How CEOs Became More Trusted Than Politicians In a Pandemic
CEOs used to be soulless globalists — now we expect them to save us.
For a half-century, big company executives have been among the most maligned figures on the American stage — defamed as mere suits, bloodthirsty war profiteers, soulless millionaires and billionaires, and unpatriotic globalists. But at a time of cratering markets, rock-bottom trust, and a dangerous new virus, CEOs in the U.S. and elsewhere have somehow emerged as bastions of credibility, according to a new survey.
As COVID-19 clamps a huge padlock on the U.S. and world economies, vast majorities of the public say CEOs are most likely to tell the truth, stand up for what’s right, and safeguard their employees and ordinary people, according to Edelman, a crisis management firm, which released the survey Monday at an event at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.
Americans and people in nine other major countries said they trust their own employer more than the media, the government, or any other institution. The contest is not close, says Edelman, which produces a much-followed annual report on global trust. “My employer” is trusted on average by 75% of the public, far higher than business-at-large (56%) and the media (47%).
In prior Edelman reports, it had become clear that the public was looking for companies to take a stand on public issues. But the latest survey is the first to all but demand that employers take charge when something needs doing.
The pool of faith in business puts serious new pressure on prominent companies, which are often ambivalent when it comes to considering the broader impact of their decisions beyond shareholders. Whether CEOs are prepared to do so or not, the public across the 10 countries surveyed expects prominent companies not to wait for distrusted politicians to conspicuously take the offensive. Some of this change may be generational — millennials may have a different attitude from baby boomers on the role of companies, one that harkens back to the 1960s’ anti-corporation militancy. Some of it comes from a newer breed of startups and companies claiming to be “mission-driven.”