Corporate leadership

When it came time to help the Twin Cities get back on their feet after the George Floyd riots, Minnesota’s business community took a pass.

It’s a close call in the finger-pointing war between Governor Tim Walz and Mayor Jacob Frey over who bears chief responsibility for the current state of the burned out, looted, and still fearful Minneapolis neighborhoods in the aftermath of the George Floyd riots. While both leaders seemed more fearful of offending key political constituencies than effectively protecting their cities, mounting evidence, if we are picking sides, puts the ongoing mess on Walz.

But there is another culprit that has so far escaped accountability: the business community.

Many Twin Citians—of all colors— were badly shaken by the live-action mini-series of unchallenged mayhem they watched on their television sets over five days in late May. In the aftermath, they looked for assurances from political leaders that it wouldn’t happen again.

That’s when the business community should have found the courage to enter the public discussion about the looting, rioting and general lawlessness. Business executives should have actively condemned the violent behavior of the rioters; they should have called the mayors and the governor to account for their remarkable frontline failures; and they should have demanded a strategy to ensure our cities would never again tolerate such behavior. As these executives prepared to reopen their companies—the economic engines that sustain the economy of the Twin Cities— they should have also demanded a real-world action plan that guaranteed the safety of their employees, their customers, their suppliers and their vendors, which includes just about all Minnesotans.

Instead, they did little. They sat in the peanut gallery as Minneapolis City Council members blustered about their proposal to condemn their constituents by defunding the police. The city council’s grand plans died from the weight of their own absurdity, but we lost valuable time and momentum. It is still shocking to me that almost no one with clout in the local market pushed back on these ridiculous proposals put forth by our elected leaders—specifically by the governor and the mayor and the Minneapolis City Council.

Which is why I point to the business community. The policy questions that followed the riots needed advocates to demand accountability. In the absence of any—I do mean any—elected officials whose worldview extended beyond the “Through the Looking Glass” perspective of AOC extremists, the business community said nothing. They had the standing, the resources, and the responsible narrative that free enterprise capitalism must play a significant role in solving the problems in the Twin Cities.

Instead, some of our largest company CEOs were pandering to lawlessness and destructive behavior. Some went so far as to contribute money to the organizations that promoted and encouraged this behavior.

Minnesota has a proud history of social responsibility among the leaders of the business community. There was an era when it was led by prominent homegrown companies with leaders named Pillsbury, McKnight, Cargill, Dayton and Crosby, to whom social responsibility was more than a PR tactic. These leaders all grew from deep Minnesota roots and genuinely cared about what happened to their cities. My guess is that those business leaders would have asked hard questions of city leaders and demanded satisfactory answers. Where are the CEOs of our biggest employers today? Hiding behind the false gods of political correctness.

Many believe that today’s Minnesota Business Partnership represents a formalized evolution of those civic minded executives. The Partnership is an affiliation of the CEOs of the 100 (or so) largest companies in the state, and it doesn’t speak for the countless small businesses that were harmed by the lawlessness.

So, where was the Partnership in all of this? Pretty much nowhere. A couple of members shared with me how the organization circulated some talking points about potential police reforms, but no attempts at real leadership were ever discussed, other than pandering to the maddening crowd and doing their fair share of virtue signaling.

We should use the events surrounding the George Floyd riots as a call to action for Minnesota’s biggest employers to get more involved, which should start with the Partnership. We need their leadership. Their inability to publicly condemn the riots still astounds me. I don’t believe that the 100 top CEOs in Minnesota operate in lockstep with the BLM/ AOC progressive political agenda. Do they? Some critics say the Partnership’s lack of concern stems from the fact that so few of its CEOs are actual Minnesotans anymore. So, maybe they have less urgency about caretaking our unique Minnesota culture.

The first role of government is to ensure that its citizens can work, play and raise their families in an environment that is safe for everyone. Without it, our businesses will crumble, and jobs will disappear. A vibrant business community is a must if all of our citizens are to have a chance at the American Dream.