June 11, 2019

Stephanie Ruhle sounded, oh, a tad defensive during this interview with Abigail Disney and Martin Whitaker.

"You wrote an op-ed, Abigail, focused on the company that bears your family name. Bob Iger, the current CEO of Disney, made more than $65 million in 2018. Who decides what is the right number?"

"Certainly I don't decide, and I'm not proposing that I should decide. I think what needs to happen first is to identify and name this gap and call it what it is, which is indecent," Disney said.

"So a number of things are going wrong. We've had 40 years of things going awry, and 40 years of policy don't get fixed overnight. So health care fell apart, the public education system fell apart, public spending just disappeared almost completely. So that has left workers in a terrible position. And then there was an ethos shift at the very top, and that involved prioritizing of shareholder interests above the interests of everyone else.

"When my grandfather ran that company, he was a fierce businessman and a conservative, but he believed he had multiple stakeholders, not just the shareholders, but also the people that worked there, that people who came to the those were his stakeholders, and he invested accordingly. So there is a question of decency here. And if I'm a CEO at a company and I'm going home with $65 million, which is really closer to $140 million after the merger is done, but I chose the easier number, if I don't know how my workers are doing at my own company, something is up. Something is not right.

"The people who clean the sidewalks, think of Disneyland and think of all the chewing gum that gets scraped up every night, and think of how pristine those Small World dolls are when you go through. I'm a mom, I know, what happens to the white clothes? If you think about that and you consider that those workers have been doing the same thing, and will always do the same thing, and will always be needed, then we need to remember they work for the same company and they make that company succeed every single day with their labor, and they should share in the company's success."

"Forbes named Disney last year one of the best companies to work at. So they have that in their corner, and whether it's 60 million or close to 100 million, that's a really big number for Bob Iger, but the company made $60 billion last year. People are outraged for a number of reasons, but if regulation is the answer, we have to go from outraged to rational. at the same time, that company pays Robert Downey Jr. $80 million to star in a movie and the company isn't outraged about that. How do you reconcile that?" Ruhle said.

(Oh Steph, your hedge fund roots are showing! I dunno, why is it that you can afford this?)

"What we're talking about is a systemic issue. We're talking about a society where it's normal for CEOs to make 350 times on average, or in the case of Disney, over 1,000 times the median worker," Whitaker said.

He said his group, Just Capital, has asked people what defines a just company.

"What do you want these companies to do? What do you care about? And try to create from the bottom up at least a sense of giving people a voice on today, what is it that matters to you, how would you prioritize these different stakeholders, and then rank the largest companies in the country very publicly and very openly in a very data-driven way on how they're doing on all those things."

"But here's the issue. Based on your poll, Americans say corporate America should prioritize employees, then customers, then products, then the environment, with shareholder return ranking the very last. Here's the problem with that. Shareholders own the company. The employees don't own the company. And if customers didn't like the way the company was being run, they wouldn't go to their movies, they wouldn't go to their theme parks. And we know they're doing both."

(Um, some of us don't, for those very reasons. I would rather choke than go to Disney World, which has despoiled the ecology and politically corrupted the state of Florida for... an amusement park. And several decades of prioritizing shareholders has lead to compulsive measures for short-term gains -- and the growth of a rape-and-pillage mentality.)

"Well, it's not a zero sum game. What we found was the companies prioritizing these different stakeholders actually do better, so it is better for shareholders. There's this myth out there that seems like when you spend a little more on your customers or try to better their company by making products that are beneficial for society, it's actually coming out of the shareholder's pockets," Whitaker said.

In fact, it's a win/win game that benefits everyone, he said.

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