Sometimes it’s forgotten that private opinions and matters are not something that should or could be brought up freely at work. Especially when it comes to management and representative level, it is important to know to separate what to talk about and what not to. A manager is representing the company even as a private person. It’s well known that at the customer service and sales level the staff’s attitude affect the customer experience and therefore the company image as well. The same exact thing goes for higher levels in the company. Actually, the higher the position the more crucial it is to keep personal and work personas (and opinions) separate.
In 2006 Mike Jeffries, the CEO of an American children’s clothing company called Abercrombie & Fitch said in an interview to Salon.com that the company’s clothes are meant for skinny, beautiful and neat children. The issue arose again in 2013 when Insider wrote a blog post about it – starting a social media outrage. Consumers, popular bloggers, and influencers condemned Jeffries’ comments. Jeffries himself waited for 12 days to even comment his previous statements, and once he did, he underlined how he had just mistakenly brought his own opinions to the interview. Instead of a real apology, he murmured how the text was taken out of context and shown in a way that would raise questions.
Of course there will be questions if a CEO believes (and says) that their products are suitable for only ”the right children”, the pretty, skinny, and neat ones who others admire. At the same time, this messages that children who don’t fit the description don’t deserve nice things. Or further, one could read between the lines that according to Jeffries, only the pretty and petite children have real value – who cares what other children wear as they don’t fit the beautiful standard anyway.
After the outrage, a group of shareholders of Abercrombie & Fitch wrote a 9-page letter asking the management to not elect Mr Jeffries again. However, he was re-elected as a CEO.
This is a perfect example of what not to do when it comes to company communications and image. By choosing to let the CEO continue, the company silently agreed to what he said. Or at least that’s how it looks like.
The story unfortunately doesn’t tell how big of a loss this interview with its controversial personal statements cost for the company. I bet we are talking about millions of dollars, plus of course the hits that will still be taken in the future while the reputation is ruined.
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