Stacey Abrams on why companies shouldn’t always talk about politics

Companies are under intense pressure to speak out on a variety of political issues at the local, state and national levels. Whether it’s a police action in a city, Disney in Florida, or the likely wave of calls for a major commercial response to the leak related to the overturning of Roe v. Wade Supreme Court, the current era is one in which business leaders are expected to take a stand or face potentially worse repercussions in order to remain silent.

There may not be a more influential voice in the Democratic Party – no less from a state that has played a leading role in big political-corporate flaws – than Stacey Abrams, the current candidate in the run for governor of Georgia. But Abrams says assuming that companies should speak out on any political issue is a mistake.

“Performative value means nothing to me,” Abrams said Thursday at CNBC’s virtual Small Business Playbook event. “They shouldn’t be performing values ​​because you think that’s what people want to see from you.”

Abrams is a small business owner and at the CNBC event she made it clear that she was a “capitalist”.

“We should want to make money,” he said.

But it is important to remember, Abrams added, especially for small businesses, “that we enter the world as citizens, we do not divorce what we are when we open the doors”.

This also means accepting that customers come with themselves when they walk in doors, and any decision to talk about politics is a decision to show who those customers are.

“We should be really selective about how we’re willing to impose our belief systems,” Abrams said. “But some things are so fundamental about who we are, we have it too,” he added.

For the 1.1 million small business owners in his home state of Georgia, he said making choices about where to take a stand on political issues involves being willing to lose business, even if you gain another form of value. .

During every major movement in this country’s history, from civil rights to women’s rights to LGBTQ rights, businesses have had to stand up, but the answer shouldn’t always be a thoughtful “yes” and it shouldn’t be based on an accounting of only dollars and cents.

“The decision should be because you can’t satisfy your moral compass, you can’t be respectful of your moral core,” Abrams said.

Its co-founder, Lara Hodgson – who is more politically conservative and with whom Abrams co-authored the recent book “Level Up” – said some companies are created with a purpose as part of their DNA. Their latest venture together, now, providing bill payment solutions to paid small business owners, serves a diverse set of customers, employees and investors. And Hodgson and Abrams need to make sure they’re true to what the company is all about – helping small business owners cope with cash flow difficulties.

When a company pivots, as theirs did after a failed attempt to create the next major global beverage giant under the Nourish brand, it is important to remember that a pivot represents not a total change of direction, but a fundamental position from which a new opportunity is sought. For Abrams and Hodgson, that pivotal DNA may include some beliefs, but from a market opportunity standpoint, it has led to the problem of small business financing. “Don’t use the business to go out and talk about other things,” Hodgson said. “We are very focused on leveling the playing field for small businesses.”

The two often have disagreements and have different strengths and weaknesses. Abrams, who ran one of the most successful voter registration campaigns in modern history and has been credited with handing Georgia’s key races to the Democratic Party, claims to be outstanding with numbers that many business leaders (and lawmakers) don’t understand.

“We’re very different, we’re not best friends,” Abrams said. “This gives us the space to be incredibly honest and not be in each other’s life every minute of the day. If you wake up, work and go to bed talking to the same person, your mind will be clouded and it will create a room. echo. ”

Hodgson said that when they disagree, they approach the subject first with curiosity and then with criticism.

“When one of us shares a point of view, rather than jumping to judgment, we wonder what we can be curious about, what we can learn from,” he said.

And amid the differences of opinion, sharing a firm idea of ​​impact and outcome will overcome any particular point of friction. “At 99.9% of the goal, we agree on the outcome and how we would go about achieving it is very different, but as long as the goal is the outcome and the impact, the different approaches are incredibly positive.”