Education Needs CEO Activism

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Remember when political and social activists targeted CEOs and their companies for various alleged sins? Nowadays, it’s big business and big-name executives carrying the protest signs.

zackNeumeyer
Zack Neumeyer

Top corporate executives, such as Apple’s Tim Cook, PayPal’s Dan Schulman and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, among others, have admonished politicians, and, in some cases, threatened economic reprisals against several Southern and Midwest states because of legislative action on hot-button social issues.

CEOs are using their wealth as well as the bully pulpit, too. For instance, not long ago, Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to Newark, N.J., school system; EBay founder Pierre Omidyar has used his wealth to back public interest journalism; and PayPal co-creator Peter Thiel, in the recent Gawker case, has spent some of his billions, controversially, to fight salaciousness-seeking journalists who invade the privacy of public figures.

Regardless of what you think of these issues, it shouldn’t surprise us that a CEO’s voice can lead to major changes in a state or nationally. CEOs have the ability to direct conversation and wield significant influence. At their best, they are leaders who think strategically, can persuade through direct discussion, networking, and exert political influence.

And certainly enough needy causes exist for their concern, everything from cancer cures to gay rights. But doesn’t one area in particular – education – have the biggest direct impact on businesses?

What would happen if we replicated the CEO activism we are seeing on social issues and injected it into the issue of educational equity? After all, it’s been over 62 years since Brown v Board of Education, and our country is still facing pernicious achievement gaps and a majority of students leave high school ill-equipped for higher education or the workforce.

I recently spoke with Zack Neumeyer, chairman of Sage Hospitality in Denver, which he co-founded and served as the chief executive officer of for nearly 20 years. Sage is one of the nation’s largest hotel companies with over 7000 employees in 35 states.  He is an advocate for both CEO activism and school reform. Neumeyer believes the time is ripe to speak loudly and boldly, which he often does.

This piece originally appeared in Fox Business. To read the entire piece, click here.

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