Mozilla's Eich Reveals Diminishing Boundary Between Beliefs And Business

Well, to quote George Takei, that was fast. In the face of a major backlash about his 2008 contribution to California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, Brendan Eich has resigned as CEO of Mozilla -- less than a week after taking the reins. Eich has, of course, the right to free speech, the right to hold any beliefs he wishes, and the right to shout those beliefs from the top of the highest mountain. But as he found out, the free market also has rights: the right to voice its collective displeasure, the right to vote with its purchasing dollars, and the ability -- if passionate enough -- to effect change.

This is the kind of story tailor-made to stir up epic levels of righteousness in just about everybody. He’s intolerant! You’re intolerant of his intolerance! Your intolerance of his intolerance is intolerable!

Emotions aside, it’s worth noting that Eich’s Prop 8 contribution had been public since 2008, and had been explicitly known (not just searchable in an Los Angeles Times database) since 2012. His resignation was not just because he made the donation; it was because the donation could not be reconciled with the position of CEO.

The CEO drives company culture. It is the CEO’s role to say things like, “I am committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion.” It is understandable for people to experience a cognitive dissonance between a statement like that and financial support of an anti-gay marriage campaign.

When it first came out that he had contributed to Prop 8, Eich wrote a blog post quoting Mitchell Baker, chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation and former CEO of the Mozilla Corporation: “If we start to try to make ‘Mozilla’ mean ‘those people who share not only the Mozilla mission but also my general political/social/religious/environmental view’ we will fail,” said Baker. “If we focus Mozilla on our shared consensus regarding the Mozilla mission and manifesto then the opportunities before us are enormous.” Baker is right; it is virtually impossible for a large group of people to share an entirely homogeneous set of political/ social/religious/environmental views. But when you’re the one in charge of looking after the well-being of the entire company, then your views matter.

There is a bigger point to be made as well, one that has been emerging more and more in recent years, and it is this: Your beliefs are important even if they have nothing to do with your work. It’s a point made powerfully by Simon Sinek in his now-famous TED talk: “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

When Lululemon CEO Chip Wilson was disrespectful to women, the backlash forced him to step down. It didn’t matter that people loved the clothes; they didn’t like his attitude. Who was he replaced with? The former president of TOMS shoes -- an organization famous for putting beliefs first.

As our personal lives become more and more public, as we choose to reveal more and more of ourselves through blogs and social media, we will find more and more that we are held to account for the totality of who we are, not just for who we are from 9 to 5.

Eich was forced to resign for the totality of who he was, despite by all accounts never having displayed anything other than exemplary behavior toward Mozilla’s LGBT employees. But again, perhaps what this situation has shown is that CEO of Mozilla was never the right role for him.

I hope he finds the right role. Good luck, Brendan.

Tags: management
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3 comments about "Mozilla's Eich Reveals Diminishing Boundary Between Beliefs And Business ".
  1. Chris Abbott from DetectRight Limited , April 4, 2014 at 11 a.m.
    I'm curious as to why the hiring/headhunting process didn't take this into account, if the information was public since 2008.
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , April 4, 2014 at 6:45 p.m.
    Chris, good point, but we shouldn't be surprised if no one ever checked.
  3. Kaila Colbin from Ministry of Awesome , April 5, 2014 at 6:15 p.m.
    I'm sure they did check. Complete conjecture here... I'm guessing they figured since it was already public knowledge the backlash had already happened. They likely didn't realise the fact that making Eich CEO would amplify the significance of the donation, and were probably taken aback that the issue became a lot bigger as a result.