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Friday, September 27, 2013

Did I Say that Out Loud? Lessons from Barilla Pasta's CEO


By: Peter J. Lamont, Esq.
New Jersey Business and Personal Law Attorney
Law Offices of Peter J. Lamont

Guido Barilla, CEO of the world's number one pasta company, has sparked an international boycott of his company's products with his rather shortsighted remark concerning his refusal to use a gay family in Barilla's advertising.
He further alienated and outraged consumers with his follow-up comment on the subject of the boycott, stating that if people do not like his advertising strategy or his pasta, they can purchase another brand.
Another blatant example of this type of blinkered and myopic vision at the top rung of the corporate ladder took place in 2012 when President Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A remarked in an interview with a religious publication, that his company supported a biblical definition of family.
The comment garnered much national media and social media attention, also giving rise to a call from gay right's groups for a boycott. The media's appetite could not be sated and coverage continued through a multitude of news cycles - far more than the norm.
Chick-Fil-A's Steve Robinson, executive vice president of marketing, later backpedalled to some extent, stating that the company, heir apparent to KFC, treats every person with honor, dignity and respect.
Sadly, these are not isolated incidents but they should serve as a cautionary tale to the upper echelons of our corporations as well as to smaller business owners.
Although the preceding are gay rights issues, the following discussion is not limited in scope to sexual orientation but can equally apply to any facet of life where business meets the real world; most notably - attitude toward and treatment of: visible minorities, gender issues, age discrimination and people with disabilities.
Whereas large companies the likes of Barilla and Chick-A-Fil may very well have sufficient resources to weather these storms; smaller businesses do not fare so well in the face of consumer backlash resuting from an errant remark or even a perceived slight. The old axiom which states 'there is no such thing as bad publicity" is a fallacy.
The consequences of such negative attention can include, but are not limited to: a catastrophic decrease in revenue, decreased valuation of the enterprise, plunging share prices as well as lost jobs (and all that implies) and crippling negative publicity that may irrevocably damage a company, its image as well, tearing down goodwill which may have taken decades to build.
Aside from the modern-day reality that these types of comments are not politically correct; the fact remains - they are just plain rude. Especially when consideration is given to the reality that they can so easily be avoided.
The lesson to be learned is simply this - do not comment on social issues, political matters, religion or anything potentially controversial unless you aspire to infamy as the business leader who brought down a company with the wag of a tongue. Said exec will doubtlessly end up as a punchline. Play the tape through to the end before weighing in or taking any action that may be perceived as contentious.
The well-being of the bottom line is at stake.
Do not end your career as a punchline or even worse - a cautionary tale told in MBA classes.
If you would like more information about this topic or have general legal questions, please feel free to contact me at (973)949-3770 or via email at plamont@peterlamontesq.com We answer legal questions on a daily basis and would be happy to discuss any issues or questions that you have with you.
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