By PXAbstraction 2 Comments
For those who aren't aware, Stardock Corporation is a software company that provides enhancement utilities for Windows and which also develops, publishes and digitally distributes a number of great PC games. I'm a huge fan of this company and the way they execute the corporate ideals of their CEO Brad Wardel l, ones which include providing polished products that aren't laden with DRM and offering top-notch service that treats their customers like people rather than just buyers. Many of their values coincide with those we have at the company I co-own. However, what I'm writing about today is a rookie mistake many company executives make and which Mr. Wardell unfortunately made himself lately: combining your business with your personal politics.
Mr. Wardell is very conservative in his political beliefs and to his credit, makes no attempt to hide that fact. He maintains his own blog which frequently details them. I've got no qualms with him doing that and I'm not writing this to debate his beliefs. What concerns me however is when he decided to protest a decidedly political issue with elements of the business he is charged with running, published his intentions and then became agitated when the Internet community called him out for doing the very thing he was decrying someone else for doing. This is becoming an increasingly large problem with business owners and something that I think needs to be curtailed.
First off, a bit of background: Recently, it was revealed that in protest of the increasing inflammatory rhetoric being broadcast from anchor Glenn Beck on FOX News, the major courier company UPS had pulled all its advertising from the network and possibly from the entirety of FOX Television. Stardock was using UPS as the carrier for product they physically shipped to customers. Mr. Wardell did not approve of UPS doing this, stating that "I don't like to see companies trying to push their ideology on others." The following day, he requested his employees to start shipping with FedEx instead of UPS. Shortly after doing this, he posted about it on his Facebook page which he thought was private but someone published the comment which was picked up by the gaming press and like many things in the gaming community, spread like wildfire and inspired a lot of anger. Many who were very loyal customers of Stardock began calling for boycotts, saying that in effect, Mr. Wardell was endorsing the views of Glenn Beck and FOX News by dropping someone who refused to advertise on the network for supposedly political reasons. UPS has since claimed that they were in fact not boycotting FOX and that new ads are already running on their networks.
My. Wardell has since blogged about this issue and the response from the gaming community. He claims his comments and actions were overblown and that he wasn't trying to make any major political or moral statement, he was just annoyed and decided to go with another shipper. His response was calm, thought out and clear to the point that yes, Stardock is his company and choosing another shipper was his perogative, as it was UPS' to pull their ads from FOX in protest, if that is in fact what they did. All that said though, I do think he made some very poor errors in judgment and he seems to be a bit too eager to pass blame for this onto others.
Mr. Wardell's company operates almost entirely off online commerce. He is very familiar with how Internet communities work and how they tend to react to things. It was a gross oversight on his part to think that this wouldn't get found out about and that the reaction wouldn't be significant, particularly since he published the reasons. He claims that this was published to a Facebook account he tries to keep private. But two sentences later, he talks about how he has roughly 350 Facebook friends. That's an awfully large number of people to have to trust with a controversial subject. Anyone who is Internet savvy knows that privacy ultimately doesn't exist online. Mr. Wardell said "I would be the first to agree with the people who said “It’s not good business to publicize such things”. Except I didn’t." I'm sorry sir but yes, you did. If you put something up, you are publishing it and there is a very good chance it will be seen by many people, at least a few of which will strongly disagree with you. If what you're posting is something you aren't comfortable with the world knowing, don't post it. Decrying the media for doing their job and republishing something of significance which came across their desk is disingenuous in my opinion.
All of these are merely secondary symptoms of the one core issue which Mr. Wardell unfortunately tripped over: Never mix your personal politics with your business. He was actively engaging in what he was attempting to decry UPS for, using their business clout to denounce practices by another business they didn't agree with, an irony I'm not convinced that he fully appreciates. In his blog post, he claims that one shouldn't mix business and politics when that is precisely what he did--without apologies. I have no formal business training and the necessity of keeping that separation is something I have known from the very beginning. I don't preach politically on my company's corporate blog or to our customers and this post isn't about whether or not I agree with Mr. Wardell. But I can say with some certainty that if Stardock was a public company, he would likely be answering some very tough questions from its board of directors right now. Speaking for yourself is one thing but speaking through the mouthpiece of your business--whether with words or actions--reflects on your entire operation including the staff and the brand which we all know takes far less work to damage than to build up. It is unfair to those who work for you to paint them with the brush of your own beliefs. I doubt Stardock will suffer much economically from this controversy but any drop in business affects everyone there, not just the few at the top.
I still think Stardock embodies corporate values that are sorely lacking in today's world and this flap will not deter me from doing business with them in the future. However, I would like to urge Mr. Wardell and any other fellow business owners who might read this to really consider the value of keeping your personal views on politics or whatever else just that, personal. It's good to have your own ideals and to express them and fight for the change in the world you want to see. More of us need to do that. But your business involves more than just yourself and it is critical to make sure it doesn't end up unintentionally adopting your views as well. Chances are many of your customers are also your political opponents and politics are never a good reason to push people away.