Typically, given the split state of things in U.S. politics, companies are extremely circumspect in their support for presidential candidates. After all, unless you REALLY mean it, why alienate half your potential customers?
Apparently Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins didn’t get that memo. Instead of staying away from some controversy, he’s wading headlong into it, making sure people know who he chooses NOT to support.
Robbins, a well-known Republican, has made it abundantly clear he will not support Donald Trump, even if Trump wins the GOP nomination. In an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, Robbins said he’s leaning toward John Kasich … or Hillary Clinton.
In any other election, the idea of a GOPer supporting Clinton would be a gasp-inducing statement. But not this year. While many Republicans are jumping on the Trump Train, others have vowed #NeverTrump, even going so far as to pledge to vote for Hillary if the GOP chooses Trump as its candidate.
While not actually endorsing anyone, Robbins called Clinton a great candidate while, in the same interview, saying he couldn’t support Trump because the country needed someone who would bring it together. And that’s where Robbins drew his line. His fellow tech CEO, HP’s Meg Whitman, came out decisively against Trump recently, an extreme Robbins apparently does not share.
Then Robbins pivoted, calling for sensible compromise in modern politics. But which message will voters – and more importantly, consumers – remember? Will they remember the guy who just wants everyone to figure out a way to get along, or will they see a Republican who crossed the line and supported a candidate the vast majority of the party actively loathes?
Remember, it’s not what the person says that matters. It’s what the audience remembers, and we’re all wired to hear what we want to hear. This is why most CEOs stay out of the public political realm. Far too many pitfalls and opportunities to be misunderstood. The best advice, if you don’t want a truckload of fallout, is to carefully couch and project your message in a way that cannot possibly be misconstrued … even by people who are desperately trying to read between the lines.