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Three Companies Get it Right

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In this Age of Empowerment, a time when connective technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and Change.org enable consumers to hold companies increasingly accountable for their actions, companies need to take bold steps to demonstrate their commitment to their communities.

In recent days, three companies have done just that, taking big risks to be on the right side of topical issues.

Coca-Cola's much heralded (and much attacked) "It's Beautiful" SuperBowl ad made a courageous statement about our nation's rich history as a melting pot. With a soundtrack of "America the Beautiful" sung in a variety of languages, the ad presented a series of short vignettes of a highly diverse group of Americans. The edgiest one, perhaps, showed two fathers holding hands as they skated with a young girl, and then joined together in what appeared to be a family embrace. Unfortunately, in addition to receiving great praise, the ad also triggered our nation's shameful history of racism and intolerance with Twitter responses such as #SpeakAmerican and #BoycottCoke. Coke likely anticipated such a response, but concluded that embracing diversity is good for business and for its reputation, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

Yesterday, AT&T, which easily could have stayed quiet on the issue and avoided controversy, wrote a corporate blog post, "A Time for Pride and Equality" embracing Human Rights Campaign's call for sponsors to stand up for LGBT equality and criticizing Russia's policies. "Russia's law is harmful to LGBT individuals and families, and it's harmful to a diverse society." As a former employee (and, full disclosure, a shareholder through retirement savings), I know AT&T is not always quick to embrace risk, making this statement all the more notable.

Finally, this morning, CVS declared that it would stop selling tobacco. As its CEO Larry Merlo writes on the company website, "Cigarettes and tobacco products have no place in a setting where health care is delivered. This is the right thing to do." In its statement, CVS says that this move will cost it an estimated $2 billion in annual sales, but that it expects to be able to make up the lost revenue in other ways.

All three of these examples are cases in which the companies easily could have played it safe and ostensibly avoided risk. But their forward-looking leaders recognized that, in fact, the biggest risk you can take is not taking risks. I expect that the community and the market will reward these companies for their bold moves, and hope that more leaders will take note and follow suit.