CEOs are often thought to make decisions that will be beneficial to shareholders first and other stakeholders second. However, alongside the rise of stakeholder capitalism (exemplified by the Business Roundtable’s recent redefinition of the purpose of a corporation), the majority of adults surveyed for a report [download page] from Morning Consult think CEOs should prioritize the interests of their employees and customers ahead of all others.
The May-June 2020 survey of more than 11,000 respondents – which included consumers, financial decision-makers, high-net-worth individuals, politically-engaged audiences and key opinion leaders – found a strong preference for employees and customers as the primary stakeholders. Among consumers, 44% share felt CEOs should prioritize the interests and wellbeing of their employees the most. This was followed by 34% share who believe the company’s customers should be put first. And, while another 12% think CEOs should prioritize the communities their companies operate in, fewer than 1 in 10 (8%) feel the company’s shareholders should have their interests and wellbeing put first.
When the same question was put to retail investors, the largest shares also felt that CEOs should prioritize employees (44%) or customers (31%) first. However, a difference emerged between shareholders and communities; retail investors were more than twice as likely to feel that shareholders (17% share) should be prioritized compared to the communities the company operates in (7% share).
And, while putting employees and consumers ahead of the rest isn’t a surprising sentiment among the general population — indeed, whether a brand treats its employees well is one of the reasons consumers consider for trusting a brand — the sentiment has been rising among retail investors.
Looking back to September 2019, retail investors were about evenly split on whether CEOs should prioritize employees (30%), customers (29%) or shareholders (30%). By May 2020, a shift towards the wellbeing and interests of employees and customers had edged out shareholders. This shift may well be due to the COVID-19 pandemic and more interest being placed on the wellbeing of employees and customers alike, so only time will tell if this focus continues post-COVID-19.
The full report can be downloaded here.
About the Data: Findings are based on a survey of more than 11,000 consumers, financial decision-makers, high net worth individuals, politically-engaged audiences and key opinion leaders. The survey was fielded in May-June 2020.