Stacy Abrams on why companies shouldn’t always speak up about politics

Companies are under intense pressure to speak out on a range of political issues at the local, state and national levels. Whether it’s police action in the city, Disneyland in Florida, or a likely wave of calls for more business to respond to the Rowe v. Wade Supreme Court overturning leak, the current era is one in which business leaders are expected. take a stand or face potentially worse consequences for staying silent.

Perhaps there is no more powerful voice in the Democratic Party—and in a state that figures prominently in major political-corporate divisions—than Stacey Abrams, the incumbent candidate in the race for governor of Georgia. But Abrams says it’s a mistake to think companies should have a say on every political issue.

“Production value means nothing to me,” Abrams said Thursday at the CNBC Small Business Playbook virtual event. “It doesn’t have to be values ​​because you think that’s what people want from you.”

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

“We have to want to make money,” she said.

But it’s important to remember, Abrams added, especially for small businesses, “that we enter the world as citizens, we don’t separate ourselves from who we are when we open doors.”

It also means accepting that clients come with their whole selves when they walk in the door, and any decision to speak out about politics is a decision to show who they are to their clients.

“We have to be very selective in how we are willing to impose our belief systems,” Abrams said. “But some things are so fundamental about who we are, we have them too,” she added.

For the 1.1 million small business owners in her home state of Georgia, taking a stance on political issues means being willing to lose business even if another form of value is gained, she says.

During every major movement in this country’s history, from civil rights to women’s rights to LGBTQ rights, business has had to stand up. But the answer doesn’t always have to be a thoughtful yes, and it doesn’t have to be based on just dollars and cents.

“The decision has to be made because you can’t live up to your moral compass, you can’t respect your own moral core,” Abrams said.

Its co-founder Lara Hodgson, who is more politically conservative and with whom Abrams co-wrote the recent book Level Up, said some businesses are created with a purpose that is part of their DNA. Their latest joint venture, Now, which provides bill payment solutions to small business owners for a fee, serves a wide range of customers, employees and investors. Both Hodgson and Abrams need to make sure they are true to what the business is built on, and that should help small business owners struggling with cash flow.

When a business changes dramatically – as happened after the failed attempt to create the next “global beverage giant” under the Nourish brand, as Hodgson described their efforts to create the best line of children’s non-spill drinks – it is important to remember that the reversal does not represent a complete change of direction, but a fundamental position. , from which a new possibility is sought. For Abrams and Hodgson, this DNA reference may include certain beliefs, but in terms of market opportunities, it has led to a small business financing problem. “Don’t use the business to go out and talk about other things,” Hodgson said. “We are very focused on creating a level playing field for small businesses.”

The two are often at odds and have different strengths and weaknesses. Abrams, who ran one of the most successful voter registration campaigns in modern history and is credited with running Georgia’s key election for the Democratic Party, says she’s doing a great job with numbers that many entrepreneurs (and legislators) don’t understand.

“We are very different, we are not best friends,” Abrams said. “It gives us the opportunity to be incredibly honest and not be involved in each other’s lives every minute of the day. If you wake up, work, and go to bed talking to the same person, it will cloud your mind and create an echo chamber.”

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

“When one of us shares a point of view, instead of jumping in judgment, we ask ourselves what we might be curious about, what we can learn,” she said.

And amid controversy, a shared vision of impact and outcomes outweighs any specific points of friction. “99.9% of the goal, we agree on the outcome, and how we will achieve it vary greatly, but as long as the focus is on outcome and impact, the different approaches are incredibly positive,” Hodgson said.

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