Nike CEO John Donahoe interviewed by Sarah Eisen at the CNBC CEO Council Summit in Santa Barbara, California.
Randy Shropshire | CNBC
Nor does a political battle rage between the governor of Florida. Ron DeSantis W DisneyAnd Nike CEO John Donahue said it’s important for companies to pick their battles, but fight for the values that are integral to their brands.
During a sitdown interview at CNBC’s inaugural CEO Council Summit in Santa Barbara, Calif., Monday night, CNBC’s Sarah Eisen touched on the DeSantis controversy and asked Donahue if he was concerned about Nike becoming a target.
“Aren’t you worried that if Ron DeSantis becomes president, he’ll go after you as a wake company?” Eisen asked Donahue about the Republican presidential nominee.
In response, Donahue said companies don’t need to influence every political row, but they do need to be a loud voice when their brand values come under attack.
“I think Bob is doing a great job on this,” Donahue said of Disney CEO Bob Iger.
He said, “If it’s a foundation of who you are and your values, then no, you’re standing up for your values.” “If it’s commenting on some political issue that’s in someone else’s backyard, we might have that personal feeling, but we don’t comment on it on our brand and in public.”
Iger was not leading Disney when, in February 2022, he publicly criticized Florida Republicans’ controversial bill limiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation, which he and other critics dubbed “Don’t Say Like Me.”
hiss tweet The bill “would put LGBT youth at risk” further pressuring Disney’s CEO at the time, Bob Chapek, to break his silence on the legislation.
After Disney opposed the bill, DeSantis and his allies took aim at the special taxation district in the Orlando area that had allowed Walt Disney World to essentially run its operations for decades. The standoff dragged on for more than a year, continuing even after Egger returned as CEO in November after Šapek was ousted.
Donahue pointed to three values that are integral to the Nike brand: racial and social justice, sustainability and youth participation in sports, especially for young girls.
When it comes to racial and social justice, Donahue said Nike has built its brand in partnership with some of the most famous black and brown athletes, like Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and LeBron James.
“In addition, our primary consumers of the Nike brand, the Jordan brand, the converse brand, are urban black-and-brown communities — that’s where the sneaker culture began,” Donahue explained. “And so, we listen to our athletes and our consumers about what they care about and they care about racial and social justice, and so we see that as the foundation of our identity…a little courage to speak up.”
Donahue said the company has focused on youth participation in sports as young girls are dropping out of athletics at an “alarming rate”.
“It turns out that one of the biggest reasons girls drop out is the lack of female coaches when they reach puberty,” Donahue said. “So, we’re trying to train 20,000 female coaches, mothers, and other former athletes to be youth enhancement coaches. So it’s a less controversial issue, but one that we care about as valuable.”
On sustainability, Donahue said as the “leader” in the industry, Nike must lead by example for change because if it doesn’t happen “it won’t happen.”