Nike CEO John Donahoe interviewed by Sara Eisen at CNBC’s CEO Council Summit in Santa Barbara, CA.
Randy Shropshire | CNBC
As a political battle rages between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and disney, Nike CEO John Donahoe said it’s important companies choose their battles, but fight for the values that are integral to their brands.
During an interview at CNBC’s first CEO Council Summit in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Monday night, CNBC’s Sara Eisen brought up the DeSantis controversy and asked Donahoe if he was worried about Nike becoming a target.
“Aren’t you worried that if Ron DeSantis becomes president he will come after you as an awakened society?” Eisen asked Donahoe about the expected Republican presidential nominee.
In response, Donahoe said companies don’t need to weigh in on every political kerfuffle, but should raise their voices when their brand values are under attack.
“I think Bob is doing a great job in this area,” Donahoe said of Disney CEO Bob Iger.
“If it’s core to who you are and your values, then no, you’re standing up for your values,” he said. “If it’s commenting on a political issue that’s in someone else’s backyard, then we can have that personal feeling, but we’re not commenting on it with our brand and publicly.”
Iger wasn’t running Disney when, in February 2022, he publicly criticized Florida Republicans’ controversial bill limiting classroom discussion about sexual orientation, which he and other critics dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.” “.
Her Tweeter the bill “will endanger vulnerable LGBTQ youth” put more pressure on then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek to break his silence on the legislation.
After Disney spoke out against the bill, DeSantis and his allies targeted the Orlando-area special tax district that allowed Walt Disney World to essentially self-manage its operations for decades. The clash has been going on for more than a year, and it continued even after Iger returned as CEO in November after Chapek was ousted.
Donahoe highlighted three values that are integral to the Nike brand: racial and social justice, sustainability and youth involvement in sport, especially for young girls.
On racial and social justice, Donahoe said Nike has built its brand in partnership with some of the most iconic black and brown athletes in history, such as Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and LeBron James.
“Also, our primary consumer for the Nike brand, the Jordan brand, the reverse brand, are the urban black and brown communities – that’s where the sneaker culture started,” Donahoe explained. “And so, we listen to our athletes and our consumers about what matters to them and they care about racial and social justice and we see that as being at the core of who we are, at the core of who we are… so it gives us a little more courage to speak.”
The company has focused on involving young people 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 is because they don’t have coaches in puberty,” Donahoe said. “So we’re trying to train 20,000 female coaches, moms and other former athletes to become coaches to promote young people. So it’s less of a contentious issue, but it’s a value we hold dear.”
On sustainability, Donahoe said that as an industry “leader”, Nike must lead by example when it comes to change, because if you don’t, “it’s not going to happen. “.