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Chick-Fil-A: When politics impact business

Chick-fil-A president's opposition to gay marriage raises the question: Is it good for business to be politically outspoken?

Jeremy Hobson: Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz has defeated lieutenant governor David Dewhurst in a heated Republican primary to run for U.S. Senate in Texas. And at the victory party for Cruz, Chick-Fil-A was served. If you haven't heard, Chick-Fil-A is at the center of a political fight, after its president came out against same-sex marriage. That prompted a boycott of the chain by gay marriage supporters. So what are the business implications when executives take controversial stances like this?

Here's Marketplace's Mark Garrison.


Mark Garrison: One reason Chick-fil-A’s president speaks out against gay marriage is because he can. The company is privately held by the Cathy family. There are no shareholders to answer to.

Eric Dezenhall is a PR crisis consultant.

Eric Dezenhall: When you’re head of a public company, you’re pretty much like a mayor. You have to go to a town meeting and listen to everybody. But if you’re privately held you can do what you want.

Also, private companies don’t face shareholder pressure for constant growth. More than half of Chick-fil-A restaurants are in just five southern states. But the owners don’t have to grow beyond socially conservative areas if they don’t want to. Still, every political position will alienate some customers.

Dartmouth business school professor Paul Argenti says the Coors family business expanded after members learned to separate their conservative views from their beer.

Paul Argenti: They were able to keep their politics to themselves and allow the business to grow the way it should, which is what every smart businessperson should do.

As Chick-fil-A’s president fights gay marriage, Amazon’s CEO has made a large donation supporting it. Argenti has strong words about business leaders taking public positions on any side of a divisive issue.

Argenti: It’s just dumb, absolutely dumb.

I'm Mark Garrison for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter for Marketplace and substitute host for the Marketplace Morning Report, based in New York.
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Mr. Cathy's right to speak out against gay marriage has not been impeded, and the issue has nothing to do with liberal or conservative media. As a business owner, Mr. Cathy must accept the consequences of his public speech. If people choose not to do business with his chicken store because of his bigotry, then so be it. The same Constitution that guarantees his rights allows others to oppose his position by speaking out against his business and/or not purchasing his product. Let Chick fil-A be the chicken supplier to conservative Christian bigots. This is the market his company has chosen. Everyone else can choose to eat at Chick fil-A or anywhere else. It's not like there is a shortage of chicken joints.

I was appalled by the president's statement, not so much for the social commentary (he has the right to say what he wants), but the broader impact.

He may not have to answer to shareholders, and he may be king of his world but he put his franchisees in a horrible position. What makes him think that all of his franchisees and their employees want to defend his political stance? Why would they want to work for a franchise that represents something offensive to them?

Most other CEOs are more tacit in their support/opposition to social issues. They understand that on divisive issues, they run the risk of bad PR and even worse, loss of business. Chick Fil-A will learn a hard less and hundreds of people OTHER than the CEO will feel the pain.

why is it so hard for liberal news org's who should never the less produce a professional product even when the subject fairly represented displeases them to get a simple story right? Support for the anti- gay marriage content of the president's remarks was only one aspect of the show of support. No where in your (tendentious) reporting is there even a hint that there may also be a free speech issue involved? The bullying of the (uniformly Dem/liberal) mayors is what ignited many who never gave chick fillA a thought and who otherwise support gay marriage upset. This is not a secret...why can't MP be relied upon to include it?

Why is FOS even a question here? All the first ammendment states is that you have a right to speech without prosecution. It's not as if the CEO is facing jail time. The first ammendment does not provide cover for employment or the right to open busisnesses. You can say whatever you like, but the first ammendment does not cover you from the results of those words.

Almost $2 million out of the funds customers paid to buy food at Chick-Fil-A has been given to organizations fighting gay marriage rights. That goes far beyond "statements of opinion." Plus the First Amendment only applies against government infringement. You can boycott anyone you want, since that's an expression of your First Amendment rights.

He is not being condemned for using his rights, he's being condemned because he said something bigoted. Thats how this whole democracy thing is supposed to work.

What exactly has Chick-Fil-A done to fight gay marriage? or gays?

Mr. Cathy made the remark that he supports marriage as being between one man and one woman during an interview. That's it. His comment was taken out of context and has been twisted by activists.

It is ironic that people who angrily insist on their rights are attacking someone for exercising his First Amendment right. If there is going to be freedom, that has to include the freedom to disagree and have viewpoints that differ. If not, we may as well be living under Stalin or Mao.

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