Leaders at mega companies like Netflix (NFLX) and Disney (DIS) can no longer “straddle” the fence on cultural and political issues.
“All I’m going to say is thank goodness I’m not the CEO of a major media company today,” Marc Randolph, who served as Netflix’s first CEO from its inception in 1997 to 2003, told Yahoo Finance in a new interview.
“We have a country that is becoming more and more polarized. There’s people on either side.”
“In the past, it was very straightforward to either ignore these issues or find some way to straddle them [but] that has become increasingly difficult,” the former executive admitted, comparing modern-day leadership to a “tightrope act.”
Randolph, who documented his Netflix journey in the book “That Will Never Work,” went on to reference the platform’s recent culture update as a prime example of how companies can (and should) be more transparent.
The streamer, which updated its company culture guidelines for the first time since 2017, clarified its stance as a pure play media company, writing that “not everyone will like—or agree with—everything on our service.”
Rather, “we let viewers decide what’s appropriate for them, versus having Netflix censor specific artists or voices.”
The platform added that some employees may need to work on titles that they “perceive to be harmful,” warning, “if you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.”
Randolph weighed in on the company’s hardline decision, saying, “That doesn’t sound so egregious.”
He added that all companies should continue to be “honest and clear” when it comes to official stances on various issues and, ultimately, “let customers decide.”
Netflix’s culture update likely came in response to November’s employee walkouts after the release of Dave Chappelle’s comedy special “The Closer,” which critics deemed transphobic.
Competitor Disney recently went through a similar employee uproar after CEO Bob Chapek was criticized for taking a soft stance on Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, or what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Lee Cockerell, former executive vice president of operations for the Walt Disney World Resort, told Yahoo Finance at the time that CEOs have to “stand up quick” on political issues, adding “politics is just part of life … you can’t avoid it.”
“[Chapek] probably thinks this now and I do too … he should have come out right away. You can’t wait a week to decide how you’re going to respond,” Cockerell said.
“You will have somebody mad at you no matter which way you respond. That’s just the way life is today. You cannot ride the fence. Those days are over and everything is political,” he continued.
Randolph agreed, adding that he doesn’t “see any way for a CEO today to not engage, to not take some sort of a position.”
“Companies believe certain things — but they have to be willing to say them.”
Alexandra is a Senior Entertainment and Food Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193 and email her at email@example.com