Nike CEO John Donahoe feedback on the dispute between Desantis and Disney
Nike CEO John Donahoe interviewed by Sara Eisen at the CNBC CEO Council Summit in Santa Barbara, California.
Randy Shropshire | CNBC
While a political battle between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis rages on Disney, Nike CEO John Donahoe said it’s important for companies to choose their battles but fight for the values that are intrinsic to their brands.
During a sit-down interview at the inaugural CNBC CEO Council Summit Monday night in Santa Barbara, Calif., CNBC’s Sara Eisen addressed the DeSantis controversy and asked Donahoe if he was concerned that Nike could become a target.
“Aren’t you worried that if Ron DeSantis becomes president, he’ll haunt you as a bright company?” Eisen asked Donahoe about the expected Republican presidential nominee.
In response, Donahoe said companies don’t need to get involved in every political dispute, but should raise their voice when their brand values are attacked.
“I think Bob is doing a great job here,” Donahoe said of Disney CEO Bob Iger.
“If it’s at the core of who you are and your values, then no, you stand up for your values,” he said. “When it comes to commenting on one political issue that’s in the background of another, we might have that personal feeling, but we don’t comment on it with our brand and we don’t comment publicly.”
Iger wasn’t at the helm of Disney when, in February 2022, he publicly criticized the controversial Florida Republican bill restricting discussion of sexual orientation in the classroom, which he and other critics called “don’t say gay.”
His tweet that the bill “will put vulnerable young LGBTQ people at risk” put even more pressure on then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek to break his silence on the legislation.
After Disney opposed the bill, DeSantis and his allies targeted the Orlando-area special tax district, which for decades allowed Walt Disney World to essentially self-govern its businesses. The conflict has raged for more than a year, and has continued even after Iger returned as CEO in November following Chapek’s ouster.
Donahoe highlighted three values that are integral to the Nike brand: racial and social justice, sustainability and the inclusion of young people in sport, especially young girls.
When it comes to racial and social justice, Donahoe said Nike built its brand in partnership with some of the most famous black and brown athletes in history, like Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and LeBron James.
“Additionally, our primary consumers for the Nike brand, the Jordan brand, and the Converse brand are urban black and brown communities — that’s where sneaker culture began,” Donahoe explained. “And so we listen to our athletes and our consumers, what they care about, and they care about racial and social justice, and that’s why we look at that as the core of who we are, the core of our identity…that is, giving.” us a bit more.” Courage to speak up.
The company has focused on getting young people involved in sports, as young girls are dropping out of athletics “at an alarming rate,” Donahoe said.
“It turns out that one of the biggest reasons girls drop out of school is because they don’t have female coaches when they hit puberty,” Donahoe said. “So we’re trying to train 20,000 coaches, mothers and other ex-athletes to be coaches to nurture the youth. So that’s less of a controversial topic, but it’s one that we hold dear as a value.”
On the subject of sustainability, Donahoe said that as the “leader” of the industry, Nike needs to be a role model for change because if it doesn’t, “it’s not going to happen.”
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