The Rise of Responsible Leadership: How CEOs Can Create Change with Mohamad Ali and Cornell William Brooks

Published

This week on World Reimagined, host Gautam Mukunda talks with two influential leaders about how businesses can and should step up and take responsibility for positive change.

Today, business leaders have the power to create positive change. Not just within their organizations, but in society and in the world more broadly.  

In this episode, Host Gautam Mukunda speaks with Reverend Cornell William Brooks, former head of the NAACP and the Professor of Practice and Public Leadership and Social Justice at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Mohamad Ali, CEO of International Data Group, about the challenges and opportunities of corporations in the wake of Covid-19, profound social and economic upheaval, the death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter.

So, in terms of this moment in which we find ourselves, in terms of ethical leadership, and responsibility of those in the business community, I would just simply say this, that on a regular and recurring basis, people in the business community are charged with the responsibility of delivering products, and services for this country are not merely disaggregated marketplaces, but a democracy and republic.
Cornell William Brooks
Business leaders have a responsibility to our planet, our people, our justice. And so, the answer is that emphatic yes, that I think many business leaders recognize that they have this privileged position from which to articulate the need for justice. Businesses are in an interesting position, because yes, they can stand up.
Mohamad Ali

Follow @GMukunda on Twitter or email us at WorldReimagined@nasdaq.com

Books Referenced on World Reimagined Season 2, Episode 4:

Stakeholder Capitalism, by Klaus Schwab

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein

Guest Information for The Rise of Responsible Leadership:

Cornell William Brooks is Hauser Professor of the Practice of Nonprofit Organizations and Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership and Social Justice at the Harvard Kennedy School. He is also Director of The William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice at the School’s Center for Public Leadership, and Visiting Professor of the Practice of Prophetic Religion and Public Leadership at Harvard Divinity School. Brooks was most recently visiting professor of social ethics, law, and justice movements at Boston University’s School of Law and School of Theology. He was a visiting fellow and director of the Campaign and Advocacy Program at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics in 2017.

Brooks served as the 18th president of the NAACP from 2014 to 2017. Prior to leading the NAACP, Brooks was president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. He also served as senior counsel and acting director of the Office of Communications Business Opportunities at the Federal Communications Commission, executive director of the Fair Housing

Council of Greater Washington, and a trial attorney at both the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the U.S. Department of Justice. Brooks served as judicial clerk for Chief Judge Sam J. Ervin, III, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Brooks holds a J.D. from Yale Law School, a Master of Divinity from Boston University’s School of Theology, and a B.A. from Jackson State University. Brooks is a fourth-generation ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Mohamad Ali is Chief Executive Officer at IDG, Inc., the world’s leading technology research and media company. Prior to this, Mohamad was CEO of Carbonite, a publicly traded data protection and security company where he grew the company’s revenues four-fold to over a half-billion dollars in four years. Before that, Mohamad served as Chief Strategy Officer at Hewlett Packard where he played a pivotal role in the company’s turnaround and led the decision process to split HP into two companies. At IBM, Mohamad acquired and integrated various companies to create the firm’s eight billion dollar analytics software unit. At Avaya, he oversaw the two billion dollar services group and served as the head of the company’s research labs.

Mohamad holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering, a B.A. in History, and a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, each from Stanford University. He was named 2018 CEO of the Year by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, member of 2018 Public Board of the Year by National Association of Corporate Directors New England, 2011 All-Star by Massachusetts High Tech magazine, 2008 40-Under-40 by Boston Business Journal, and was a finalist in America’s prestigious 1988 National Science Talent Search.

Transcript:

 

Gautam Mukunda:

Despite four centuries of struggle, Black lives matter too often seems more like an argument than an axiom. Today a new generation of leaders are finding innovative ways to fight for justice.

Speaker 2:

I think of it as trying to create a new world. The kind of world that we perhaps have always wanted to live in.

Speaker 3:

Climate change is a systemic risk to the entire economy, you cannot diversify away from it.

Speaker 4:

To intervene when your country, your company, your family need you to do so, that's leadership character.

Speaker 5:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world, an original podcast from NASDAQ.

Speaker 6:

Why do leaders fail unwillingness to learn, a fear of showing their vulnerability and a fear of being themselves. Lack of authenticity.

Speaker 7:

Character of corporation is not the personality, character of corporation is the integrity and the morality of company.

Speaker 8:

So without truth and trust, there is no democracy.

Gautam Mukunda:

One bright August afternoon, four centuries ago, a privateer vessel called the White Lion appeared off the coast of the young British colony of Jamestown. The human chattel it carried had now been twice abducted first by Portuguese slave traders then by the White Lion and a second privateer who intercepted them. Those first enslaved Africans brought to North America were traded for food. It's the story behind the story that Americans have taught in their schools for centuries marked by thousands of tales and moments ever finding new voices and new rallying points.

Cornell Brooks:

We have a generation of millennial activists who have asserted with their minds, with their bodies, that Black Lives Matter.

Gautam Mukunda:

The Reverend Cornell William Brooks served as the 18th president and CEO of the NAACP. Today he's professor of practice and public leadership and social justice at the Harvard Kennedy School. We sat down to discuss the opportunities and the challenges facing leaders in the era of Black lives matter.

Cornell Brooks:

So in terms of this moment in which we find ourselves in terms of ethical leadership and responsibility of those in the business community, I would just simply say this, that on a regular and recurring basis, people in the business community are charged with the responsibility of delivering products and services for this country, are not merely disaggregated marketplaces, but a democracy and a Republic. And so, in other words, we're grappling with social justice problems in the economic arena on a regular and recurring basis is just that those challenges are being brought into bold relief in this moment, meaning in the wake of George Floyd's death, his murder last summer and when we saw a minimum of 15 and more likely 26 million Americans, hit the streets across 550 jurisdictions and in all of these protests, marches, demonstrations in which you had a generation of young people who lifted up a moral Anthem, Black Lives Matter, and all of those marches, demonstrations and rallies, the majority of the people were not Black.

Cornell Brooks:

And so, in other words, you had this rainbow coalition of people pressing the social justice concern before the country, you had in response to that CEOs, executives in the C-suite people in middle management, people in the rank and file asking the question, what do we do? How do we respond? How do we grapple with these challenges standing where we stand in the places where we employed with the skills that we have. And so, yes, this is a moment of tragic opportunity, it is a moment of ethical leadership. It is a moment in which we have to re-think, we re-conceptualize lives, employ a new broader more expansive vocabulary in terms of what responsibilities do we have and to whom. So, in other words, where we have companies selling facial recognition technology to police departments, they have to ask themselves what's the reach of the technology and what's the extent of my moral responsibility.

Gautam Mukunda:

Black lives matter prompted an outpouring of reaction from the business world, especially following the murder of George Floyd, corporate and ethical responsibilities are becoming more deeply intertwined.

Mohamad Ali:

So I think cooperate leaders are looking at this from two perspectives. One is the ethical angle and the second is the economics angle.

Gautam Mukunda:

Joining Cornell and me, was Mohamad Ali, CEO of IDG, the International Data Group. We spoke a few weeks before IDG was acquired by The Blackstone Group. Mohamad is more than a successful tech CEO. He's a prototypical American story who grew up without running water in Guiana and rose to the top of the world's most dynamic industry. There he's been a leader on social activism, not just business by lobbying against the Trump administration's ban on Muslim immigrants and devoting corporate funding to improving technological skills in American communities.

Mohamad Ali:

And from the ethical angle, it's actually pretty stark, right? If you look back over the last 400 years, what happened? We have people who went and took children from their families, forcibly, put them in chains, ship them across the Atlantic and enslaved them. And that you just can't sweep under the rug. Second from an economic point of view businesses have a keen interest in a stable society. And today the fabric of that society is unraveling. I mean, the gap between the rich and poor is getting wider, the polarization of our political parties is driving no room for collaboration, domestic terrorism is at a high, and there is widespread racial violence against Blacks, Muslims, Jews, Asians, and other underrepresented communities. And simply stated, this kind of instability is actually not good for business. So whether it's the ethical motivation or the economic motivation or both business leaders are standing up and there's some great examples of that out there.

Gautam Mukunda:

Cornell, I think each of you has sort of made almost like a trumpet call business leaders need to do something right. Something needs to be done. What would you want to see business leaders like Mohamad do?

Cornell Brooks:

First of all, let me just say how much I appreciate the fact that Mohamad spoke about business concerns in a timeframe that extends beyond a quarter, right? The next business quarter, as opposed to the last 400 years, that itself is particularly important. Why? Because the economic disparities in this country, the racial wealth gap in this country reflects not the last quarter not merely the last decade but literally 400 years. Right? So we think about literally the 10 trillion dollar wealth gap in this country, racially speaking that's not a measure of one generation's pulling or not pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. So in other words, the big timeframe is incredibly important so when you ask, what would I like someone like Mohamad to do with the power privilege, responsibilities, and opportunities that he has that I also have, right? That we have as citizens. One of the things I would ask him to do is to think about the ways in which your bottom line is affected by the democracy.

Cornell Brooks:

Let me give you a specific example. If you wanted to invest abroad, very few companies would ignore the stability of a country in terms of making a major investment in terms of building a new plan, a new facility, hiring people, you want to do so in an economically stable and politically stable environment with respect to our country there're real stability issues so when you ask what would someone like Mohamad do? I will simply say, let's look at voter suppression. How long can we maintain a stable democracy where we literally stealing, suppressing votes as we discuss, as we engage, as we talk at this moment, the point being here is when you have CEOs like Ken Chenault and Black CEOs coming together saying, you know what? Voter suppression is a business concern because it's a democracy concern and we're doing business in a democracy. I would ask every CEO in the country to lift up voices, to use their lobbying power, their political power. This is not unusual for corporate America.

Gautam Mukunda:

Concerns about stability in the United States, even after the events of January 6th, that might seem kind of absurd. The United States is supposed to be a Paragon of stability. So much so that United States treasury bills are treated as a riskless asset. The only country ordered such a privileged status but these fears are very real, on June 1st more than a hundred prominent scholars of democracy of every political background signed a joint statement, declaring that the recent attempts to make it harder to vote in many American states quote are transforming several states into political systems that no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections.

Gautam Mukunda:

And this means that "Our entire democracy is now at risk." We've been stable for a long time. The United States government is not just older than those of say, Germany, Italy, France, and Spain. It's older than all of them combined and that means that many Americans have forgotten that it doesn't have to be that way. Corporate leaders have the power to pull us back from the brink and as Mohammed said, they have both a moral and a business responsibility to do so. This corporate push to strengthen American society shows up in attempts to strengthen democracy and in the pursuit of racial justice to.

Mohamad Ali:

After the killing of George Floyd, when you saw it like every CEO or many CEOs and not only issue statements but actually took action here at Massachusetts. I'm part of a group called the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council and we have about 500 tech companies that are part of this. And after that we got together and reflected and said what do we do here? And we formed this thing called the Tech Compact for Social Justice and came up with this list of 12 things that companies could do and if your company three of these things then you were part of the compact, we thought we'd get a few companies signing on. We got 90 companies signed on, the biggest tech companies in Massachusetts Wayfair, Acme, PTC, iRobot, IDG and I think to your point CEOs, in our case tech leaders really do see the need to right the wrongs.

Mohamad Ali:

In our case we chose sort of three things to focus on, refer to them as people platform and policies, people being how do we look at ourselves? And improve our diversity and our inclusion policies being, how do we set the programs in place to achieve diversity within our company and within our suppliers? Et cetera. And then platform was something that was unique to us in that we have about 200 million technology readers that come to our properties every year and we have an opportunity to influence those readers or at least to educate. And I'll come back to education in a minute, educate on topics, not just on things like our public agency CIO magazine where we have an opportunity to feature Black CIOs because well, people don't know that there are these really wonderful Black CIOs and they should be known but also to one of our publications, Chief Security Officer magazine.

Mohamad Ali:

And in that publication, we look at things like racial profiling and algorithms but we have a platform and it's part of our responsibility to side in community to use that platform to educate, to discuss, to bring to light the various aspects of the injustice that is affecting us all. And then just sort of close it back to history after the George Floyd killing who we actually looked at a number of tech CEOs, Cisco, Microsoft, Google, Dell, et cetera, AMD, who had written letters. And the one that really struck me was actually Michael Dell, I'll quote him if you don't mind I'm actually going to read part of what he said because it's just so striking to see this from Michael Dell who's not known for sort of leaning into these things and I'll quote him here, and you'll notice the first thing is he uses the word murder, not killing, not death but murder.

Mohamad Ali:

So "The murder of George Floyd is an atrocity, we all stand in horror grieving as a nation alongside his family and his community. To see a man killed a life ended cruelly and senselessly is something that will haunt me forever but for people of color and communities all over this country and around the world, that footage is not a surprise. It is all too familiar. The fault lines of our society are laid bare from the devastating and disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 to the devastating impacts of police brutality, the longstanding racial injustice in America that began 400 years ago is impossible to ignore and the people who have been ignored are now demanding to be heard. We are listening." So there are a few things that are just striking about this, one is this is not a Republican Democrat issue, right? This is an issue for all of us.

Mohamad Ali:

Second, somebody like Michael, who doesn't typically lean into these things leaned in hard. He called this a murder and then he didn't look for excuses, he went straight to the fact that there's been 400 years that has led to this. And then the third thing that he did, which I didn't read are all the actions that he and his company are going to take to contribute to the improvement of this. So I have to say, I have not seen [inaudible 00:14:48]CEO's act in unison like this not having said that we have a long way to go. Cornell knows it very well, right? When you have these moments, people do things, but how do you get sustained progress? And that actually goes to the heart of our economy, to taxation, to housing, to medical care, on and on, right. Criminal justice, all these things we have to address so this is not a simple, here we are. There's the moment we write letters, we decide to do certain things, they're long-term things that need to be done

Cornell Brooks:

When you have these cataclysmic moments where the country is simultaneously revolted and inspired to act, right? So if you go back to the killing of Emmett Till in 1955, 14 year old boy who's killed in Money, Mississippi by essentially a Lynch mob, two men who killed this little boy, his death literally ignited and inspired modern civil rights movement because his mother showed a picture of his disfigured body, so that was in 1955. Last summer when you had many Americans watching on mental and emotional loop, the viralized video of George Floyd being murdered, it ignited and inspired our young people in the streets, CEOs in C-suites all across the country. Our challenge is, how do we move from these cataclysmic moments, emotionally resonant moments, civically profound moments to sustained progress. And my answer would be, is we have to move from a protest in the street, very important, proclamations by those in power, critically important to policy.

Cornell Brooks:

So in other words, how do we act in ways that bring people together? And one of the things I'm going to throw out here that may seem counterintuitive which is I would argue that in many ways, America's, CEOs are like America's clergy. Here's what I mean, when there's a crisis, the Rabbis, the Priests, the Imams, the ministers are the people, governors and mayors call upon to bring people together. They can convene people. What` is also true is that CEOs have the ability to bring Democrats Republicans together, government leaders together, even community folks together to say, "how do we solve this problem" And the reason I know that's true is because I've spoken to CEOs confidentially offline about how do we respond to the policing problem? How do we deal with the whole matter of qualified immunity? Police contracts are re-imagining policing, defunding things that don't work, funding things that do work.

Cornell Brooks:

Business people have the predilection if you will, to look for the best data and look for the best policy, to look for the best solutions and to have rational reasonable objective conversations about how do we move forward. That is powerful in the hands of CEOs but it is not unlike what clergy have done in so many places across the country. I'm pretty Gautam and I'm certain Mohamad, you wouldn't want to be accused of being what it is that I am, which is a fourth generation minister but I will say to you that responsibilities or not, are altogether dissimilar.

Gautam Mukunda:

Well, as much as I look forward to asking Mohammad for a blessing, next time I see him.

Mohamad Ali:

I've never been called just like a priest.

Gautam Mukunda:

So, I mean Cornell, I want to key in on a few threads from what you and Mohamad both said, because here's one thing that really struck me, is there sort of two ways you can see the responsibility of the CEOs. And one is how do we use our power within the company? And let's do better at bringing in diversity. Let's do better, making sure that our products serve diverse communities, but what struck me was the second thing you said, if I could draw out a theme, which is that CEOs have power not just power over their companies by their stature in American society both moral stature and the economic resources that they command. They have the ability to influence the government to do things. And it sounded to me like you were saying, this isn't just about your behavior within the companies. This is about saying, it's your job as citizens of the United States to use your power for more than the direct economic benefit of your companies but to use your power to get the government to do things, to repair their social fabric.

Cornell Brooks:

That's right. And you have the ability, through your interaction with the government and the community to send signals that if not moral are civically virtuous. So for example, when Ken Frazier in the wake of Charlottesville said, I'm not going to participate in the Trump administration task forces because I, as a CEO my company is disquieted by the notion that... by the president's response to people literally saying in Charlottesville, Jews will not replace us. They meaning, Blacks will not replace us. This vulgar articulation of the replacement theory which precipitates so much xenophobia, so much antisemitism, so much Islamophobia. So here we have the CEO of a major pharmaceutical saying I declined to participate in these task forces because I'm uncomfortable with the racist, xenophobic, antisemitic messaging of the administration. Now he responded as a business leader in terms of his withdrawal of civic support for the administration not as a Democrat, not as a Republican, but it sent a moral signal.

Cornell Brooks:

Similarly, when a CEO in particular acts as an Emissary or an ambassador civically speaking and says, this issue is a market importance but it's also democracy importance and I, as a CEO had the power to bring people together, facilitate conversations. When I was CEO of the NAACP, I went to the U.S. chamber of commerce, the CEO Tom Donohue who was not in the practice of working with the NAACP. That was an unusual thing. We had a major national convening on education. Why? Because then, I was a business concern, a civil rights concern, a social justice concern and we brought leaders together from across the country. Now the point being here is that kind of thing can be done far more often and I would simply say, it's a matter of CEO's getting comfortable with the power that they exercise every day, it's just that sometimes they call it lobbying, all the times you can call it literally civic engagement and I dare say social justice. That's not a bad thing, that's a compliment. It's not an insult.

Gautam Mukunda:

SO Mohamad, do you see your fellow CEOs being willing to use their sort of stature, their prestige and their lobbying power to do this? And if not, would you say we should bring them along? And how would we do that?

Mohamad Ali:

Well, Gautam I think that CEO's, that I've been spending time with, do recognize that they are in a privileged position to be part of getting us to a better place and recently there was this World Economic Forum study and it was actually quite interesting because it said that businesses are now more trusted than government and Civil Society Organizations which is quite striking how people have lost faith in government, church and even academics and other organizations yet business and business leaders have somehow risen to a position of trust. That's a responsibility for businesses now and business leaders and I think the recent book, stakeholder capitalism from the chairman of the World Economic Forum, if you read that book, is basically a statement that says business leaders have responsibility to our planet, our people, our justice.

Mohamad Ali:

And the answer is an emphatic yes, that I think many business leaders recognize that have this privileged position from which to articulate the need for justice. Businesses are an interesting position because yes, they can stand up and at times they can make things happen but it's also important that we sort of understand the things that have to happen in order to have long term sustained benefits and these policy items are really very difficult policy items, I mean they have to do with things like taxation, housing, healthcare and criminal justice. And I think in criminal justice it's easier to rally around that one in some ways but some of the other ones like taxation and healthcare and employee benefits, sometimes as companies we stand on the wrong side of those for long-term benefits to society. And I think some of us are starting to recognize that if we win every battle in taxation and healthcare and employee benefits in favor of companies, we will continue to persist the economic injustice that exists out there.

Gautam Mukunda:

Case in point Mohammad recalled his shock upon reading a 2015 study quoted in the Boston globe, the federal bank of Boston and a Duke university researcher found that home equity and other assets minus debts gave White families median net worth of $247,500 for African-American non-immigrant households. The figure was eight, not $8,000 eight dollars.

Mohamad Ali:

My first reaction was sort of a data analytics reaction. The data must be wrong or they must be counting this incorrectly. And then it just happened that I read this foot call the color of law shortly after that and it started making sense, right? Because after 1965, when Jim Crow was officially outlawed, there was a new thing and the new thing was that as a society we leverage local laws to create a new kind of Jim Crow and new kind of segregation. And as part of this, we created these communities, these towns East Palo Alto, Brockton certain parts of Dorchester that where in some ways we sort of warehoused Black people and we created these economic dead zones and now we sort of wonder why can't these zones recover? And in order for them to recover we do need policy changes.

Mohamad Ali:

And until we have some of these policy changes, then that just suggests that they're not going to recover and the people who live in those communities tend to be more diverse are not going to have a chance to prosper. So yes, businesses have the responsibility, I think one of the things that's happening though is we as a business community, business leaders are starting to become more educated on sort of the history of what brought us here and also the recognition that longer term policy changes may be needed to address some of these issues.

Gautam Mukunda:

Aiding that education, our stark numbers showing that Black Americans are far more likely than White Americans to be killed by police use of force. And that for young Black men and boys it's among the leading causes of death. Richard Roth scenes book Mohammad sites the color of law details 1930s housing policies under the new deal which deliberately segregated Black Americans and created all White suburbs causing generations of stagnant inequality. I asked Mohammad for more examples of corporate leaders raising their voices.

Mohamad Ali:

And so right after the Muslim travel ban a group of CEOs here in the Boston area including the CEO of TripAdvisor Steve Kaufer, we sponsored an Amicus brief and it became one of the most significant documents for the business community. We got large number of CEOs to support this document and it was then used in the Hawaii case which was successful. And then it was eventually used in the Supreme court case which was not successful but that was a major step beyond our typical comfort zones CEO. Here we are writing a document in a lawsuit that was going to go to the U.S Supreme court on immigration and travel ban. A little while later, I got a call from the CEO of Henry Wants Muslim this is shortly after some of the sort of Muslim and Jewish desecration and attacks four years ago.

Mohamad Ali:

And they said, look, we're starting this group and we're going to focus on policy related to hate crimes. And at first I was a little bit skeptical but they put this group together, it was about 50 CEOs and 50 religious leaders. It was even cool, quite interesting group Cornell at the one thing which was introducing a hate crime bill to designate Muslim, Jewish and related religious properties in an existing sort of hate crime framework that did not apply to these Muslim and Jewish structures and locations. They put the bill forward, worked really hard to get the attention of our senators and our congress people and this was during the Trump administration, we were able to get that hate crime bill passed and it was supported by both Republicans and Democrats because they recognize the importance of justice for all.

Mohamad Ali:

And so I would say that, yes, I mean, Cornell is right Like business leaders do need to move into the policy realm and have the ability to do that and we're not doing it out of just altruism. Altruism is just an important part of it but at the end of the day it benefits all of us and I think we recognize that or many of us recognize as CEOs that having a more just and equitable society is good for all of us. But I think you have to sort of go through one of these to recognize that you as a CEO can step out and can have an impact in policy sphere so I really do underscore Cornell's point about policy matters.

Cornell Brooks:

May I add Benedictory note.

Mohamad Ali:

Of course.

Cornell Brooks:

To your point about this in-congruence grouping of business people and religious leaders. So if we look in the criminal justice space, we see on a regular recurring basis what I would describe as overprescribed criminal justice problems that are undiagnosed labor market problems. So if we think about the 70 plus million Americans with criminal records who often face barriers to employment, a kid picks up a marijuana possession charge, arrest conviction, and it haunts that young person for years in terms of being considered for employment, particularly in urban legal markets. When I was CEO of the New Jersey Institute for social justice we literally work with the CEO of Prudential, the CEO of Audible, the CEO of the largest healthcare system and the Dean of the business community in New Jersey with a majority democratic legislature and governor Chris Christie.

Cornell Brooks:

And we literally pass a bill to help people compete for work. We called our legislation the opportunity to compete act which a version of that passed in Congress sponsored by Cory Booker. But here's the point we did it with CEO's and Interfaith Coalition of Clergy Literary Imams, Priests, Rabbis, and ministers. And so though the language was very different, right? The CEO's were talking about essentially unreasonable, irrational risk, unrelated to job performance and the clergy were talking about essentially giving people forgiveness and a second chance. Here's my point in this moment we all need to be a little bit more multilingual, right? So in other words business people need to get a little more comfortable with the language morality and the moral leaders need to get a little bit more comfortable with the language of business in terms of doing things in economically rational ways, giving people an opportunity to work and to compete.

Cornell Brooks:

In this moment I love example that you used in terms of hate crime, right? Because here's the thing with the Muslim travel ban. This was to me like the misbegotten poster child for bad policy, it made no sense as a matter of economics in hiring people and moving your people around the world, getting the best people. And it certainly made no sense in terms of stigmatizing, marginalizing, authorizing people based upon ethnicity and faith, that was like the perfect opportunity to bring different groups together, different leaders together to respond in a way that brought the country together. There are more of those problems like that as we speak, I think voting rights is certainly critically important but you got to earlier, I think a more nettlesome issue which is the massive economic divide in this country, right? Because the business community has it to reckon with a problem that Henry Ford had to reckon with, which is to say, do I pay my workers enough to be able to buy my cars?

Cornell Brooks:

And so the business community has to itself, well, how do we pay people enough, support government policies that keep wages up, make workers competitive, provide the kind of economic stability. So it's not merely a matter of high wages but it's also a matter of consistent wages and afford people the opportunity to build wealth. Those are tough nettlesome issues that may or may not align with how well you need to perform by the next quarter? But the gap, the chasm is yawning, getting wider as we speak and precipitating real social unrest.

Cornell Brooks:

And so it's a moment where literally business had to take lead on this, right? Because in many ways we need people who able to translate hunger, poverty, desperation into terms that comport with the vocabulary used by the Fed that comports with the vocabulary used by the folks in Congress who concerned about small business or infrastructure or telecom or the healthcare industry. And for that we literally need the folks who have the vocabulary with the moral sensibilities, who willing to use at least a modicum of their political capital to push the country forward. Without that literally we have the moralists who were like prophets crying in the wilderness without support and I'm saying that as somebody who's filed suits against large companies, I'm saying that somebody who's preach from a pulpit, practice law in a courtroom but I understand we need more, we need a bigger coalition.

Mohamad Ali:

I think you're absolutely right in that, there's this deep connection between the moral aspect of this and the business aspect. And if I heard what you said correctly maybe I'm paraphrasing here that racial and social injustice is in some way, say labor problem. It's absolutely true. And that's actually the tack that we took in this Amicas brief, clearly many of us felt that the Muslim travel ban was wrong. But when we did the economic analysis it's like we generated 140 page document, that was all the economics of why it was bad to have this immigration policy. And it was actually quite surprising when you look at it from a labor and economic perspective, 8,000 doctors in the United States came from Syria and Iran and without those 8,000 doctors there are a lot of people in the middle of America who would not be getting healthcare, right?

Cornell Brooks:

The Philippines and Asia-

Mohamad Ali:

And the number of nurses, for example that come from outside the United States is just huge, right? And so the tack that we took wasn't necessarily a moral one it was an economic one and in some ways it was a labor tact that actually aligned perfectly with the moral aspect of it. And you actually see that today, I mean, one of the studies that we have conducted here at our company is around women in technology and women and technology is another example of the economic injustice, in almost every other sector women's participation in the workforce has been growing except for tech in tech. It actually grew to about 30% and then it started coming back down and now it's down to 25% and you say, well, what's going on here? And it's not just the 25%, right? The pipeline is actually pretty low, only 18% of U.S computer science graduates are women.

Mohamad Ali:

Only 8% of them are able to participate in areas where they're able to be the primary patent holder. They're only 2% of VC firms that are women started are funded as [inaudible 00:36:48]. So there's clearly some social injustice issue at play in the tech community yet on the other hand, we're complaining about talent. If we were to address this particular social injustice we would have this huge pool of talent and that goes not just for women it goes for Black people, it goes for Latin X, it goes for other underrepresented so I think you're absolutely right. There's definitely a connection between the moral aspects of the argument and the economic and labor aspects of what we need to accomplish as this community.

Gautam Mukunda:

We think of forward progress as a steady march, but that's not really the way it works. Theodore Parker in a quotation popularized by Martin Luther king and Robert F. Kennedy said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. The key word in that sentence is long, in March of America Black Americans had more civil rights in 1870 than they did in 1950. There were more women in tech a few years ago than there are now and there are even fewer in school so maybe things will out in the long run but as John Maynard Keynes said in the long run we're all dead.

Gautam Mukunda:

And the long run is just the sum of many short runs, if we're moving backwards on some fronts right now, the long run is no consolation it's a moment of change and a moment of crisis. What are you doing to bend that arc? After a discussion this heavy I felt a need of inspiration so I was glad to get the chance to ask Mohamad and Cornell our final questions. Of all the people you've gotten to know in your sort of extraordinary career Mohamad. Who's the person that most impressed you and why?

Mohamad Ali:

I would actually have to say that the people who really impressed me are the people who is not a single leader. It's actually far other end of the spectrum, it's the people who put their lives on the line every day. I remember when I first joined the board of Oxfam and the Syrian civil war was there, I remember we had 30 people who were in Syria has humanitarian aid workers and they didn't have to be there. They could be home in Massachusetts or in London wherever they lived but they put their lives on the line for other people. CEO's we get the opportunity to do what we do from the luxury of our offices. And so, to your question there's not a named leader that I would actually point to it, it's people who put their lives on the line, people who go out in protest here on the streets of America for the right thing. There's some brave, brave people there.

Gautam Mukunda:

Thank you and Cornell.

Cornell Brooks:

I would just lift up one person who represents many more people across this country so few years ago when I was CEO of the NAACP, I called for a march in supportive voting rights from the home of the voting rights act, Selma Alabama to the home of our democracy, 1,004 miles that we literally walked over the course of 40 days in Selma I met a 70 year old Navy veteran who literally took a bus and spent thirty hours on a bus from Colorado to get to Selma Alabama. And this veteran walked beside me, literally from Selma Alabama to the outskirts of Washington, DC, carrying the American flag in support of voting rights and standing against voter suppression. So he walked about 900 miles and true story as we came into [inaudible 00:40:44] Pennsylvania, this veteran who's chosen name was Middle Passage named after what enslaved Africans endured in the transatlantic slave trade, Middle Passage outside of [inaudible 00:40:57] Virginia literally after carrying a flag wrapping it up in the midst of a rain storm.

Cornell Brooks:

When the clouds parted, when the sun came out he literally unfurled the flag and he died, had a heart attack right next to me. Now, the reason why I remember his name and remember his sacrifice is because middle's march for voting rights reminded me of the sacrifice of Medgar Evers, reminded me of the sacrifice of Fannie Lou Hayma, reminds me of the sacrifice of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther king. That is to say yes, people who are well-known but people who are less known or not known at all, who wrapped in the kind of anonymity but also a nobility meaning they were willing and are willing to just as Mohamad said to protest, to demonstrate, to put their integrity, their reputation, their wellbeing on the line for this country, right?

Cornell Brooks:

There's a deep patriotism there that goes beyond carrying the flag to standing for what the flag stands for. So I will never forget him and I will never forget the many people who I've had the opportunity to get arrested with, the people I've had an opportunity to write an op-ed with, for social justice or the students I teach in my class, all of whom believe in this country and believe in their fellow Americans and believe in social justice.

Gautam Mukunda:

Perhaps you've looked at critical moments in history and wondered, what would I have done? I know I have in the 1850s would I have been an abolitionist, in the 1960s would I have marched on Washington? I wish I could tell you with certainty that the answer to both those questions is yes, but I don't really know, why not? It wasn't hard to realize that slavery and segregation were evil not even back then but the easiest thing to do is always to sit on the sidelines, unless you're one of the passionate few whose life is devoted to the cause, there are always reasons, good reasons not to get involved.

Gautam Mukunda:

And that's a huge problem. To quote Martin Luther king from his extraordinary letter from Birmingham jail, "I have almost reached through a rateable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White citizen's counselor or the KU Klux Klan but the White murderer who is more devoted to order than to justice, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice." Think about that for a second or better. Think about it for nine minutes and 29 seconds.

Gautam Mukunda:

Taking a stand is decision but so is not taking one. And that's a decision whose cost, King wanted us to remember, can be enormous. As Mohamad and Cornell have told us leaders have power. They also have discretion. They can choose when to act and when not to, there is no shortage of reasons not to get involved but you know what Cornell would ask you to do and every one of those reasons applies to Mohamad. He still decided to take a stand, democracy is in peril, voting rights are under attack and people are marching in the streets by the millions demanding the fulfillment of an American promise that has been put off for centuries. You have the opportunity to use your power, to strengthen democracy, to pursue justice, if you seize it that's your decision, your choice, your chance to lead.

Speaker 5:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world, an original podcast from NASDAQ visit the World Reimagined website at nasdaq.com/world-reimagined-podcast.

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