re embracing it and what their values are, “that’s when you’re getting yourself into trouble.”